There’s a near constant half-smile painted on his face. Ian Stone has appeared numerous times on TV show Mock The Week, is a regular on Radio 5’s popular Saturday show Fighting Talk and also plies his trade on The Tuesday Club – an Arsenal Football Club podcast. His monthly column for the Arsenal Magazine is a popular read with gooners. Sitting down in a nearby pub, Ian is eager to know more about CALM and after a brief insight into Xpress he says,
“I think it’s a good cause. I’ve got two boys, fourteen and ten years old and it seems to me there are two things they need. They need to learn how to use their physicality, so they bash up against me and I go, ‘No, that’s too hard. That’s fine,’ you know? Then they understand. They also need to learn how to be creative, to express themselves, because certainly for men now, we’re not as useful as we used to be. We’re good at getting things off shelves, but we don’t hunt because you just go into Marks and Spencers and buy your food. I think that there’s a certain, ‘what are we for?’ feeling in men now. You set up a sperm bank and then we’re sort of redundant, aren’t we?”
Without my outlets, I’m not sure where else I’d be. I explain this to Ian, the benefits my work in illustration has for me personally, he says,
“It’s hard to get started in any creative discipline. Most of the comics I know, they do all their stuff and they’re all very confident, but they come back home to a secure family life, women who go, ‘Everything’s OK, you’re doing fine,’ it’s exactly what men need. That’s why there are very few female comedians, because they don’t have men who can perform the same function. They don’t have supportive men who are happy to stay at home and say, ‘Is everything OK? What happened tonight?’ For five or six years of my career, I went back to my partner and we talked through what I did. It helped me. Right now, I don’t need the same kind of support. I need it in other ways, but I’m fine now. I can go out and talk nonsense, share things at work.”
Ian sees the bigger picture that forms the core message in Xpress. He says,
“I guess it is about doing something that gets you out of the house. It doesn’t matter what it is and it doesn’t have to be for money, it’s about doing something that you find stimulating and ultimately therapeutic. I don’t do comedy for therapy. I do comedy because I enjoy making people laugh, I guess the same way a musician makes music because they enjoy it. The fact that it has a therapeutic by-product is great.”
What about Ian’s roots in comedy?
“I loved Laurel and Hardy. Then I’d watch stand-up comedians on TV in the 1970’s, Les Dawson and those guys – so I almost grew up with that. Then I’d go and watch stand-up comedy every weekend and socialise. Then down the line, my partner told me I should do it,” he says.
“I’d been with her a long time, I met her before I did stand up. She said to me, ‘Why are you not doing stand up comedy? You love making people laugh, you have that sort of brain that loves talking nonsense.’ There are moments where I’ll drift off and she’ll go, ‘You’re thinking of a joke, aren’t you?’ she knows… She encouraged me to have a go and it turns out I’m good at it.”
Meeting the right people and finding the courage to have a go can be enough to trigger a start in something. Ian says,
“There are many things that had to fall into place for me to do it professionally. I had to have a girlfriend who I, incidentally, was looking for. I was seeking out someone who would help me in that way, not knowingly at the time! Plus I had a slightly toxic childhood in a lot of ways. I don’t know… I suppose I look interesting as you can see… So there’s all sorts that come together to make an artist. The first two years were incredibly tough. They are in any art form. The problem for comedians is that you do your failing on stage, under a spotlight.”
Circumstance and foundations are two key elements that influence the way and the reasons for which a person will express them selves. Ian continues,
“I went to a creative writing class with Michelle Roberts, who is an author. That’s almost the first thing that happened to me on my own path to where I am now. I was working as an engineer at twenty-six years old. I was bored out of my head. We had to write these little pieces for the class. There’s one guy there, this lugubrious, tall guy who used to write amazing love poetry. I used to watch these women in the class swoon and I’d think, ‘I wouldn’t mind doing that,’ but I couldn’t do it, it just wasn’t my thing. But what I used to do was make them laugh every week. I used to write this stuff, read it out and people would laugh. It was just before the first Gulf War and I wrote a poem about Saddam Hussein. It was called ‘Saddam Hussein, he’s a bit of a pain, if you know what I mean.’ I read it out in class and everyone laughed and this little light went on in my head, going, ‘well, this is interesting, I didn’t know I could do this.’ It’s those little steps along the way that you take and you think, ‘OK, that worked out, maybe I’ll try this,’ and suddenly you find yourself on stage in front of fifty people, at an open mic night. Then you go, ‘Alright, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be, I’ll give that another go.’”
How often does Ian work?
“Whenever I want. Literally, whenever I want. Four on a Saturday, four on a Friday, you name it. The level that I’m at, I’m sort of D minus level celebrity. I get that ‘Oh yeah, you’re the fella off the thing.’ It’s not like Michael McIntyre or someone like that. I’ve been doing it for a long time, doing a lot of different things, lots of work in lots of fields – the Ian Wright radio show and the writing, the occasional TV appearance. So I work when I want.”
On the train ride here, Danny and I looked around and grew really jealous of those people with their heads back, out cold, asleep with their mouths open. We wanted to know about Ian’s brain and whether he can switch off from his work.
He says, “I had a Twitter conversation this morning about the fact that the BBC Director General did 54 days work and he got a £450k payoff after doing his job badly. Surely a job in the banking industry beckons? It was just a little tweet, a quick comment about how ridiculous that is. Someone replied and said, ‘Oh, that’s right, crucify George Entwhistle.’ Then I thought that this was quite funny because if Jesus hadn’t been nailed to a cross and had just been given a generous severance payout, Christianity would have taken a rather different turn… There’s a joke, right? I’ll do that joke tomorrow because I think it’s funny. So there’s how my head works. But I can switch off and talk seriously about things. In terms of the way my head will go, it’s a bit like those shopping trolleys that lean slightly to the left and you have to keep correcting it.”
To the untrained eye, my own in this instance, comedy, particularly in Britain seems to be thriving right now. Ian says,
“Michael McIntyre – twenty nights at the O2. I’d say it’s doing all right! There’s a lot of appreciation of comedy in this country – so there’s a lot of work for a lot of people. I’ve been to 31 countries, performed for the troops in Afghanistan. I’ve been to every service station in England! Comedy is very well respected in this country and all the better for it.”
Photography by Danny Allison