Interview: Steve Vertigo

steve vertigo interview index

Steve’s current show Murmuration: Word on the Tweet was one of our favourites of last year, with the review commenting that it was “An hour of engaging, innovative and original comedy from an expert comedian who knows how to made his audience laugh an enormous amount”. We’re not the only ones to praise him either with the Buxton Fringe saying “This man deserves big audiences. Just leave logic at the door and be prepared for an hour of splendid nonsense” and Kyle Wallace of G&B Comedy stating that he’s “Inch for inch, one of the best comics in London”. Here Steve talks to us about what inspired him to write such a unique show, what he loves and dislikes about doing stand up, and the value of a bit of thrashing around on stage like a landed octopus.

Comedy To Watch : How would you sell your comedy to anyone who wasn’t aware of your work?

Steve: Idiotic storytelling, surreal, but always with a point. You can either just switch off and enjoy the ride thinking “What the ..?!” or you can really engage with it and find its message. The live shows are a bit different from the stand up sets – more narrative as there’s more time to develop a theme and play with ideas.

CTW: Murmuration: Word on the Tweet is quite a unique show, what initially inspired you to write it?

Steve: I got massively into the Cambridge Analytica story when it came out – particular data and the part it played in Trump’s election victory and Brexit and Johnson, and how much information we willingly give away about ourselves and how that’s being used. I was also reading a lot about AI and how that’s seeping into everything we do and own. It felt like a seismic shift in how society and politics were working. Not exactly your rip-roaring comedy outline! At the time, I was touring another show around the UK and found myself mesmerised by a murmuration in Brighton and then a couple of weeks later I was in Aberystwyth watching the one there. Apart from being beautiful, it was like watching another form of society. It also looked a hell of a lot of fun, so I was daydreaming about joining in. Gradually it took shape as a story to hang everything from.

CTW: How do you go about writing your material in general, and structuring an hour long show?

Steve: I mostly write first thing. If I’ve been chewing through something that isn’t working, I’ll sleep on it and wake up with an idea or solution. I have to be brutal with myself in the crafting of the stand up. I have a lot of waffle at the start, but as soon as you’re saying it out loud to a room you can feel what’s working and what’s not – identify the filler that needs to go. Then I’ll try out small sections or routines in clubs and tweak them, then build the show from there.

CTW: You’ve been gigging for a while now, how do you feel you’ve evolved over the years?

Steve: Gigging is the steepest learning curve and the best training. I was always comfortable with the writing side of things, but because I can be quite shy, at the start I was always really self-conscious. That was my challenge. I absolutely love being on stage now and have learned to embrace it. Gigs can sometimes be so unpredictable, but now I’ve learnt how to work with the audience, to respond to them, to make them feel a part of it. That’s the thrill of it really – facing the unknown, winning the crowd over and taking them with you.

CTW: In 2018 you spent the summer at the Philippe Gaulier clowning school in Paris, what was your time with him like?

Steve: I wish it had been the whole summer, but it was a two week intensive. It was exhausting, amazing, full on and one of the best times I’ve had in my life. Basically it was two weeks of being shouted at and told you’re rubbish. He has a drum he hits when he’s had enough of your painful attempts to make people laugh and you know you have to stop and then take the tirade that’s coming. Some people took it hard, the criticism can seem quite brutal, but then you realise he’s being a clown all the time. He’s got crazy hair and a mad twinkle in his eye and he wants you to play with him. Answer back a bit, prove him wrong, ask to do it again. It’s basically two weeks of being taught how to fail, and take the stick and to keep getting up and going again. He says he’s not a fan of stand-up which is cool, but for me I just wanted to loosen up a bit, do some physical stuff that breaks that hour of someone standing at a mic talking at you. I’m 6′ 7 and I’m properly comic-gangly, and it’s a shame to not use it, to at least do a bit of thrashing around on stage like a landed octopus. Wasn’t really sure what I’d learned afterwards, but bit’s keep coming back and saving me, so I guess he must have a vague idea of what he’s doing then!. I met some ace people from completely outside my normal circle and we still keep in touch. I think probably because we had to huddle together for protection and that builds bonds.

CTW: What do you most love about doing stand up?

Steve: That moment you grab the mic at the start of the show, there’s no way back and you just have to get on with it, do or die. It’s a proper leap of faith and a belting rush. And when the show’s going well, and people are on board and everyone’s buzzing and you’re having a great time playing with it. And also the writing, the crafting, the tweaking, the hell you put yourself through convincing yourself you’re rubbish and you’re not fooling anyone, then having that eureka moment where you get a breakthrough. That whole mental battle with yourself is quite special. Did you just mean one thing? 🙂

CTWL And conversely, is there any aspect of the job that you don’t like?

Steve: Wanting to go to the toilet thirty-eight times before a gig. Stomach churning terror type of nonsense, when you’re trying to think of any reason not to get up and do it, like a kid trying to get out of school.

CTW: What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you since you started performing?

Steve: I did a show at Museum of Comedy and as I made my triumphant exit stage left, I smacked my head on a speaker. The whole audience went “OOOHHF!” and then, in silence, turned sideways to watch me staggering and fumbling with the curtains in front of the exit until I was just pawing pathetically at the door, then finally I gave up and wandered nonchalantly to the back to stand next to the sound guy. Finally someone got up and calmly opened the door. I must have weakened it for them.. A classic snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!

CTW: Apart from stand up is there anything else you’d like to do in the comedy world?

Steve: I’d love to do a decent sit com. Something that is on the edge. I’m in the midst of a novel that’s been going in stops and starts for a while now and I’d like to star alongside Eric Morecambe in one of Ernie’s little plays.

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

Steve: An animated 3D comedy film, or if not that then a brand new, fairer society. (I’m after a mention in the Honours list so I can turn it down).

CTW: What would you like to see change about the current comedy scene?

Steve: Loads of women I’ve worked with are smashing it at the moment, and there are so many other diverse comedians who need to be heard, especially in times like these! It’s good to be challenging that whole straight, white, middle-aged male stereotype, and I say that as a straight, white, middle-aged, good-looking, hilarious male. Vive la difference!

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

Steve: Are the rumours about you and Penelope Cruz true? I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU ASKED ME THAT!! <throws down mic, tries to storm out, bangs head on speaker, ends up pawing pathetically at the door whilst everyone watches in silence…>

Related Links:
Steve’s official site can be found here.
Our review of Murmuration: Word on the Tweet is here.

Alex Finch.
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