Pulling Michael's Legge
The London-based comic returns home to Northern Ireland for the Open House Bangor Festival on August 29
So you're staying with your parents for a week either side of your forthcoming gig at the Open House Bangor Festival in The Windsor. Is there much fuel for material there?
Well, it's so rare that I would come back and not get something. I'm certainly obsessed with my parents' living room, because there's no trace at all that I am their son. There's no photos, nothing. There are photos of every other member of the family and none of me. We've got this absolutely amazing looking photograph, but it was taken two years before I was born. It's still thought of as the Legge family portrait, and I'm not in it.
They were never tempted to get it updated?
They're happy enough as it is. I moved to London, so I made the decision not to be in the family any more. That's exactly how they look at it. I'm sure they'd say, 'We'd love a nice photograph of you', but equally they've got a framed photograph of a horse, and you have to ask questions then.
Given that you grew up in Newtownards, Bangor is almost a hometown gig.
Yeah, but Bangor is the rival town to Newtownards so obviously I'm going to be really aggressive to the whole audience and hopefully start a fight. That's the plan. I've never done a gig in Bangor before. I'm sure it'll be fun.
I went to school there, so all my recollections of Bangor are bad. I hated school so I sort of hate Bangor, and I do want all the people of Bangor to know that I hate them. And I blame them for any unhappiness that I've ever had in my life. I hate Bangor and everyone from Bangor. There we go, that's genuinely, completely how I feel. And that's how I'm opening the show on Friday night, and closing it.
Do you think you would have become a comedian if you had stayed in Northern Ireland?
Within a day of moving to London, I went to the Comedy Store, and that was when I realised that I totally love live comedy. So probably not, but I'm delighted that there seems to be this new wave of Northern Irish comedians that I'm particularly fond of. I really love Alan Irwin, he's absolutely fantastic, and Ruaidhrí Ward obviously is great, and Paul Currie and Chris Talbot, who's not really from Northern Ireland but he lives here so he's more Northern Irish than I am.
Do you think the comedy scene in Northern Ireland has improved over the past five to ten years?
I think so. Ten years ago, maybe even five years ago, Belfast had the Empire Laughs Back and that was it. I've had good times at The Empire and really bad times at the Empire. It is what it is – it's basically a pub, isn't it? It's not a seated venue. Some people get a seat, a lot of people don't. And when people stand, they talk. So you're basically on the stage, shouting above a lot of other noise in that room, and it can be hectic.
All of a sudden there are venues like the Pavilion and in particular the Black Box, which I really love. It seems to be a home for a different type of comedy. I rarely see a Northern Irish stand-up go on stage and going, 'You're Catholic, you're Protestant, ha ha ha'. No-one cares any more. They've got other stuff to talk about, after a lifetime of having to hear that. And I find it more interesting anyway.
It seems strange, considering how far through the 'peace process' we are, that we're only just getting to that point.
I was shocked when I did The Empire about five years ago and the compere came on stage and went, 'Look at this big Fenian here!' I'm sorry, but my London sensibilities went, [adopts posh voice], 'Are you allowed to say that? The F word?' I'm afraid I was a bit of a delicate petal. But I really love doing gigs in Belfast now. I used to be terrified of them, because my accent is so stupid. I am clearly from Northern Ireland but equally it's clear that I have not always lived in Northern Ireland.
A couple of years ago I did a slot at the Black Box and loved it. I had such a great time. I woke up the next morning, genuinely feeling, 'Aw yeah, I've cracked Belfast. and you know what Michael, you were brilliant.' I walked out of the hotel to a coffee shop, ordered a coffee, and the woman behind the counter went, 'Excuse me, are you a comedian?' I went, 'Yeah, I am.' Then I overheard her talking to someone she worked with and going, 'Dave Gorman's over there.' I was completely and utterly crushed.
I've seen you doing a bit on stage about looking like Dave Gorman. So you have been mistaken for him more than once?
Yeah. People asked me for Dave Gorman's autograph. Why disappoint them? Why tell them you're not Dave Gorman? They're having a nice time. I'm not kidding you, I just got picked up from the airport by my parents and my aunt, and my aunt was telling me that when a little trailer came on for the Alternative Comedy Experience, she saw it and said, 'Is that Michael on TV?' and my cousin responded, 'No Mum, you idiot, it's Dave Gorman.'
The weird thing is, you actually have a connection in that you've appeared on and guest presented his radio show.
Yeah, what an egomaniac he is. He wanted to look across the desk at himself.
Then there's the fact that you're not the only Michael Legge from Northern Ireland who has a Wikipedia page.
It's sort of brilliant, because he has fans that are really quite obsessive. For a long time I got emails from, like, a Spanish teenage girl saying how much she loved 'me'. It wasn't me, but I pretended it was me. But then you get obsessive fans who have been to my gigs and asked me to sign stuff that only an obsessive fan would have, like theatre ticket stubs and brochures from shows he's doing.
They've sat through an hour of me doing stand-up. They must think, 'Oh god, Michael Legge is my favourite actor, he's brilliant in Angela's Ashes, and we just saw him live and he plays the part of this sick old man really well.' People have given me an 8x10 photo to sign of a man who's clearly not me, and they've said things like, 'What's Tom Courtenay really like?' Lovely, I guess, I dunno.
As you mentioned, you've been a guest on Stewart Lee's Alternative Comedy Experience show on Comedy Central. Does the phrase 'alternative comedy' still have meaning in 2014?
I'm not too sure that it does, but it has new meaning. Clearly, it meant something in 1988 with Alexei Sayle and Rik Mayall and all those people, because they changed live comedy and TV comedy. Instead of going somewhere where you'd hear racism and sexism, they made something very new.
Now, if you go to see practically any big comic, it's back to square one. I'm not going to name names but you know who I'm talking about. You go to see a comedian in the O2 and you go, 'Is that a bit racist?' And there's so much sexism and it just seems like, ha ha, let's point the finger. It's easy to do and it's crappy.
It's tougher to enjoy alternative comedy but it's like anything, you put a bit of work into it and you're going to enjoy it more and for longer. For instance, Roy 'Chubby' Brown – and I realise he's not the most relevant comedian I could think of – even his most hardened fans would go, 'I went to see him do a two-hour show, he was good for 40 minutes.' After a while it's a bit like being punched. It's so aggressive and horrible.
It's hard to relate to 'my wife is so fat', especially in 2014. I definitely think the comedy scene has regressed. I'm really glad there are some acts that are generally thought of as alternative. I'm not sure where I am. I certainly don't have any of the sexism or racism. I don't want anyone to want to kill me.
If you had the opportunity to do something like Live At The Apollo, with the attendant theatre or even arena tours that might come out of it, is that something you would embrace or run away from??
I wouldn't do either. I just don't think I can do it. I'm not putting myself down, I just don't think I'm right for that. I've seen some comedians on the Michael McIntyre Comedy Roadshow and stuff like that, and I'm surprised they're on it because I don't think they suit it. But maybe that's a healthy thing.
Maybe the producers of that show do think every so often we should have a wildcard. Who knows, maybe it's a good idea. I just get the feeling that if I did it I would accidentally destroy Michael McIntyre's career. He would never be allowed on TV again. So for the sake of Michael McIntyre's children, I'm totally happy to be doing Stewart Lee's show and not his.