Q&A with comedian Joe Pasquale as he prepares for show at King’s Lynn Corn Exchange
AS comedian Joe Pasquale prepares for his Autumn ESP tour the man referred to as a ‘national treasure’ took time out to discuss life, the universe and everything.
Q: YOU’RE a big reader, aren’t you?
A: WHAT turned me on to reading was English O Level at school and the book that changed my life about wanting to read was Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, then Lord Of The Flies. As a teenager, they had an impact on me of how enjoyable a book can be, and I carried on reading.
I pack books to take on tour with me; I’m reading a book by Deepak Chopra at the moment, and I really like self-help books. My favourite is Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, which I found really useful, and even if I get doubts, every now and then I take it out and have a look at the bits I’ve highlighted.
A while back, my manager bought me The Alchemist by Paul Cohelo and I was hooked. That was the thing that got me through the jungle. I mentioned the book to a few friends and said it had changed my life and a mate of mine, Bradley Walsh, asked me what I was reading, so I gave him a copy, and said it was about a bloke who didn’t know what he wanted, so he went on a journey, and the whole story is revealed in the last paragraph. I told him to ring me when he’d finished it, so about two weeks later, about 2am, he rang and said ‘Squeaky - what the **** was all that about?’.
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Q: SINCE leaving the Jungle you have taken up quite a few hobbies – are there any new ones that you have taken up?
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A: WELL, I still go boxing four times a week, and of course I’ve got my pilot’s license, but I’ve now taken up running and am planning on taking part in next year’s Marathon. I’m currently running ten miles 3 or 4 times a week, building up to eighteen miles a week. I also go to the gym to work out with the pro boxers.
Boxing’s a great thing, it teaches you how to deal with your aggression; let it go, and then stop. But I’m not an aggressive person at all; If I’m sparring with someone at the gym I find myself apologising to people, even though you shouldn’t say ‘sorry’ in a boxing ring!
And in October, I’m starting an Open University course in Geology; when I was a teenager I wanted to be a geologist, and was really into it but I got run over when I was 13. I should have been doing my Duke of Edinburgh’s course, and had plans to go to university and be a geologist, but then I had the accident and lost a year’s school and was in hospital for about six months. I missed the year when you chose your options, and never caught up again, and got known as a bit of a div at school and was in the remedial class. But what I’ve realised over the past few years through the acting I’ve done is that I can learn a script in a day, so I can’t be that thick! So I thought that if I could do that, I could take exams, no matter when it was. I said to my youngest daughter, who’s 15, the other day, that I wished I was her age and was taking exams at school.
I have also started painting, which I haven’t done since I was a kid. When you’re little, you paint for the fun and don’t care what other people think, but as you get older, doubt creeps in, and it takes a lot of guts to draw and paint and not care what other people think. I am painting mainly landscapes and portraits but I always feel a bit guilty about it and feel as though I should be doing other things, but the thing with my hobbies is that I would happily swap professions if I could and be an artist, pilot or geologist
Q: WHY do you keep taking on these challenges?
A: I DON’T want to turn into my dad! He’s got a mobile phone and he can barely turn it on and he keeps sending me blank texts or pictures of up his nose.
You worked your way up in showbiz through working as a comic at Pontin’s, but you also appeared on New Faces. What do you think of TV talent shows?
I think they’re a gift but it depends which way you look at it. Richard Holloway, the producer of Britain’s Got Talent, was the producer of New Faces when I did it, and executive producer when I was doing The Price Is Right.
People like Richard and Simon Cowell have discovered that there are as many nutters around now as there were 20 years ago, and I was one of them, and there was just as much entertainment value in watching the auditions as the actual show.
BGT isn’t that different from New Faces or Opportunity Knocks, in that they turn it round and show you the audition process. If you put yourself up for these talent shows, you know what you’re doing, and everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame.
Q: WHAT’S the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
A: I THINK jumping out of a plane into the jungle, possibly, but I suppose going out on stage in front of an audience is considered brave too.
But I’ve got balls - if someone says go out and do half an hour, I’ll do it. I went to Iraq two years ago and we were mortared in a helicopter, so bravery is all relative!
Some people think it was brave to give up my day job to become a comic but I soon realised that I was not cut out for a 9-5 lifestyle. I wasn’t the comic at school but when I left, well, you re-invent yourself, so when I left college there was a whole new group of people who didn’t know what I was like when I was at school, so you can be whatever you want to be.
And I changed when I started work, which is when I suppose I started being funny. One of my first jobs was at Smithfield meat market with all these chunky East End geezers all taking the mick out of each other, and I was a nine-and-a-half stone weakling and had to keep up by making them laugh whilst carting carcasses about!
Then I thought I wanted to be an actor, but couldn’t afford to go to drama school, so I ended up being a wrestling referee at a holiday camp.
Because it was me, being who I am, the old girls used to wet themselves laughing as I’d play it for laughs, and wear stockings and suspenders under my tracksuit, and we’d set it up with the wresters that they’d pull my trousers down and it would bring the house down!
It went down really well, and it meant that I could walk around the camp like a god, just because of that one incident with my trousers around my ankles and ladies’ underwear!
Q: WHY don’t you have your own website?
A: THE internet is the world’s worst invention! I have someone on Facebook pretending to be me, it’s not me, and they say they’ll do stuff and go to parties and of course, it’s not me.
So we got in touch with the Facebook people and said ‘It’s not me’, and they said I had to prove it wasn’t me! So you don’t have to prove that it’s you to go on there, but you do to get taken off.
They said you had to take a photo of yourself and send it in, go through all this rigmarole, to get taken off. But let’s face it, who would want to pretend to be me?
Q: BUT that might be quite nice!?
A: WELL, in a poll I was once voted the person people would like to be Prime Minister! So I joined the Monster Raving Loony Party and was thinking of standing, but I thought what policies would I have? Lead-free pencils and a beach in Birmingham, so I wouldn’t know what to do, so decided to leave it.
Q: DO you still like touring?
A: I LOVE the gigs, but the travelling is horrendous.
We were playing Dudley, which is a two-and-a-half hour drive from my house, but which took 11 hours and got stuck on the M25.
The travelling and hotels can be a nightmare - you are up until 2am to drive to the next gig, which is always great, but the travelling there isn’t.
The old-fashioned landladies used to be weird; there was one in Bristol that had a fat, mangy old dog, and she used to insist on feeding you egg and bacon before you went off to a gig; the bacon was disgusting and the egg was so rubbery it was like a Superball. So when her back was turned, I’d put it all in a plastic bag and put it under the bed and forgot about it.
Then one night I heard the dog snaffling around my bedroom, eating all the awful food - no wonder it was in such bad shape.
Q: WHO are your big comedy influences?
A: I WAS lucky enough to know Bob Monkhouse, and was close to him at the end.
He was a great influence in my life and my attitude to the business. He was a gentleman, with not a bad word to say about anyone.
I did New Faces, and he asked me around and helped me get onto other shows. Like him, I’d rather be liked.
I also like Steve Martin; he was the first to do that random, anarchic kind of comedy, and a genius at stand-up and then packed it in. Having read his book it seems like he didn’t enjoy it too much.
Q: BUT you still enjoy performing...?
A: YES, and if you don’t, you have to remind yourself why you came into the business in the first place - the answer should never be for the money, but just for the job.
Nobody ever starts doing it just for the money; I think there must be something wrong with comics for them to want to get on stage and say ‘please love me’, what’s that need that makes you want to do that?
When I started as a comic, I never thought about the money, but when you get to a certain level of success you start thinking ‘how many people were in tonight’, and thinking about paying people and money, but once you start thinking that, you have to remember why you did it - showing off, I suppose.
But I intended to be an actor, really, and I did a play recently with Stephen Berkoff for two nights at the New End Theatre in Hampstead.
Berkoff had re-written the Bible and wanted me to play David in David and Goliath, which he’d done like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and it was quite sweary, and I never swear on stage, so it was quite exciting just swearing in front of an audience!
Berkoff is quite an intimidating person with a big reputation, and when I was reading for him he said ‘That voice you‘re using - do you have another one’, and I said ‘To be honest, no’. So he asked me to play it harder, and it was fine, one of the best things I’ve ever done.
I liked doing the show with Jason Manford. My daughter said that her friends at school said I was a legend; to her I’m probably just a bit of a div. It was a fantastic bill to be on, and I’m really pleased that Jason’s got the gig presenting The ONE Show.
As a performer, you get bolder as you get older. You don’t care what you do, as long as people think the show is good.
I’ve never been one of the fashionable comics, so I’ve never gone out of fashion, and that’s why I’m here after 25 years in showbusiness.
I like working, and I don’t have to get up every morning and do a proper job - no carting carcasses around for me!
Q: ANY more memorable career moments?
A: I GOT to host a BAFTA comedy event in Hollywood, and there were some great names there.
One of the guests was Billy Connolly, and afterwards he came and found me, saying ‘I’ve been looking for you for ages’, and we had a great chat.
I’m not the sort of person who goes around seeking the company of big stars like that, and wondered why he wanted to talk to me, but we had a great time.
Q: TELL me about the new tour?
A: WELL it’s called the ESP Tour and it features all sorts of craziness and a bit more of the ESP stuff.
I’ve always been quite intrigued by that sort of thing and the way mind readers use it – but I just take the mick out of it and people love it.
My favourite bits of the show are always the bits with the audience. To be honest, it’s not something I really believe in, though.
When I was in the Scouts, we used to go round collecting jumble, and we’d sort through it for the good stuff before we handed it over. From one lot, I got a lava lamp and a Ouija board, and me and my mate Kevin and some others went into the church and contacted a ghost called Colin, but we don’t know if it was real or just somebody pushing the board around. We got rid of the board and put it back into the jumble!