Tab Interview: Tom Allen
Before his show at the Edinburgh Fringe, comedian Tom Allen talks to TABATHA LEGGETT about theatre, Big Brother and opening a cake shop.
Google has become too cocky for my liking. Yesterday morning, I was trying to conduct some research before my interview with comedian Tom Allen. With Google naturally being my first port of call, I typed in ‘Tom Allen stand up comedy.’ ‘Did you mean Tim Allen stand up comedy,’ Google sarcastically retorted. NO I DID NOT.
Two conclusions can be drawn from my poor attempt at Google research. Firstly, if Google doesn’t know Tom Allen, he can’t be that famous. Secondly, Google and I are no longer friends.
So, who is Tom Allen? In his own words, he’s ‘gay, handsome and bald.’ In GQ’s words, he’s ‘one of the funniest acts on the circuit,’ and in Time Out’s words, he’s ‘lively, charismatic … the cream of the crop.’ According to The Telegraph, we ought to ‘catch him now’ so that we can tell people that we saw him before he gets famous.
Tom Allen, you see, is on the verge of making it big. In 2005, he won both the BBC New Comedy Award and the competition So You Think You’re Funny? He’s had his own show at the Edinburgh Fringe for the last three years; he presented Dictionary Corner on Channel 4’s TNT Show; he regularly appears on E4’s Big Brother’s Little Brother and Big Brother’s Big Mouth and he recently made his own documentary for E4 entitled Who is Tom Allen? Let’s hope he didn’t ask Google.
Tom began by apologising for his voice, which apparently doesn’t sound normal in the morning. And then he apologised for rambling. ‘I’m terribly sorry if you’re expecting witty one liners,’ he said, ‘but I can’t function in the morning, and I have a tendency to ramble on about things. I didn’t go to university, you see. Perhaps if I had, I’d be better at organising my thoughts. Sorry.’ An apologetic start.
This year, Tom is performing a show entitled Tom Allen Toughens Up! at the Edinburgh Fringe. ‘Basically,’ he explained in his quite posh, slightly camp voice with a mesmerising rhythm to it that makes you hang on to every word he says, ‘I’m not very good at fighting. So, I thought I’d do a show about my pathetic attempts to toughen up and fight the world.
‘As a comedian, I suppose you do have to be quite thick skinned, you have to remember that there’s nothing scary about stand up comedy, because it’s so honest. That said, I’ve had some odd experiences. A few months ago, for example, I walked onto a stage and a man shouted, ‘GAY.’ I asked him what his name was; he replied ‘GAY.’ I asked him where he’d come from. ‘GAY.’ I wondered whether he went around the world labelling things: ‘MAN,’ ‘WOMAN,’ ‘TREE,’ ‘GAY.’ Strange, but in my case, quite accurate.’
Talking to Tom about his career, his passion for comedy became obvious. He explained that he couldn’t see himself doing anything else, because he loves telling stories. ‘And, essentially, that’s what comedy is; jokes are just short stories. As long as one is secure in oneself and is honest,’ he told me, ‘comedy works. Comedy has to be personal. That’s why I don’t read my reviews. If a play’s bad, you can blame the director, the playwright or the performers. But if a stand up comedian’s bad, there’s only one person to blame: the comedian. And that’s scary.’
Despite avoiding reviews, Tom loves tabloid journalism. ‘Printed journalism is no longer our only source of information,’ he says, ‘and so the papers that don’t take themselves too seriously are great. I prefer redtops like The Sun to rubbish like The Daily Mail, because they don’t attempt to colour my view of the world. And my absolute favourites are those magazines that cost 53p and have headlines like ‘On my Wedding Night, my Husband Ate my Face’. And I love Cosmo.’
‘Most men secretly do,’ I agreed.
‘Maybe we’re all transgender,’ he, somewhat confusingly, replied.
Then, somehow, we started discussing Big Brother. I’m a massive fan. Tom’s a massive fan. He thinks Josie, Ben or Coirin will win. I think Josie or Mario will win. ‘I love Big Brother,’ Tom explained, ‘because everyone is so vulnerable. They have to be themselves, and the emotions that we see are raw.’ We both agreed that Josie and John James will end up together.
Hearing Tom talk about Big Brother reiterated just how much he loves people. This is, of course, necessary for his career in comedy. This is also evident in his work with the National Youth Theatre, where he works particularly closely with the social inclusion programme. ‘People will always love people,’ Tom says, ‘and everyone has an interesting story to tell.’
Tom talked about Alan Bennett’s idea of theatre ‘unifying people’ and explained, ‘comedy is a vital form of theatre. People go to see a play with the intention of seeing a play. People don’t always see comedy with the same intention; you get passive audience members. And the most exciting thing is trying to capture their imagination.
‘Comedy is like a game of tennis where the performer has to engage with and respond to the audience. This can be harder in larger venues, but because comedy is implicitly so personal, it remains intimate regardless of where it is being performed.
‘I used to think I should be a doctor,’ he explained, ‘because I like people. But, then I realised that I’d be terrible at it because I get bored so easily. I can be having a conversation with someone, and then I’ll see a pigeon and stare at it, and half an hour will just go by.’
‘So, what would you do if you couldn’t perform?’ I ask.
‘I like cakes. Perhaps I’d work in a cake shop.’
‘You should move to France, and sell cakes at a market,’ I replied, ‘because French markets are only open for half days. So, you could just work in the mornings and have afternoons off.’
‘But I don’t like mornings,’ he said. I couldn’t tell whether either one of us was being serious.
‘Tom Allen Toughens Up!’ is on at 7.30pm every night at the Gilded Balloon from 4th – 29th August (not 16th). For more information, visit www.tomindeed.com or www.gildedballoon.co.uk, and for tickets call 0131 622 6552.