You may think you know Andrew Lawrence from his quick-fire, archly cynical stand-up spots on various TV comedy shows, but how do you separate persona from personality? Morag Robertson met the real comedian ahead of the UK tour of his new show There is No Escape.
Comedy, more than most art forms, is inherently subjective. While some people laugh out loud at the clown antics of slapstick, or the broad observational brush-strokes of Michael McIntyre, others prefer a much darker shade of humour, with a constant flow of self-loathing in the background.
If indeed the latter style is your preference, welcome to the comedy genius of Andrew Lawrence.
Despite his alternative credentials, Lawrence has made a name for himself through television appearances on the aforementioned McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, as well as Live at the Apollo, not to mention several years at the Edinburgh Fringe. On stage Lawrence adopts a very particular persona – he’s been known to joke about butchering his wife and eating his mother. Now no-one’s accusing him of murder or cannibalism, but does this brutal act reflect his personality in any way?
“I think it’s a heightened part of my personality that works best for being on stage,” he says. “Being a comedian it’s the f***ed up part of my character that I take on stage and elevate so that it’s funny. I think most stand-up comedians couldn’t really be the same as they are on stage cause they’d be a bit monstrous really, and impossible to live with.”
With a brand of comedy that’s often difficult to stomach, hecklers are inevitable. Lawrence has had to face up to this challenge, but normally he doesn’t see it as anything malicious.
“I think it’s important just to have a mindset as a comedian that people predominantly heckle because they’re trying to contribute,” he says. “They want to be involved and have fun in their own way. Even if it’s a fairly challenging heckle, a lot of the time that’s just to nudge you and get a little back and forth and some improvisation going.”
Not every heckle, of course, is a good one, as Lawrence also knows well.
“Usually when people have been drinking they heckle aggressively in an angry way to try and disrupt the show, but that’s not really to do with anything that’s happening on stage or the gig itself, it’s normally because the person’s had a lot to drink and they’re angry about other stuff anyway or there’s something else bothering them,” he says.
Despite the heckling, Lawrence is incredibly excited to be out touring again. He will be gigging in cities like Cambridge, Glasgow, Newcastle, Dunfermline and more over the next few months, finishing off in Belfast on April 12.
“It’s nice to be out and gigging again,” he says. “The tour is called There is no Escape and it started off at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer. The idea behind it is that everyone has little things in their life that they want to escape from sometimes, it could be a job or a relationship or a town that they live in. Everyone feels a bit trapped. I suppose the show is about that in a loose way, but it’s just a stand-up show really. It’s full of jokes, stories and observations and a little bit of audience interaction as well.”
Although there are certain traits that Lawrence will always hold onto in his act, it has developed throughout his career. So this show is markedly different to the act he put on when he was first breaking into the business.
“I’d say my comedy is very different to when I started out ten years ago when I was doing new act competitions,” he says. “My act was a character really. I used to have a guitar and a piano, making it very musical, but now I do straight stand-up. It’s really just me on stage and it’s more in line with what I expect from a stand-up so it’s changed a lot, but it’s definitely still dark.”
[Picture: Idil Sukan]
‘There’s a lot of nepotism’
Lawrence’s comedy itself is not the only thing to have changed in the last decade. The industry is a very different ball game now compared to what it was like when he first stepped onto the court.
“I don’t have a lot of faith in the comedy industry,” he complains. “A lot of it doesn’t really work on merit, and there are a lot of people working hard and are very good at what they do, but aren’t necessarily getting the opportunity they deserve. Whereas there’s a lot of nepotism, a certain degree of corruption, and too much agent power, so certain comedians that aren’t necessarily that great are getting pushed on to television, along with receiving a lot of other great opportunities. I think this happens a lot, it’s just the entertainment industry really.”
But Lawrence has no time for sour grapes, especially as he seems to be bucking the trend and pushing his way towards the limelight without making concessions: “Any success I have I want to be on merit and not because I’ve ingratiated myself with the right people. Maybe that’s a little naïve, but I think it’s the more rewarding way.”
Despite his critique of the current state of affairs, Lawrence does still hold out hope that the industry will change for the better.
“Certainly at the moment there are a lot of problems with the industry, and there’s a lot of greed,” he says. “There’s been a lot of money in it for the last five years because stand-up has really taken off and attracted some people that are not particularly interested in comedy; they’re just in it for the money. But it’s a very fluid industry – gradually, as money goes out of comedy, these people will slowly disappear.”
Yet no matter what is happening in the industry, Lawrence is pushing on through different forms of media: “At the moment I’ve had a pilot for a radio sitcom commissioned, so I’ve been working on the script for the past few months. I’m hoping that’ll go further with Radio 4, so that’s definitely what I’m focused on at the moment.”
Working with other comedians is another well-trodden stepping stone, but is something that Lawrence has yet to try.
“Collaborating with other comedians is certainly something I’d be interested in doing in the future,” he says. “Before I started to do stand-up I did a double act at university, and we went to the Edinburgh Fringe and that was a lot of fun so yeah, definitely something to consider.”
Now that he’s standing on solid ground with his career, Lawrence has some expert advice for those looking to break in.
“If you’re doing something unique, that’s the important thing,” he maintains. “Something different from everyone else. Silly stuff is popular at the moment, like slapstick, the clown kind of thing. In terms of club gigs and TV stuff, the more conventional observational stand-up-in-a-suit thing seems to be a little bit tired now. It’s tough, but for anyone that is obsessed with comedy then they should go out and try it and see what works, maybe even try some new act competitions.”
Andrew Lawrence performs There Is No Escape at the following dates:
24 Jan: The Junction, Cambridge
25 Jan: Storm, London
26 Jan: The Stand, Edinburgh
27 Jan: The Stand, Glasgow
28 Jan: The Stand, Newcastle
15 Feb: Phoenix Theatre, Bordon
18 Feb: Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline
19 Feb: Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy
20 Feb: Rothes Halls, Glenrothes
21 Feb: Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
22 Feb: Eden Court, Inverness
27 Feb: The Woodville, Gravesend
28 Feb: The Court Theatre, Pendley, Tring
2 Mar: Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry
5 Mar: Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich
6 Mar: West End Centre, Aldershot
7 Mar: Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford
9 Mar: The Glee Club, Oxford
12 Mar: The Old Chapel, Calstock
13 Mar: The Glee Club, Cardiff
15 Mar: Connaught Theatre, Worthing
20 Mar: Artrix, Bromsgrove
21 Mar: The Lights, Andover
22 Mar: Hazlitt Arts Centre, Maidstone
27 Mar: The Lowry, Salford
28 Mar: Rosehill Theatre, Whitehaven
2 Apr: The Glee Club, Birmingham
4 – 5 Apr: The Bloomsbury Theatre, London
6 Apr: Tobacco Factory, Bristol
9 Apr: Ammanford Miners’ Theatre, Ammanford
12 Apr: Belfast Waterfront, Belfast
Tickets are available from his website.