He sounds mildly irked when I suggest that he couldn’t pull a looker like Lucy.
“You are on about the characters, yeah?”
Obviously. The characters in BBC sitcom Not Going Out which he writes and stars as ice cream man Lee, flatmate to the pretty and successful Lucy (Sally Bretton), sister of his best mate Tim (Tim Vine).
It centres on his pursuit of her.
“Well, I know what you mean,” says Mack.
“To a degree. But would you really stay at a hotel like Fawlty Towers? Probably not. The most important thing anyone ever told me about sitcom was that it had as much to do with drama as it did with pantomime. You’ve got meet some where between the two.”
In the last series Lee and Lucy almost shared a kiss. So what of series four? Surely he doesn’t succeed and end up in a relationship with her?
“We go through it at the beginning of every series. Right, are these two characters going to get together or not? And it’s a dilemma because the general rule of sitcom is, don’t change it. But then again we don’t concentrate on their relationship. In some episode we don’t even mention it.
“It’s not like Only Fool & Horses which is all about them wanting to be millionaires. It’s not all about me and her getting together.”
He adds: “It’s a difficult one. We’re still in the process of thrashing that one back and forth. I wake up every morning and change my mind. Right, this series we get together and start a family and it’s a family sitcom next year. Then the next morning I think, no, we’ll keep it as it is.”
To be honest I always figured it was called Not Going Out because they never went out. That the characters of Lee, Tim, Lucy and cleaner Barbara (MIranda Hart) were always in the flat.
Seems it refers to Lee and Lucy living together but not being a couple.
It’s the only gag that hasn’t hit home in the award-winning sitcom that is set to return to BBC1 in the Autumn.
Although initially it was cut from the schedules.
“It was a six month gap between the cancellation and the recommission,” says Mack.
“And in that time I booked in a 100 date tour. It was booked in on the basis that we wouldn’t be doing the sitcom.”
It means trying to write a six-episode series while on the road.
“It’s at least six months work. There’s so much more to it than writing the jokes. There’s all the boring bits like the structure. And 70 or 80 per cent of the workload is mine. I’ll write three of the scripts on my own and three with one other person. Then we’ll read it all out to a live theatre audience. Much like a radio script. To test the jokes. The deadline for that is the end of July.”
Added to that he’s developing a pilot for BBC1.
How is going to manage it?
“That’s a good question. I’ll have a breakdown in August.”
The tour runs until November and includes three Nottingham dates. But there’ll be no more, he says.
“The DVD of the tour will be out in November. Once that’s out you can’t really do the same jokes. And I’ll be sick of them by then anyway.”
I don’t know. Some gags are worth repeating. The Angel Delight routine from the last tour (about his senile nan) I could hear again.
“It’s funny how that joke is one that people shout out a lot. ‘Do your Angel Delight joke!’. Of course, once you’ve said that the joke’s finished because that’s the punchline.”
Unlike fellow Not Going Out stand-up Tim Vine, Mack tested out his material, not in the back of a taxi, but at comedy clubs.
“He was reading it out to the taxi driver?”
It’s true. In a recent interview with EG, Vine admitted it as how he rehearsed for his tour, in the back of a cab while travelling to and from his panto run with Jane Asher.
Says Mack: “As far as Tim’s concerned if it’s one person sat, there it’s an audience.”
His process of preparing for a tour means weeks sat at a computer writing gags.
“Nine out of the ten won’t be heard. One of them will pass the test and I’ll try that out with about 20 others in a little club. Then 20 per cent of them will make it to the next stage. Eventually you have a rough one hour show and you book in some preview shows.
“I probably overbooked the previews to be honest but I didn’t want to take any risks.”
One of them was at Nottingham’s Just The Tonic at the end of last year.
“It’s a great club that,” says Mack, a team captain on the BBC panel game Would I Lie To You?
“I’ve done it loads of times over the years. Because comedy has got so big over the past few years -- it’s very much a big business -- there are very few old school promoters left. Those that are doing it for the right reasons and not solely for the money. Most would book whoever will bring in the most amount of people but those like Darrell (Martin) will still police it. If he thinks someone is cr*p, he won’t book them.”
Does he feel the need to mention Not Going Out in his stand-up show?
“I don’t but the audience do. I get asked about it every night.
“In fact it was because of that the news got out that it had been recommissioned. Someone shouted out ‘Is it going to be recommissioned?’ and I said ‘yes’. A reviewer was in and before you knew, it was in The Guardian.”
Of late comedians have been throwing out their autobiographies, many of whom are barely in to their career stride. Frankie Boyle, Justin Lee Collins, Alan Carr and Dara O’Briain published their’s in time for Christmas. So where’s his?
“I’m the kind of person who’d say I’d never write an autobiography but it’s a very easy moral decision to make when you’ve not been offered it. The test comes when they say ‘we’ll give you all this money...’ So I don’t know. I’d be very interested in writing a book. I’m not sure my life is that interesting.”
I beg to differ. Your grandfather was a music hall entertainer, you worked at Pontin’s as a Blue Coat, at the bingo... surely there’s a wealth of material?
“On paper. But you could be working in a boring office for ten years and have a lot of material from that, like The Office. A lot of comedy comes from the mundane. If I ask someone in the audience what they do for a living and they say ‘a circus clown’ there’s probably less material in that than someone who works at Curry’s.”
He adds: “In reviews and interviews it often comes up that Lee Mack was a Blue Coat or worked at the bingo and there’s a connotation with that of this wannabe showbiz person and that was completely not the case.
“I came through the alternative circuit in the 1990s.
“The bingo hall was just a job. And as a Blue Coat I was the sports organiser. I was never on stage. They had nothing to do with showbiz aspirations whatsoever.
“It used to annoy me but I quite like it now. I’m not as bothered about being as cool as I was ten years ago. I quite like the idea of being phenomenally uncool.”
Lee Mack, Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, March 4, May 22, November 26. Tickets £18.50/£20.50, 0115 989 5555,