Stewart Francis Interview - "My career has come full circle."
Stewart Francis‘ rapid rise to fame owes to several factors. Being funny always helps and Stewart’s sense of humour is hard to rival on today’s comedy circuit but what really rocketed him to household name status was his arrival on these shores when the UK stand-up scene was experiencing something of a boom. Comedy venues were raking it in and shows like ‘Live at the Apollo’ and ‘Mock the Week’ were bringing acts to the public eye that might have otherwise flown inconspicuously under the radar.
Now such a highly sought after act, we spoke to Stewart to find out where it all began. Unsurprisingly, he set foot in the entertainment world as a cartoonist but, after sending his cartoons out, he gave it up as a bad job as he couldn’t handle all the sadness of rejection in his life. This was the turning point when he realised it was time to fall back on plan B, stand-up, back in 1989, which is what he’s been doing ever since.
Asking him if he’d always been a one-liner style gag merchant he couldn’t have agreed more saying that his style was by and large the result of his cartoon groundwork. Comparing his early cartoons to ‘The Far Side’ he says his stand-up runs in the same fashion – single frame puns. Stewart’s vibrant tone on talking about this subject made it clear he was more than eager to let us in on the fact that his “career has come full circle” with his publishers having green-lit his book of cartoons for an October, Christmas rush, release this year.
It came as no surprise when Stewart related his “accelerated” rise in the comedy circuit with him receiving 50 Canadian dollars for a 15 minute set after only three months on the scene. Most of his colleagues who had been performing for a good two years at “amateur” nights were still hungry to achieve that kind of recognition.
Whilst confessing that he didn’t really prepare much material before taking the plunge he believes that having many friends on the comedy circuit meant that he had been ‘unconsciously’ preparing his first gig for a year or two beforehand and hit the ground running, so to speak.
After making quite an established name for himself, although he refuses to use that word as he believes there is no specific ‘stardom hierarchy’ in Canada, he decided it was time to try and challenge himself elsewhere. He felt he had overcome his challenges in Canada and it was time to try his hand in another corner of the world – Scotland, where much of his family were actually from. The challenge he set himself was to bring over his first Edinburgh Festival show with fellow comedians Glenn Wool and Craig Campbell in 1997. They went by the stage name ‘The Lumberjacks’ and at that time he had previously worked with Craig on a number of occasions and only met Glenn on arriving in Edinburgh and they asked him there and then to appear as their guest Lumberjack. This guest spot was quickly done away with as Glenn was promoted to fully fledged Lumberjack status a mere 12 months later.
Last year saw the trio’s new show ‘The Return of the Lumberjacks’ amass rave reviews and they are busy preparing for a massive tour of the UK. Despite being offered a plethora of guest spots throughout the Edinburgh Festival Stewart says he was determined to put all of his eggs into ‘The Lumberjacks’ backet rather than performing anywhere else in August. A firm disbeliever in money for old rope he endeavours to make sure punters are getting their money’s worth with new gags rather than paying to see him perform the same jokes in a different environment.
Whilst each comedian alone boasts a pretty sizeable fan base Stewart is adamant that each can help bring in a much wider fanbase as they each offer their own particular breed of humour. Not only that but the Edinburgh shows, and a handful of London dates, provided additional suprises in the form of honourary guest “Canadians” such as Jimmy Carr and Stewart Lee. Although not 100% out of the question, Stewart says it would be a tough challenge to include special guests on the upcoming tour as logistically it would be just so much more complicated.
Delving into his past a bit more, we asked him what he owes most of his popularity in the UK to and he didn’t think twice before saying ‘Mock The Week’. He agreed that shows like ‘Live at the Apollo’ and ‘Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow’ were very important to him and both a great success but, having been asked back to ‘Mock the Week’ upwards of 15 times, he says it’s a show he holds dear to his heart. “I look to this show as I think it opened people’s eyes to me.”
Weighing up the differences and similarities between doing ‘Mock The Week’ and regular stand-up shows he says the TV show is certainly challenging. Revealing a few behind the scenes secrets he says that the show is actually recorded over the course of two and a half hours before it is all edited and polished to perfection. Stewart uses the word challenging in the sense that the show consists of seven comedians sharing just one microphone with which to convey their comedy. Setting the story straight, he confesses that “When the wheel is spun it’s not a surprise to us. We tell them essentially what we’ll be going to do otherwise it would be awful TV as it would be way too spontaneous with comedians umming and ahhing trying to think what comes off the top of their heads.” Despite this struggle to be heard on the show, Stewart has nothing but good words for all the comedians he has shared the microphone with, especially Dara, who he says is a combination of the perfect host and the perfect air traffic controller, guiding the microphone around the set to make sure everyone gets their fair share of air time.
Head back over here on Friday as Stewart reveals all about a new sitcom pilot he has up his sleeves and what it’s like to know you’ve won Dave’s Joke of the Fringe award but can’t tell anyone about it for weeks. Also, being the massive Crackerjack fans we are, you’ll also find out whether or not we managed to twist his arm into considering a special guest cameo on his sitcom…
Tickets are available for the Return of the Lumberjacks tour here, starting on 17 April.
Keep up to date with everything Stewart Francis on his official website.
Here’s the audio of the first half of our chat with Stewart.