Interview: Spencer Jones – 'In my head, I'd love to put on a rave'
Prop-heavy comic Spencer Jones follows up his 2015 hit with another slice of the Herbert. This increasingly in-demand actor talks about the crazy stuff he carries around in his bags
Has Spencer Jones created the most lovable comedy character of recent years? The Herbert, his joyful, garishly attired, dickhead alter ego, had the feelgood hit of last year's Fringe, with a mix of cheeky prop comedy, daft songs and physical lunacy. That 2015 hit, Proper Job, gets another airing while a brand new show, Eggy Bagel, follows in its anarchic footsteps. The Herbert's childlike charm was infectious, and soon Jones' show was a word-of-mouth hit. But it all came as something of a surprise.
'I didn't realise it was going well until the last two days of the festival,' Jones tells me, when we meet in a London café. 'I think people liked it because it wasn't nasty. There was a genuine surprise on my face, and I think people like that: "oh, he's pleased to be here!"'
After attempting various other styles of comedy, Jones settled on the Herbert because it was a brand new way of writing. 'It was a nice way of going on stage and saying: "here's me, I'm a bit of a prat".' The character – who dons bright white tights and luminous tops – started as a prop-less clowning act, but Jones needed something to interact with. 'I realised going on stage with a stupid outfit on wasn't enough,' he explains. 'We had the builders in at home, so I just started nicking stuff from the site like pipes and drills; that's how the prop thing started.'
Jones creates characters and contraptions from household items and impulse eBay purchases. Some are throwaway gags, others are more integral to the show's narrative. Some, though, don't even make the final cut. 'I bought all this Duplo thinking I was going to do something with it but that's not happened!' he laughs. 'I have 20 or 30 kilos of Duplo at home! I'm trying to hide it from my son. If he finds it he'll get it all out and then that's an hour and a half just putting it away.'
With props comes baggage. During our chat, Jones is armed with a heavy suitcase of items – a leaf blower, a loop pedal, a headless doll – ready for a gig later that night. Does he ever wish he hadn't chosen prop-comedy? 'Every single day!' he admits. 'It's really annoying! Sometimes I daydream about other ideas for shows: "my life in adverts" or something. But not yet … '
Jones has featured in a fair few TV ads and has become an increasingly in-demand actor. Most recently, he channelled his inner Ricky Gervais for a role in Ben Elton's Shakespearean sitcom, Upstart Crow. 'I know it's a cliché, but the cast were fucking brilliant,' says Jones. A starry cast it was, too, with David Mitchell, Harry Enfield and Liza Tarbuck: it must have been a bit intimidating? 'Oh yeah, insane,' he admits. 'I used to do impressions of Harry Enfield every single day, and then suddenly he's there! It took me two weeks to actually have a chat with him.'
With the acting career going strong, does that mean we might see less of the Herbert in future? 'If I'm honest, this year's show might be me moving away from it,' he replies. 'I'm certainly not saying this is the last show the Herbert will ever do, but I'm definitely trying to mix it up this year.' But Jones' plans for the character aren't totally through. There's at least one harebrained idea he's yet to try. 'In my head, I'd love to put on a rave as the Herbert. A proper rave! Where everyone goes crazy, no chairs, and with weird visuals. For me, variety is the main thing and not getting bored. If I get bored of Herbert, I'll stop. But I can't walk on stage in the white tights forever … '
Spencer Jones Presents The Herbert in Eggy Bagel, Heroes at the Hive, 4–28 Aug (not 15), 8.50pm, £6 in advance or Pay What You Want; Spencer Jones is The Herbert in Proper Job, Underbelly, 6–28 Aug (not 15) 5.20pm, £11-£12.