INTERVIEWS WITH JULIAN LEE

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To publicise Julian Lee's Jokebox we caught up with Julian, “Off Stage,” as it were with our roving reporter Kensington Gore, chatted with him, all socially distanced of course; so, they had to shout a bit!

 

KENSINGTON GORE:

You are a very funny guy, when did you start telling jokes or trying to make people laugh?

 

JULIAN LEE:

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t enjoy making people laugh.  It always seemed a lovely option to have at one’s disposal.

 

KENSINGTON GORE:

Have you always liked puns and one-liners?

 

JULIAN LEE:

I love a ‘one-liner’ and have unwittingly played with words all my life.  With the advent of Social Media I found myself more and more jotting little ideas down and posting them on line, certain platforms just seem so conducive to the one-liner format, until I could resist the call of the ‘stand-up stage’ no more and took the leap back in to the world of comedy. 

 

KENSINGTON GORE:

What was your first gig like?

 

JULIAN LEE:

As I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere I had a disastrous gig in the mid 90’s and left comedy alone for years.  The less said about that the better.  The first gig ‘this time’ was upstairs at a bar a hundred yards from where I was living at the time.  I was actually a ‘very earnest’ poet back then and was persuaded to return to comedy by a promoter I was sharing a venue with.  Before the gig, despite being a regular on stage in the Newcastle poetry scene, I was petrified and nearly ran off.  I stood firm though and even though I managed to rattle through five minutes of material in two and a half minutes I got enough smiling faces to entice me back for more.

KENSINGTON GORE:

How do you write your jokes?

 

JULIAN LEE:

I’m ‘lucky’ in that most jokes just come to me either in a moment of inspiration or through breaking down a phrase I hear in conversation, on the radio or on TV.  The difficulty with a one-liner is differentiating between a pun, a Dad joke, and an extremely well-crafted one-liner.  And I’ll be honest with you, when I write them, most of the time I don’t know which category they’ll fit in until I’ve told them on stage.  Which ones will get a belly laugh, which a mild titter, which a groan and unfortunately, as it happens to even the best of us at times, which will be greeted with condemning silence?  Some jokes I’ve written, and I could’ve sworn ‘this was the big one’, the gag that people would remember me for, only to find that either Social Media or the live comedy audience do not agree with my assessment. Other times a disposable joke that you very nearly didn’t tell turns out to be a big winner. You’d think, as comedians, we’d know what the audience will laugh at, but a lot of the time we are shooting in the dark. Blindfold in the dark at that. 

 

KENSINGTON GORE:

Who do you think will enjoy your book?


JULIAN LEE:

Well apart from family members you mean?  Or should that be ‘endure’?  Just kidding, the jokes are for all ages…  Like I said above I write all kinds of gags. Yes, some are groaners but I’m confident that there’s enough in the book to suit all tastes. A lot of puns, no doubt, but a few that’ll have you nodding your head in appreciation of a well written joke.

A massive ‘cheers’, by the way, to anyone who has indeed purchased my debut joke book who isn’t related to me. 

 

KENSINGTON GORE:

How has Covid and the many Lockdowns affected your stand-up gigs and comedy writing as a whole? Do you feel the desire for a little light relief is even higher?

 

JULIAN LEE:

Well since August, when I really started to miss live gigs, I’ve been putting weekly jokes videos out on my YouTube channel based on a different topic every week.  It’s given me a bit of discipline and kept me busy.  It’s obviously been a tricky time and I have found a certain amount of solace in these videos, if that doesn’t sound too melodramatic.

However, I don’t want to get to over-analytical.  I love writing jokes, I love the fact that sometimes they just come to me. From where I’m not sure but I don’t want to question it too much.  I enjoy hearing a phrase, breaking it down and then building it back up again to find the right feedline and punchline. Is it art?  Is it a gift?  Is it a bloody burden?  It’s all of those.  And yes, I think people are very much in need of more light relief as there’s limited human contact.   

 

KENSINGTON GORE:

How do you deal with people that heckle you?

 

JULIAN LEE:

It’s not something I’ve come across too often. There was one gig in Stockton where it threw me, and I learned an important lesson that night and that’s you have to be bold when dealing with hecklers. If you’re not you’ve lost control of the situation and in most cases, you’ve then lost the crowd. A few stock phrases are a necessary arsenal and repeating their heckle buys you a bit of time as well. You may not have heard it properly in all fairness and it also lets the audience know what’s been said as they don’t always hear it properly either. But you tend to have to be a little harsher in response than is ideal.

 

KENSINGTON GORE:

Who inspired you to be a comic and who did you find funny in your childhood?

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JULIAN LEE:

I loved the obvious icons growing up. Eric Morecambe, Billy Connolly, Bob Monkhouse.  You can’t fault these guys. Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally is amazing and should have got the Oscar for that. I was once described as ‘the Geordie Tim Vine’ and I can’t knock that, can I?

 

KENSINGTON GORE:

No, high praise indeed. Who do you find really funny on the circuit now?

 

JULIAN LEE:

This is a tricky one as I’m notoriously grumpy when I watch comedy these days. From a one-liner perspective Gary Delaney is probably the top guy on the scene right now. He’s funny and he’s prolific, also proving with his darker material that you don’t have to be squeaky clean.

 

KENSINGTON GORE:

It is very scary being a comedian, they die on stage, and even when they do well, they “Kill” or you “slay them!” Have you ever died on stage and what is it like?

 

JULIAN LEE:

An occasional ‘death’ can be good for you as it keeps you from getting too complacent.  But I can honestly say that they get further apart as I get more experienced. I think making these jokes videos has helped me as well as you have to really tell the joke to a camera as there’s no-one there to give you feedback. I’m looking forward to taking parts of this new skill to the live stage.

 

KENSINGTON GORE:

Flipside to that is, what is the best gig you ever done and how was it special?

 

JULIAN LEE:

I’ve had a couple of really good gigs at the Comedy Lounge in Hull.  One of them, a bloke in the front row looked like he was going to die laughing, to the point I had to check with his wife he was ok. I remember one at The Cumberland in Newcastle with a rather arty crowd and I tailored some of the gags to have a bit more of a cultural bent and they went down a storm. And one at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018 where I was playing to mostly theatrical and bohemian under 25s and I’m a balding middle-aged guy and I could see they were looking at me thinking who let this dodgy uncle in. There was no microphone either and the guy who introduced me was wearing a skirt and got my name wrong and I thought, “Here we go!” But it was an absolute belter of a gig.

 

KENSINGTON GORE:

You have a large social media presence and do a lot of stuff on-line and on YouTube, do you enjoy that and what feedback do you get?

 

JULIAN LEE:

I feel the YouTube videos have really been a plus. Both to keep me occupied but also sharpening my joke telling. I post a lot of jokes on Twitter and it’s a very handy tool for feedback but with jokes some are better written down and some better read out. I’m guilty of sometimes putting too much importance on how Twitter reacts instead of seeing the live reaction as well. I’ve been lucky enough to go viral a couple of times and that’s interesting.  (Both the ‘big ones’ are in the book. One is so popular and ubiquitous online that you may even doubt I wrote it, but I did).

KENSINGTON GORE:

You are based in the North East but have travelled far and wide to do gigs around the country; what is the current comedy scene like in the North East and nationally speaking? Do you think there will be a comedy boom after we get back to normal after the pandemic?

 

JULIAN LEE:

I think we’re at the mercy of the pandemic. Despite Johnson’s ‘Road Map’ I think comedy promoters and audiences will be cautious and online gigs will still have a place, at least for the next 6-12 months. In Newcastle before Lockdown there was The Stand and that was great for audiences and certain comedians alike. At the moment it’s too early to say what’ll happen post Lockdown. I’m sure The Stand can return and continue their success. I would like to see more independent gigs being set up and I’m hoping the North east comedy co-operative, Felt Nowt, can do that. I know it’s their intention. To be honest, both nationally and locally, there are more comedians than there are gigs. It’s a fact. Hopefully by the time my second book comes out (remember, I have the negatives…) things will be a lot clearer.

 

KENSINGTON GORE:

What would be your pinnacle or dream gig in the future? Own radio or TV show, play the Palladium or Albert Hall?

 

JULIAN LEE:

Like most comedians I’ve had a sitcom playing around in my head for a few years. It’s the getting it down on paper thing that’s the trick. Ideally I’d just like to gig frequently and maybe host a monthly night where we got a good regular crowd so could try new things and introduce up and coming talent. I’d also like to do a few international festivals at some point but that’s all in the lap of the Comedy Gods.

 

KENSINGTON GORE:

What advice would you give new gag writers or up and coming comics that want to make it?

 

JULIAN LEE:

Watch a lot of comedy and learn to drive. I don’t drive and it does hold me back, no doubt about it. Until the trains are re-nationalised it’s simply not practical to travel to gigs by train when you’re based in the outpost that is Newcastle. Great city that it is.

 

KENSINGTON GORE:

Thank you for your answers Julian, I’m sure people will actually laugh out loud to many of your jokes and will look forward to many more coming soon.

When is your next Jokebox book planned for?

 

JULIAN LEE:

My publishers tell me they have pencilled in October 1st to hit the Christmas market but I think it will also cover Halloween…  I’m happy with that.

Enjoy, and I’ll see you all soon for my next joke book.

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