Interview: Steve N Allen

steve n allen index

Steve N Allen is best known as one of the cast of the critically acclaimed BBC series The Mash Report, but he’s also been a panellist for The Wright Stuff, Jeremy Vine and Not The One Show, and has been heard as a news commentator and satirist on TV and radio, including Question Time Extra Time on BBC 5live, TalkRadio, Fubar Radio, LBC and BBC Radio London. He hosts his own live radio shows for the BBC and LoveSport Radio, including a weekly show on BBC Radio Kent and a topical comedy podcast for the BBC, Steve N Allen’s Week, and along with all of that he’s also an acclaimed stand up who’s performed across the country and has been described as “A performer with masses of talent” by Fringe Review, while Time Out commented “”Very funny… cutting wit” and Three Weeks stated “Steve N Allen performs ★★★★ biting satire”. Here he talks about his new show Better Than, what it’s like to work on The Mash Report, why he loves performing topical comedy and how sometimes joking about something seemingly innocent can go terribly wrong.

Comedy To Watch: How would you sell your stand up to someone unaware of your good self?

Steve: It aims to be fun. It’s a lot edgier than the things I do on TV or radio. I think the main point of it is that life has a lot of stupidity in it and if you can turn that around and laugh at it you can find it easier to deal with.

CTW: And what can you tell us about your new show, Better Than?

Steve: Better Than is a look at the ways in life you can make a choice and be better. It feels like we’re living in a speed lap of the race to the bottom. The news is filled with stories of people doing something that they must know is wrong. We hear of people being the worst version of themselves. I think there’s a lot of victim playing. If you consider yourself the victim you can rationalise your bad actions. In Better Than I take a look at those little decisions and I think I make the case for picking the better option.

CTW: What do you love most about being a stand up?

Steve: It’s the freedom. We are probably the most free of all media platforms. I wouldn’t want to use that freedom to be needlessly controversial but it’s the purest way of performing. It’s you, a microphone and that’s it.

CTW: And conversely, what’s your least favourite thing?

Steve: The driving. It’s several hours on the road to do one hour on stage. I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers where he explains the 10,000-hour rule. That means years before I become a passable stand-up comedian I would have become a great taxi driver.

CTW: You started out at Mercury FM (which used to be my local radio station as I grew up in Reigate), what was it like working there and could you tell us a little about the sketches and comedy you performed on the station?

Steve: My first job there was the overnight show, 1am to 6am. It was one of the most fun jobs I’ve had. During those hours no bosses mind what you’re doing. So at a time that commercial radio was obsessing speed-links, talking about barely 15-seconds between songs, I was learning how to turns bits from the papers into radio.

That’s where I learned to record bits, little sketches, playing with the concepts of interviewing people. Before I knew it I was doing the kind of thing I do know, playing the characters on the phone that I’m talking to about the news. I played entertainment news correspondents, rough sounding vicars, pretend callers. It was a way to get a cast of hundreds with zero budget.

CTW: Could you tell us some behind the scenes info about what it’s like working on The Mash Report, and what’s been the funniest thing that’s happened during your time on the show?

Steve: For me the best behind the scenes fact about The Mash Report is how quickly it’s all done. We turn up at midday on the day of filming and we work till it’s all in the can that evening. Then there’s less than 24-hours to turn round the edit and it’s on TV.

Some of the funniest moments are when we’re waiting to some instruction from the gallery and get to muck about with the audience. If you come to see it being films you certain get a lot more than you’ll see on TV.

On a personal level I remember the night when I had the phrase “preserved for posterity” in the script and I couldn’t say it. They left me hanging for ages, trying and failing for dozens of tries. Then they changed the autocue to “remembered” and it was like hitting a home run.

CTW: What are the challenges of doing topical comedy? And what’s your favourite thing about it?

Steve: I have always loved topical comedy but the biggest challenge is also my favourite thing about it; the timing. There’s always change, the news never stops. In plain stand-up you can hone that script for years but in topical comedy you have to hit the moving target. That means there’s no end to the source material. We get to make people laugh and have a say about the world we’re living in.

There’s another challenge. The gap between recording and transmission. The number of times I’ve had a perfectly harmless joke about something innocuous, like an umbrella or crème brûlée and then you hear that there’s been an atrocity where someone ran amok with a brolly in a crowded shopping centre or in trying to blow torch a crème brûlée someone burnt down a whole street.

CTW: Have you ever met someone you’ve joked about and it’s not gone well?

Steve: All the time. In my comedy career I’ll lampoon celebs or politicians and then as a broadcaster I’ll be sat across from Farage or someone who’s in the news and we have that awkward look. I rather enjoy it.

CTW: If money were no object, what would you like to create?

Steve: I’ve always dreamed of a talk-based radio station that was actually funny. Imagine a station where you could get the update you’re after and some stand-up grade comedy about it. I’m not sure it would be a good return on investment because it wouldn’t involve enough people shouting at the people they disagree with, which seems to be what people want from radio these days.

CTW: And finally, if you could interview yourself, what question would you most like to ask? And what would the answer be?

Steve: The broadcaster side of me would ask a couple of easy ones and then hit me with a question about the point of comedy and I’d ask if the main point is to entertain and inform people or is it license-fee payers funding ego trips to make the comedians think they’re good.

And I’d answer it by avoiding the dark truth in there and steering it round to how I’m doing a show in Edinburgh this year called Better Than.

Alex Finch.
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Related Links:
Steve N Allen: Better Than is at The Stand Comedy Club 2, 16 North St. Andrew Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1HU and you can buy tickets here:
Steve’s Official Site.
Details on his previews of Better Than are here.
Steve’s Youtube Channel.
You can follow Steve on Twitter at @MrSteveNAllen
And he’s on Facebook here.
And this is his Instagram page.

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