Julian Clary - Lord of the Mince
This article is from 2009.
Hilariously inappropriate public utterances haven’t hurt the career of Julian Clary as the New Statesman columnist launches himself back onto the Fringe. Julian Hall hears from a man with very few regrets
Offstage, Julian Clary is a man of relatively few words and the ones that he will proffer are certainly not minced. He’s direct but he doesn’t go deep, choosing the trivial over the heavyweight. It’s partly because I need to have two bites at Clary’s cherry that my enduring impression of him as an interviewee is one of reticence, even if his words themselves carry some sense of engagement. Perhaps I shouldn’t have expected too much of someone who, when taking a question about whether he keeps up with the comedy scene, openly admits that ‘I am a bit self-absorbed, I suppose. I never was that interested in anyone else and I’m still not.’
At least he’s honest. And brazen too of course, a quality that saw him rise through the early comedy circuit ranks in his alter ego of first Gillian Pieface and then The Joan Collins Fan Club (accompanied along the way by Fanny the Wonder Dog) to become a hit on Saturday Live before being rewarded with a number of his own TV shows including the camp-as-you-like Sticky Moments.
But then, he had that other rather sticky moment in 1993 at the British Comedy Awards where his infamous (and drug-fuelled, he admitted later) ‘fisting Norman Lamont’ quip had him more or less banished from the screen for a while, even though some might consider the role he had in Carry on Columbus, the failed attempt to resurrect that saucy genre, a far greater crime. Clary’s latest show is Lord of the Mince, a more intimate and retrospective affair than his last live outing six years ago, the extravagant Natural Born Mincer for which he took to the stage inside a giant motorised stiletto. ‘This is more about doing something appropriate to one’s age. I don’t want to be a sad old queen trying to wear Lycra.’
The Lamont joke, though, is something he says he ‘might’ revisit. ‘I don’t feel obliged to talk about it. There’s not much to say there except that people like hearing about it, so I might explain myself once again. Most things happen for a reason and I kind of needed a break at the time, so it was the universe’s way of getting me a clear diary. There’s no such thing as a lost year; just because you’re not on TV doesn’t mean your life is meaningless. I was perfectly alright; I was just away doing other things.’
Clary’s TV appearances have since resumed in a number of guises, including a stint on Strictly Come Dancing, while his other projects included writing an autobiography, two novels and a column for the New Statesman (though not about politics, as his trivial ethos dictates). Clary, who says he wants to write a musical next, has also made forays onto the stage in Taboo, the show about 80s iconic performance artist Leigh Bowery, and as Emcee in Rufus Norris’ Cabaret on the West End. When comedians ‘do drama’ they often feel that it somehow validates their work, but for drama school graduate Clary, it was more about co-operation. ‘There was the joy of being part of a whole group of people working to the same aim. However, you do get used to being centre stage on your own and, it being your own material, chopping and changing and messing around with it. There’s general outrage if you change a word in a play. It’s not all about you in that case, which is a nice change, but I am ready to go back to it being all about me.’
The resumption of Clary’s solo live work came after doing a one-off gig. ‘I did a kind of corporate and it went really well and put a spring in my step. You forget what it can be like when you’ve been away on other things. I boldly called my agent the next day and said I fancied doing more of this. I’m 50 now and you have to start doing what you really want to do at that age and touring is one of those things, so I’m kind of treating myself to it.’ There’s a pause. ‘Ask me again when I’m playing Sheffield on a Monday night and I might feel differently.’
Citing Glasgow as one of his favourite tour stop-offs, Clary is also looking forward to bringing his show to Edinburgh for nine nights. ‘Edinburgh is a very creative environment, exciting and fun, and I try not to worry too much about things when I am there. When I did it in the 80s and early 90s it was all one big party. Although I know it has changed now and it is all a bit more serious, certain things can only happen when creative people get together, and doing the same show in the same space every night means you can really develop things.’
Clary first came to the Fringe in 1978 in a student production and then returned in the mid-80s as The Joan Collins Fan Club. ‘Since then there have been years when I have only come up to do a radio interview or to judge a comedy competition but I’ve always managed to get up here for a couple of days at least. I feel a bit left out if I am not there in some capacity.’ That said, Clary isn’t ‘waiting for the party invites to come in’ up in Festival city anymore and this might explain why he feels that there is less partying than there was. ‘The world is less frivolous now and comedy is a serious business with more emphasis at the Festival on making and breaking people. That’s just my impression, anyway.’
Like his stage face, his view is not without foundation. The Fringe now is also at odds with Clary when it comes to the idea of themes for shows. ‘I don’t really go in for themes. What’s important for me is the thrill of getting a laugh, something that grows and evolves, the old-fashioned satisfaction of turning up somewhere, putting on a show, everyone having a good time and placing your head on the pillow later that night feeling like you have done everyone a good turn.’
That good turn, of course, is most likely to be erected on the basis of the Clary trademark in rampant innuendo, and his status as almost the sole representative of this lost art form is not lost on him. ‘Well, I certainly found my niche. Obviously I still like that style of humour and the more trivial material the better. I like a good solid belly laugh not the tittering you get when you have been intellectually stimulated. I’ve no idea if I have ever inspired anyone in that way.’
Julian Clary, Udderbelly’s Pasture, Bristo Square, 0844 545 8252, 22–30 Aug, 8.35pm, £14–£15 (£12–£13).