Northern Star - by Martin Leggatt
For many, including me and my wife, comedian Chris Ramsey first came to prominence in the TV comedy series Hebburn, set in the north-east town of the same name. Hebburn was a huge hit in my household, mainly because it is just down the road from my wife’s hometown of South Shields, a place where we lived for two years. Chris played the eldest son, Jack Pearson, to Vic Reeves’ character in the show a slight pastiche of the region, but it was hilarious and familiar. We have a chat about the fate of the West Park pub in South Shields becoming a local supermarket store, his busy schedule and an unlikely passion. With several TV shows on the air, he is the new host of Virtually Famous as well as his own The Chris Ramsey Show on Comedy Central UK, and a 45-date Is That… Chris Ramsey tour, his career really has exploded.
Would you say that Hebburn was your big break?
I don’t think it boils down to my big break, but it was definitely one the bigger ones in a series on big breaks that I’ve had. Not everyone knew that I was a stand-up, but it gave me a credibility and awareness.
Do you still live in South Shields?
Yeah, still live in Shields. I did move to Manchester when I first started out, then when I started touring, I moved back. I could live anywhere really with this job, but it might as well be my hometown as anywhere. I’d never choose to live in London, it’s just not me. Don’t get me wrong, I like London, just couldn’t live there. I’m in London now and looking out my hotel window I’ve got a lovely view – I’m looking at the back of King’s Cross, the National Library and the skyline.
You’ve been on the comedy circuit for what, seven years now?
Nine years now, I think. Yeah, it’s been a hard slog, but not as hard as it could be. I worked at the Inland Revenue and AllSports for minimum wage. There are moments when I could have a whinge but you’ve gotta try and I’m “Come on, you’re doing the job of your dreams”.
You’re married (to actress and singer Rosie) and have a one-year-old son. You both must be very busy – how do you manage to get time together?
Yeah [laughs], time back at home these days isn’t really time off. Time off for me is on the train, car or hotel between gigs. When I finish this call I’ll have time to myself. But it’s amazing, I love marriage, and my boy, Robin, he’s 14 months old now and just started walking. He’s on that cusp between being a baby and a little person, a beautiful little cusp and that’s just amazing.
Being in Australia for I’m a Celebrity: Extra Camp must have made it hard on you
No, not at all. I flew my wife, baby and mother-in-law over to me for the entire time we were there. It was great, my son took his first steps in Australia. Being away as much as I am you get resigned to missing milestones, first words, saying Dad or Mum for the first time, the first steps. You get resigned to crying to yourself at having missed it, but I saw it [first steps] with my entire family; I flew my parents out as well and had them all in the hotel. [laughs] I didn’t make any money off that show, but it was worth every penny to see his first steps.
How do you relax, have downtime?
PlayStation, if I get the time. I know this guy in the US, from Twitter, who made me a PlayStation. It’s about the size of a VCR and opens up like a laptop, it has a PlayStation 4 inside. I watch films, TV, play games and go on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve been on The Wright Stuff today and when we finish this call I’ll probably be doing that. When I’m home I’m an absolute fanatic about recycling. I’m obsessed, I’ve got a Stanley knife to cut cardboard up and spend hours recycling. It’s like a whole afternoon’s activity. I’ve got two recycling bins.
You have over 380,00 Twitter followers. You had quite a boost following your appearance on Celebrity Juice.
I think the whole nation vicariously lived their life through me at that moment. I didn’t go on to be nasty [to Katie Holmes who had made comments about overweight people] but I just thought I’d stand up for the people.
Nothing like that moment on Soccer AM?
That was a moment when I thought I’d killed my career. I was put on the spot on live television and just thought I need to say something funny. I don’t know how it popped in my head but I just made it up on the spot. It was just one of those things, but you know, stand-up is like therapy – you need to tell as many people as possible to put it right and make yourself better. I actually got more Twitter followers, about 13k more than I did after Hopkins. I followed it up with a full tour, the Chris Ramsey: The Most Dangerous Man on Morning TV tour.
Coming from the north-east, what football team do you follow: Black and White or Red and White?
Neither, I don’t follow football. I used to pretend when I was younger, I had Newcastle United wallpaper, the football kit. All my mates are Sunderland fans, they have season tickets and go to all the matches. I can watch it, big games, England and that, but I can’t really find time to dedicate to it. Guiltily, I don’t want my son to grow up liking football because I couldn’t pretend to like it. That wouldn’t be fair.
How did you get into comedy?
My mate Cal Hutchinson (he’s on my TV show) and I were always the jokers of the group when we were at university. He was off to do a gig overnight and I asked him if it was music and he said no, comedy – you just go to a club and do stand-up. He went and did well, he sent me a recording of his gig. So then next time I went and watched and thought I’d come back the following month. In that month I was terrified, writing material down, but went and did it. Afterwards, the manager told me it was the best debut they’d ever seen. I started travelling round doing gigs in Manchester, Liverpool and took off. I supported Russell Kane and then a really successful Edinburgh Fringe… From there it just snowballed.
Who makes you laugh?
In life, my wife, my son – he’s a little character, my friend Carl (Hutchinson), Jason Cook who wrote Hebburn, mostly my family. They’re all really funny. I like laughing lots. Professionally, it’s always been Billy Connolly.
Have you ever had any bad experiences with hecklers?
Not really. I do tours so you don’t really get people who don’t find you funny. Most come because they know you, your material and like you. I think of a good heckle as something that’s a contribution to the show, a good heckle can make a good show fantastic. Some can have a go and say you’re rubbish but I’ve never had that. There was a gig I did at Sheffield Memorial Hall. It was a tough gig, terrible, acts were dropping out and I lasted about nine minutes instead of the 20 I was on for. I just put the mike back on the stand and said to the audience, “Sorry, this is dreadful, I’m gonna go.” There was this older woman in the audience and out of the silence [she] shouted, “Stay on, son, you’re doing fine.” Which made everyone laugh. I couldn’t work out if she was being mean or just being encouraging, but it made it really funny. That was the perfect heckle for me.