INTERVIEW: Barry Cryer | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s just two days after New Year and whilst the rest of us struggle to ease into our old routines, Barry Cryer seems ready to get straight back to work. He talks to me as if I’m an old friend, with more than an air of familiarity in the conversation “So how was your new year, what did you get up to? Edinburgh, you say?! Oh, it doesn’t get much better, does it?” he asks, responding to my opening chit-chat and seemingly genuinely interested in the responses to the questions, so much so that it’s quite easy to forget just who is supposed to be conducting the interview.

However, after reigning the conversation back in, Cryer is eager to explain why, after over four decades of working on the show I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, he’s really excited to still be working on the radio, but also why the live shows are as important.

“Radio is a very personal thing. I always say that television shouts at people, but the radio speaks. You can have a radio with you everywhere, in the kitchen, in the bath, it’s just a very personal thing, which I think is lovely. You can always imagine just one or two people really enjoying it and I think for me it’s that personal touch that I much prefer about working in radio than other mediums.

“The live shows for me are brilliant because they aren’t edited down, which gives the audience not only a better performance, but gives them a better insight into how we do things. People always assume that we rehearse these shows, but all we know are the subjects, we never know what each other is going to do. It’s all live and done there on the spot and it’s great. I’d never enjoy rehearsing and performing the same material, it’s always better if it’s fresh and that’s what’s great about performing on the stage, every night it’s different, but every night it’s just as fun for us to do, which I think makes it as fun for the audience. We also throw in things like sketches with the live shows, we try and make it as entertaining as we possibly can for them.”

Having been on air for over forty-two years, the fact that I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue still has such a great popularity is testament to its success, the recipe for which Barry was more than happy to discuss. “The main factor is that we all enjoy doing it. It’s a lot more difficult to keep an audience if you aren’t interested in what it is you’re doing. We all genuinely love doing it and we’re excited about making more shows. It’s never the case of ‘Oh, we have to go and make more Clue, what an awful drag.’ We all still love doing it, even after all this time and we will continue to do so until they force us to stop. It’s a real privilege to do the show.

barry cryer

“Comedy’s a strange animal that comes and goes and things change. It used to be all jokes and songs and there were taboos – subjects you couldn’t talk about or words that you could never say – but that’s all gone out the window now and attitudes have changed”

“I think we have come up with some ideas that are win/win whether they work well or not, which helps. Rounds like ‘Sing one song to the tune of another’ or ‘Listen to a song, join in where the music is turned off and see if you’re still in time when the music is turned back on,’ they’re very silly ideas, but the audience love it if you get it right, but equally love it when you get it wrong, so it’s great either way. I think that type of idea really keeps the audience tuning in because either way it tends to work for us. I still say that the show is at its best when it’s all falling apart.”

After such tremendous success, the face of comedy has changed somewhat since Clue’s beginnings and Cryer has watched it evolve over time, but suggests that audiences are demand different things from their comedians and ultimately it is the crowds that have changed comedy. “Comedy’s a strange animal that comes and goes and things change. It used to be all jokes and songs and there were taboos – subjects you couldn’t talk about or words that you could never say – but that’s all gone out the window now and attitudes have changed. Comedians all have their own audiences and everyone knows more or less what to expect from comedians now. If a performer gets it wrong, they soon know about it. The customer is always right. Comedians nowadays like to talk about themselves and I’m amazed by how many people say to me after a show ‘Oh, you tell jokes!’”

As someone who has seen comedy change, Cryer remarked on who he has enjoyed working with throughout his time on Clue and throughout his extensive career and also with whom he’d like to collaborate with in the future. “I seem to remember it taking ages to get Jo Brand and Victoria Wood ages to agree to do the show, but both have made more than one appearance now, which is great because they really added something to the show. People thought we were quite chauvinistic because it does tend to be predominantly male comedians, but I remember trying especially hard to bring those two on and it being very much worth it. They’re both brilliant.

“My favourite person to work with was Jack Benny, a man who I regard as my absolute icon. He had a very unique way of performing which made writing for him a lot of fun. He liked to give other people the laughs, which a lot of comedians don’t like to do and he loved being the butt of the joke. He’s my absolute icon and I worked with him twice, which I thoroughly loved.

“There are so many amongst the current generation who I admire. Ross Noble is a very good friend of mine, Rob Brydon, Josh Widdicombe, the list is endless. They all know me from the Fringe and they all call me Uncle Baz. I love Stewart Lee too, he’s very clever. Although I was talking to him backstage once and, despite his intricate, well-written shows, it turns out he absolutely loves jokes. He’s a tremendously funny man.”

I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue comes to the Sunderland Empire on Thursday 8th January.

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