There are times when observational stand-up can be pretty downbeat.
By trying to take a humorous look at their anxieties, insecurities and failures a comedian can unintentionally end up with a rather depressing show, especially if they don’t offer solutions any of life’s problems.
Thankfully, Jason Cook has an upbeat message, which he’s bringing to Brighton Dome’s Studio Theatre on Saturday, October 18 (9.15pm)
His new set, Broken, puts a positive spin on his personal trials and tribulations by showing how they can be used to help people live more fulfilling lives.
It sounds optimistic but Jason can’t resist self-deprecation when the Sussex Express asks him to define his style of comedy in his own words.
“Oh, awful, that’s probably a good word,” jokes the Geordie comedian, before giving a more quote-friendly answer.
“Storytelling,” he continues. “I’m a storyteller comic, I think, trying to tell true stories from my life and make them funny. That’s the shtick as I believe it used to be called.”
So what stories does Jason have in store for his audiences?
“There’s one where my wife nearly had a fight on a train, that’s pretty good,” says Jason. “I realised how much more powerful she is than me and how much she owns me because she stood up for the whole family.”
He continues: “There are stories about how I grew up. Because my Dad always worked away I was raised by women, so the only magazines we had in the toilet were Cosmopolitan. So that’s why I’ve grown up to have a love of musical theatre and the ability to do jazz hands.”
The show deals with some tougher subjects as well.
“I went to a counsellor,” says Jason. “That’s mentioned as well and there’s a little bit about going to therapy.”
“I was just really stressed and I had a bit of a breakdown, really, so I just took the material from there,” he continues, explaining that stand-ups don’t often talk about pressure or anxiety.
“The whole show is not about that,” he states. “But I only like to do stuff that I think is interesting in some way and that hasn’t been done before.”
“I’m always very self-deprecating and I’m always on the back foot when I do stand-up,” he continues. “So it’s just more about giving background to the stories where I’ve mucked up, where I’ve always lost, because I always lose,” he laughs.
For some, it might seem that Jason’s taking liberties with the concept of ‘losing’. Just last year his BBC2 TV series, the critically acclaimed Hebburn, won ‘Best Drama’ at the Royal Television Awards.
The show is based on Jason’s upbringing in the small town of Hebburn on the bank of the River Tyne and stars Vic Reeves and Gina McKee. Written by Jason himself, the sitcom was a hit and is now being shown in Canada, Australia and all over Europe.
“It was amazing, it was a dream come true,” says Jason, when he’s asked what it was like to get Hebburn on TV screens. “It’s something extra special because it’s your life people are judging as well.”
“There was a weight of expectation from people in the region,” he continues. “All of the characters are kind of real in some ways, you know? They’re all based on my family. I also wanted to keep my family and make sure they liked it, which they did, thankfully.”
Jason was also very happy about working with Vic Reeves, who played a somewhat serious part in Hebburn despite being best known for his bizarre and irreverent style.
“He’s not how you expect him,” says Jason. “He’s a very quiet man. We muck around, you know, we muck around all the time, but he doesn’t turn up with loaves of bread on his feet or anything.”
“He can offer you loads of ways to do the lines as well,” Jason continues. “He’s a very skilled actor, which is what we used in Hebburn quite a lot, when there were some serious bits, and he was phenomenal.”
Writing about one’s upbringing is naturally a very personal process, so how did Jason feel about having actors interpret his work?
“Oh, I was more than happy, because I’m not very confident in my acting at all,” says Jason. “We were very lucky that every single member of the cast was a first choice. There were ones that weren’t household names and when they came in and did the auditions, they blew us away.”
“All of them found different ways to do the lines,” Jason explains. “They found different little bits of physical things to add. They’d always have suggestions and stuff for extra lines. The thing about Hebburn that was different to some other shows, the guys who were making it told me, is that after about three or four days we felt like a family.”
He adds: “I think it was the lighting guy who said it was the most raucous set he’d ever been on because we we’re always running around and mucking around with each other.”
Stories about family and big laughs are certainly important elements in both Jason’s writing and stand-up.
“That’s all I’m worried about,” he says. “As long as there’s big laughs, I’m fine...and as long as there’s a good through-line as well,”
So, to sum up: the appeal of Jason’s new stand-up show comes from combining big laughs with a positive message about life and an engaging tale about the pressures facing a professional funnyman.
Are there any other reasons to see Jason’s show? Wrapping up the interview, I ask if Jason has anything else to add.
“For every ticket that goes unsold, a pixie will die,” he states.
You have been warned.
l Tickets for the show cost £13 (£11 concessions). Over 16s only. Call 01273 709709 or visit brightondome.org.