This year, Stephen Bailey returns to the Fringe with his fourth show, Can’t Think Straight.
If you think Stephen looks familiar, you might have seen some of his numerous TV appearances including, Celebrity Big Brother’s Bit on the Side and It’s Not Me, It’s You, both on Channel 5, Celebrity Advice Bureau on W and more recently CelebAbility on ITV2 and his daytime debut on Weekend on ITV.
Recently, I caught up with Stephen to talk about the genesis of this year’s show title, the struggle he has to get straight guys to attend his shows and what it was like to tour with Katherine Ryan.
You’re back with your fourth Fringe show. What keeps you coming back?
I’m broken Elliot. Every year I go back to become a better comedian, whereas this year I feel like I’ve got something to say.
What is it you want to say?
It’s just that this year I’ve realised that I don’t have a lot of self-worth - “You’re not in the gang. You’re not in the comedy gang. You’re not in the cool gang” - and I really realised that that’s how I felt and I’d go on about it a lot.
And this is the first time that I’ve realised that it doesn’t matter. No one else cares. Your friends don’t care. The people I perform to don’t care. Normally I’d go to the Fringe and people would ask if I’m part of the “Middle-class elite” and this year I can say “No I’m not. But it doesn’t matter. Don’t give a shit."
Where did the title come from, Can’t Think Straight?
Oh I wish I had a really good answer for that. I had to have a title in by February and I didn’t have a show so I asked my audience “What can I call my show, that I’ve not written yet?” and they were like “Homo Alone” - which is offensive. I don’t mind the “Homo” bit, it’s the single bit!
Then someone else said “Can’t Think Straight” and I was sold.
Are you happy with that title now that you have written the show?
Yeah, it actually fits because there’s a huge LGBT section in there because I have a thing where I don’t think LGBT is discussed much in the mainstream. It’s discussed in LGBT media and on Facebook but it’s not really discussed widely. So I have a whole conversation about that. It’s not what the whole show is about but there is a section that’s about that.
How long have you been working on the show for?
The thing with me is that I’m much more of a conversationalist and that’s what the repeat custom seem to like. That’s the feedback I get, they like that it’s very conversational, very real, very of the moment.
So I start working on it from September but the preview I do in October when I have no title, is a completely different hour to the one I’m doing now.
It’s a real luxury isn’t it, to have a whole hour to yourself?
Yeah, I love it! These people who do really well in like five minute competitions, that’s not really for me. It takes me five minutes to say hello, whereas in an hour I get to know you, you get to know me and we leave being old friends. I’d rather have an hour for sure.
When I put together the show I only put together forty minutes worth and then I leave 10/20 minutes for us to be friends. I’ve done two hour previews before by accident where I’d written an hours worth of material and I’ve gone over by an hour!
Who are you hoping will come and watch the show?
I like everyone and I think I’m really mainstream but my struggle is getting straight men in. If they’re in, they like it. Say I’m in Birmingham at Just The Tonic and they don’t know who they’re getting, they’ve just come to a comedy club and I am one of the four, they always end up enjoying it.
In Edinburgh is I always get the gays and the girls which I’m really grateful for, and I love them, but sometimes you see a girlfriend try to convince their boyfriend - “It’s only an hour.” - but once they’re in, they love it. I take the piss out of it and people think I shouldn’t but I think it’s funny that in this day and age they’re uncomfortable.
I always get people to tweet about the show at the end and all the girls would tweet, all the gays would tweet and then the straight guys would just like my tweet. I’ve had them before laughing and covering their mouths as if to say, “If I laugh at this, am I gay?”. I don’t think they’re trying to be offensive, I just think it’s a weird insecure formed in their head. If they’re in the room and cover their mouth I always comment on it.
Do you have anyone helping you with your show this year?
My friend Gina Lyons, who’s a TV producer, she comes along and say I’d do an hour-and-a-half she’d go “That was really funny. But is that relevant to this show?” so I have her to just organise my thoughts almost which is really helpful.
But I write all the material, I put it all together and then I have her and my really good friends who I went to college with to tell me “That was funny.” or “I don’t want you to tell that story about me. Take it out!” - they used to say “Change my name” but then I’d forget because it’s so honest so now I just take that story out.
How have the previews been going?
Good. I didn’t really know what it was until recently, I didn’t know what stories I wanted to keep in and then I did a preview in Manchester and I just had an epiphany. I live with Jayde Adams every year and she says I need to be brave and I never stand up for myself. So this year is the first year that I feel like I am standing up for myself a bit.
Even the political points I do have, like the lGBT stuff I do have, I normally back away because a lot of reviewers go “It’s just a gay guy talking about gay things.” or “He’s funny, but in a camp way.” so knock you down in the same breath. “You’re really funny... but it’s camp."
So I cover all that and talk about it and read out reviews I’ve got in the past. I did the show at the Lowry last year which was my show, I sold it out on home turf and I was really really proud and this guy had tweeted me saying “My girlfriend loves you, I’d love to come and do something on stage” so I went back and said “Well, with your body come and be shirtless for the last two seconds,” and he was like “SOLD. I’ll totally do that.” then I spent days agonising whether or not I can objectify a man this way.
But the amount of time I’ve had straight white men do the limp wrist and go “Alright sweetheart?” at me, I thought actually, he’s asked for this so at least I’ve got consent which is more than most footballers do!
So I brought him on and this reviewer was very complimentary, very complimentary and then put “The last five minutes were certainly not for me as he got a man shirtless on the stage” so I tweeted him “It’s 2017. That was for me and the girls. Fuck off.”
You’ve recently supported Katherine Ryan on tour. What was that like?
That was INCREDIBLE. It allows you to feel like you’re good at your job because you perform to 100 people in Hull, or 100 people in London and it’s very varied. I did my own mini tour earlier this year but that’s to people who have seen me before. So of course they like me.
But with Katherine, you have a thousand people that have never seen you and you’re doing ten minutes of material in twenty minutes and they’re laughing. They like me. They really like me.
Did Katherine give you any advice for this year’s Fringe?
Katherine’s advice is just “Chill the fuck out. Everything will happen when it’s meant to happen.” She recommends you for things as well which is so helpful. I don’t have a bad thing to say about her.
And she’s hilarious. There’s never a line wasted with her and that’s one thing I learnt being on tour with her. She does not waste a line. Every line matters and I don’t think a lot of shows at the Fringe are like that to be honest. A lot of them are very worthy and I think with Katherine, she delivers a message and she delivers comedy. Everyone else is either one or the other. You’re either really funny for an hour or you’re able to deliver a message but lose the funny bit.
What are you most looking forward to about the Fringe this year?
I’m just looking forward to doing a show that I feel proud of, which I know sounds like a big pansy pussy, but it’s the first show where I’ve felt that this is 100% me. Every time I’ve done the Fringe people have gone “We feel like we’ve just been in your presence for an hour. We feel like we’ve been at the right table in the pub.”
Then I’m excited by the boring stuff. Like I only get to see half of my friends when we’re at the Fringe because we’re all so busy.
Anyone in particular you’re looking forward to seeing perform?
I’m looking forward to seeing Jayde’s new show, also Ellie Taylor I adore and she’s so nice and one of my friends. Evelyn Mom is taking her first hour up and every time I go in to pitch a TV I always as for Evelyn Mom as a sidekick, because her just falling asleep on set would be hilarious.
Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?
I just did CelebAbility on ITV2 which is Iain Stirling’s show. I’ve not got my own thing but I’m propping up here and there which is exciting. Then I’m going on a tour next year.
I think in Britain we’ve lost a little bit of naughtiness so I’d love to do like an Inside Amy Schumer or Chelsea Lately type show in that 11pm slot on ITV or ITV2, really late night, naughty, irreverent. Just like talking to your mates. We talk to our mates about the size of our boyfriend’s penis but we can’t say it in public for whatever reason.
Finally, how would you sum up your show in just five words?
Louder. Prouder. Ruder. More heart.