An East End boy done good, Micky has secured his reputation as one of the best comics performing in the UK today, with unforgettable appearances on Mock The Week and Live At The Apollo to name just two.
Warning video may contain explicit language
By Bruce Dessau
Fame for Micky Flanagan is not fast cars or big houses. It is a sausage sandwich. The Cockney comedian likes nothing better than having a quiet moment in his kitchen making a sandwich. "That's the kind of thing that is an adventure to me these days," he smiles. It certainly makes a change from playing sold out shows, which is what he is spending most of 2013 doing on his biggest tour yet, entitled Back In The Game.
Flanagan turned fifty last October but shows no signs of slowing down. His tour puts him firmly in comedy's premier league alongside the likes of Michael McIntyre and John Bishop, but fame brings about all sorts of changes, as the genial gagsmith jokes: "You can't nick things any more. These are the problems of being successful. A sandwich here, a chocolate bar there. Apparently crime and success don't go hand in hand!"
He says that hitting the big 50 didn’t really worry him: "Someone suggested I should lie about my age. If I was a film star or a pop star maybe, but comedians are supposed to tell the truth. Frankie Boyle says you can't be a stand-up after forty. On the other hand Bob Monkhouse once said you can't be funny until you are over forty. So how much time does that leave you to be funny? About a year."
Flanagan's challenge with Back In The Game was coming up with material to match previous classic routines, such as his famous "out out" story, where you pop out for a quick drink and end up in a club still wearing your slippers. If his last show was all about his life up to becoming a comedian via Billingsgate market, living in America – "where I was an international lover and player" – and doing a City University degree in Social Science, Back In The Game is about where he is now.
And where he is now is living in Dulwich, south London with his wife Cathy and six-year-old son Max. We are chatting in his bright study, surrounded by comedy books by his peers such as Russell Brand and, no relation, Jo Brand. Flanagan claims that all the really exciting things happen when you are young. Yet his meteoric rise from comedy club to arena superstardom in a handful of years disproves the rule: "By the time my dad was 26 he had kids, a council flat and a job on the docks. His life was more or less done. When I was 36 I was still looking around for opportunities."
He found that opportunity when he was in the audience at a comedy show. It was seeing Billy Connolly that made him think he could have a go. "I love Harry Hill's surrealism and Chris Rock's ability to say the unsayable but I could never do that. But I thought I could tell stories like Billy Connolly." He started doing stand-up in his mid-thirties and initially combined comedy gigs with a job as a painter and decorator. "For about two years I'd be travelling to gigs with a bottle of white spirit in my bag so that I could clean the paint off my hands. Eventually I was doing gigs every weekend and another comedian said to me, 'if you don't quit your day job you won't enjoy either. Just take the rest of the week off like the rest of us.' At first it felt like I'd won the pools getting up on a Monday and not having to work again until Thursday!"
The new show is about the small things in life: "The centrepiece is about me making a sausage sandwich. My life has slowed down to such a point if my wife goes out for the day that's how I create excitement. I also talk about the two off licenses in my life – the one I go to normally and the one I pop into for the second bottle of wine. Things like that. So all these little details I'm pulling in to say to 'this is where I'm at."
Although he is clearly devoted to the craft of comedy, Flanagan does not want to analyse his success:
"I was very happy where I was being a circuit comic, I didn't have a plan. All I wanted to do was avoid having a badly paid 9 - 5 job." But the country loves him and so does television. So much so that last year when he had planned to take a break he ended up doing so many panel shows that he felt he could not turn the television on without seeing his face. "I was starting to think I'd have to watch foreign TV to avoid myself!"
For Flanagan the future is currently all about stand-up. There is talk of a sitcom at some point if he can find the time. He is also writing his autobiography. He is proud of his Cockney roots and never tries to hide them onstage. At first when he started performing outside London he was anxious that this might be a problem, but his pin-sharp observational humour won everyone over: "We were concerned about the Lowry in Salford on the last tour, whether anyone would turn up, but we ended up selling five nights. They seemed to accept me as one of them even though I'm clearly from a council estate in London."
Gigging in the Midlands holds fond memories. "I've always done really well there. One of my favourite places to play is Birmingham where the audiences are really appreciative. Warwick is fantastic and in Nottingham they just accept you. They aren't bothered about you being a Londoner as long as you are funny. Although when I play Newcastle I do wonder if they think anyone from the south of England is a Cockney."
He has always enjoyed performing in Scotland, where he picked up an Edinburgh Comedy Award nomination for Best Newcomer in 2007. "I thought that might be the last place they would like me, but they came on board quite quickly. Their perception of London is often through TV and things like Del Boy, so when I do my Cockney walk they find that very funny. Flanagan has concluded that the sense of humour in the United Kingdom is pretty similar everywhere. "The idea of people in Derbyshire or Lancaster being different to Londoners is all in your head. Everyone knows what a car is, everyone has heard of the internet, the world now is very small."
Anyone who is married or a parent will relate to his stories about his wife and son, although he has to be a little tactful about how he uses them: "If I am going to talk about my son I ask him first. He has got to go to school and he is getting to the point where he will see me on The One Show and he'll go 'why did you say that?' So I make it more general and rather than say it is specifically about him I say something like 'children take so long getting ready is there any point leaving the house?'"
"I imagine in a few years he'll use it as a negotiating tactic," he continues. "I'll only be allowed to make jokes about him if he gets a new bike." There is a similar situation with his wife. "I won't say 'my wife...' I say 'isn't it funny that as you get older a dirty weekend turns into a very restful break...' He is a little less discreet when it comes to talking about his 82-year-old father onstage: "My dad was evacuated in the war, not that you'd know. Sometimes he goes six or seven minutes without mentioning it..."
Flanagan speaks as if his success is an accident, but it is really all down to hard work and talent. Yet he is typically modest about making audiences everywhere laugh their socks off: "I can make no sense of it except that we took a few risks and they seemed to pay off. There are only two things to keep in my mind. I'm enjoying it and the audience is enjoying it. If we can keep those things bubbling along for a while that would be great." With that he gets up from the sofa. Presumably to make a sausage sandwich.
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