Interview: Sam Avery

sa_sam_averySam Avery used to be a rockstar. Well… almost. He’s returned to the Edinburgh Fringe with his hit 2013 show, charting the rise and fall of his almost famous rock band, weaving stories of  touring with Motörhead, being signed to BMG records… and the inevitable fall from grace. The rest of the year, you can catch Sam Avery gigging around the North West, where his down to earth style has marked him out as a firm favourite on the circuit. He’s also one of Liverpool’s big hitters in comedy, known for his involvement with The Comedy Trust, creating the annual Liverpool Comedy Festival; as well as Stand Out, bringing comedy to young people. We caught up with Sam to chat about the Edinburgh show, and to dispel a few myths about Liverpool comedy audiences…

What’s the Edinburgh show about?

I was in a heavy metal band and when I was 17 we got a record deal. We were meant to be the next big thing; we went on tour with Motorhead and Napalm Death, we were on Top of the Pops 2, we sold loads of records in Germany and we were on the front of Kerrang. All of that, then it all went wrong.

It’s a very familiar story – loads of bands have almost made it. Whether it’s music or football or writing – it’s that moment when you realise you could have made it. Obviously it’s funny as well! There’s a lot of humour and hope in the beginning of the show, and there’s a lot of humour and reality in the final third when it all goes tits up. It seems to be something that audiences really latch onto; the journey that we go on as a band. There’s a moment when it does go wrong and the best thing is when the audiences respond. People are gutted.

How would you describe your style?

I view myself as able to get quite angry in a friendly way. It’s fairly observational but it’s very personal about experiences I’ve had. There’s not many jokes, it’s more talking… I haven’t got any jokes that work out of context. It’s conversational.

How did you get into comedy?

I wanted to do stand up from the age of 15 but I didn’t have any confidence or stage skills. I was in a band for a while but I wasn’t the frontman. I couldn’t really speak to people, I got very nervous. I listened to stand up albums and I went to see Ben Elton when I was 15 – I remember thinking I’d love to do that.

Then I was at University. One night I was absolutely bladdered, and the SU had a Stars in Your Eyes competition. I got these leopard print leggings, shoved a cucumber down them, put a leather waistcoat on and a bad wig and pretended to be Mick Jagger. I turned up and it was a serious competition, people had been training and getting nervous – I just rocked up and I came second! I just strutted around the stage like Mick Jagger saying the odd stupid thing in a voice. I woke up the next day and there was a text on my phone from a comedy club. They must have been desperate for acts. It was a student comedy night, but they were all drama students, it was at the Unity theatre. It felt like fate had patted me on the shoulder and said if you don’t do it now you never will – because I’d always wanted to.

I wrote a set that day. I didn’t know what I was doing. I did the gig and I was awful but the audience was nice and they laughed. I remember walking off and I’d got the bug. I did that one gig, then went to Edinburgh for a month and flyered for people, just watching loads of shows. I came back thinking, that’s what I want to do.

Have you ever consider musical comedy?

I did try. I play bass guitar and no one uses the bass guitar on the circuit. When it worked it was great but it’s just not something that I’ve ever wanted to do. What is nice is that I finished the first song and got a round of applause, which is just the done thing when you finish a musical piece. That’s quite useful. Some comics who are slightly more snobby call the guitar the cheat machine because it just gets a round of applause.

Who are your comedy influences?

My favourite act of all time is Richard Prior. My act isn’t anything like Richard Prior but he was the comic who really pushed me into wanting to do this. Also more recently Jerry Seinfeld – more the TV series than his stand up. I’ve been interested in some of techniques he spoke about. The way he views his material more as a sportsman than an artist, which I think is an interesting take on it. I’m not sure I completely go down that line, but there’s something to be taken from it in terms of you record it, you listen back, you analyze it, that worked, that didn’t and you do it again. The more you work at it, the more you get out of it. And that’s definitely true for material – I think that’s slightly too much of an analytical approach, but especially with gag heavy material, there’s is something in honing it to the precise number of syllables to make it funnier.

What’s the last thing that made you laugh out loud?

I get tickled quite a lot. My wife tickles me. I don’t like that but it makes me laugh.

Best gig you ever had?

The last night of Rock and Dole last year – I never though I’d do the show again and there was something very emotional in the whole thing. This was a very personal story to me and it was a story that was filled with lots of hurt and bitterness which I’ve gotten out of my system now. A lot of the emotion came back in the performance; when I finished there was something tangible in the air that I was saying goodbye to this chapter of my life for a second time. Little did I know I’d be bringing it back so I feel a bit like I’ve cheated myself of those emotions.

Favourite memory from Edinburgh?

I was selling CDs at the end of the show – the album the band made. A guy came up to me and gave me a fiver (it was the Free Fringe), I went to give him the CD and he said he’d bought it when it came out. He’d saw me at Nottingham Rock City supporting Motorhead. He had followed the band back in the day and then got given the flyer and turned up. It doesn’t mention the name of the band on the flyer  so he didn’t realise until he turned up. It was really nice and weird.

What do you like about Liverpool audiences?

I think the positive thing is that if you do well, and they like you, there’s nothing quite like the noise that they make – it’s just this huge wall of approval that you get from them. It’s all about just playing it right I think. It’s like any city you need to go in with the right opening minute. It’s about building trust… as long as you funny. You can’t sit on the fence – I think that they can smell a fraud.

You can catch Sam Avery: Rock and Dole until 24th August, at Just the Tonic at The Caves, 5.20pm.

Or keep up with Sam on twitter @samaverycomedy.

You can find out more about The Comedy Trust and Liverpool Comedy Festival here.

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