He survived Eton and University and has recently become a father. Ahead of his Motion Sickness tour dates in May, we spoke to comedian Ivo Graham about growing up, his time at Eton and being the owner of a new Ford Focus.
1. Thanks very much for your time. You’re on tour until the end of May, what can you tell us about the show?
“Well, I’m sorry to say it’s kind of about preparing to have a baby so it’s a bit of an old show and then there is some stuff about having a baby so it’s kind of this out of whack thing. Last year we were trying and I was really anxious about it so I started trying to use stand-up comedy as a form of therapy to talk about my anxieties on stage in the hope that it would solve them. Of course it didn’t but we got very lucky and we conceived and now we’ve had a baby in February and now I’m on tour doing this show about whether or not I’m ready to have a baby whilst already having a baby.
I know that it’s really out of sync but it’s a show about transition essentially. Youth turning into adulthood and responsibility and loads of first world problems about moving in with ones partner and getting engaged and things like that.”
2. So, as you’ve now decided to “grow up”, what are you most looking forward to about this new adulthood?
“I’ve got to say watching my daughter grow up obviously. That’s undeniably a big thing. That’s an interesting question though because I’ve spent too much time thinking about the things I’m going to miss but that’s selfish and pointless and I don’t need to go to festivals all the time… well, that’s what I’m telling myself! I think the show is about how it’s very easy to fixate on not wanting to grow-up and lack of responsibility and fun and then when you man up and take those steps forward they’re not quite as scary as you presume them to be and there is quite a lot to enjoy.
We got a Ford Focus now for the baby because our old car was not safe and I felt like such a square because I was weighing up which cars were the most safe to have babies in. I thought to myself what I have done to my once hedonistic life? Now we’ve got a Ford Focus and I can say I love it. It’s such a comfortable drive. I’m speaking to you now over the in-car speakers and they’re something I used to associate with businessmen and bellends. I certainly didn’t have those in the third-hand Toyota Corolla with a dent in the side that I used to drive around in. I was very loyal to that car because it was part of who I am, I’m an anarchic young person driving a crap car. I don’t miss that car at all because it was a lump of metal and now I’m a proper adult in a Focus!”
3. So what scares you most about growing up then?
“There were parts of my youth that I loved. I loved the freedom that came with being a university student. Comedy is a very bad industry for anybody who wants to grow up because it’s full of young and frivolous people so you’ll do all these festival like Edinburgh and Melbourne where you’re just doing one of hour work a day then hanging out with your mates getting drunk. It’s quite permissive of a party lifestyle and you’re always meeting new people and I’m pathetically addicted to the novelty of meeting new people. Actually, growing up and settling down means your world closes in a little bit. One the one hand you focus (no pun intended) on the things that are important but you’re also basically, and this may sound really clinical, saying goodbye to the B-list of friends. Shedding the B-list. The A-list are always going to be there because you’ll be Godparents to each others kids, you’ll go to each other weddings. It’s those legends who you saw once or twice a year but you didn’t have a really meaningful friendship with. Those people you spoke to at a party in the smoking area about the good old days… those people are gone or you’ve got to promote them to the A-list and you’ve got to work much harder on maintaining the relationship.”
4. You spent your teenage years at Eton, what are your favourite memories from there?
“Leaving at the end! That’s a very lazy joke as there were lots of aspects of Eton that I really enjoyed and I think I’ve said things to a couple of people and in interviews and on stage which I look back at and it looks like I didn’t enjoy it at all. People have said to me “oh we’re sorry you didn’t enjoy it and had a miserable time” – it wasn’t miserable, there were lots of good things but you just kind of kept your head down and got on with it. That’s pretty much life in an all boys boarding school. I guess it was just a bit boring at times and I didn’t really feel confident in myself and a lot of the things I enjoy about my life and my character didn’t really reveal themselves until I went to University afterwards as I guess I was too busy focusing on my Latin homework. I think that’s part of what the show is about as well. A lot of people have these really wild memories of their teenage years and I really don’t. My good years lasted from eighteen – left Eton – to twenty-eight – impregnated my partner. It was a cool decade.”
5. Do you think it prepared you for adult life ?
“It was a great education and Some of the stuff like the dead languages don’t come into use when you’re out and about in the world but things like the value of learning and working hard is quite good and one of the things the school does give you is a sense of confidence even if you’re quite shy when you’re there it builds you up. That’s one of the reasons why I think there are so many awful Eton boys in politics because they’ve got that unchallenged sense that they can do anything and I don’t think that always makes for the best representitives in politics or whatever but, for doing something like stand-up comedy, I don’t think I would have had the balls to try that at University if I hadn’t had some of the experiences that I had at Eton. Also, I talk so much about it in my stand-up that I would have lost of lot of my material if I hadn’t gone to Eton!
On the other side it doesn’t prepare you for the practical stuff. I’m only just learning to cook and it’s embarrassing how intimidated I am by the simplest domestic tasks or cooking. I’m still watching YouTube videos on how to cut onion and that’s not good enough at twenty eight!”
6. What was it that took you into the world of comedy and how do you think it helped you cope with the world of University and “lad culture”?
“I never know how much lad culture was lots of peoples experience at University because sometimes I think it is slightly exaggerated. I was at Oxford and is a University with more of an academic representation but I can still remember being influenced by the fact that there were slightly more confident people and men in particular within the college and our social groups. I lived with a couple of guys who played in the University rugby team. Individually they were real sweethearts but, when you hung out with them and you saw what their whole group was like, it was actually quite intimidating. I don’t have the sporting skills or physical prowess to compete on that front but I think it certainly made me more keen to do comedy and be funny because, and I know it’s such a cliche, that was my defence mechanism. It was how I would stand up for myself or make friends or show off. I went in not really making much of an impression but then realised that I could make people laugh and attract attention so I probably became quite an attention seeker quite quickly.”
7. Who were your comedy inspirations then ?
“The first people I really loved and it was very much of my generation was The Mighty Boosh. Not that it reflected at all in the work that I do but they were such masters of imagination and surrealism. You have to watch the right episodes of it thought because some of it was just masterclass while some of it was just weird for the sake of being weird. For me, I don’t watch a lot of that thing but I remember thinking it was really cool and I remember my Dad taking me to watch some of it live and I remember how pathetically excited I was that my Dad found them funny as well and it bonded us like we’d got into some new band together. Even though I never liked being in a sketch show or being in a crazy thing with costumes, I just stand there in my own clothes and talk about my life, I think some of the Boosh catchphrases really entered my dialogue when I was starting to do comedy and make people laugh. Other than that, any stand up that talks about their own life really influences like Simon Amstell who is a great example of someone who takes their own anxieties and makes them funny. Stewart Lee, even though he is still huge, when he was at his peak doing Comedy Vehicle, he was influencing everyone and, again, my style isn’t the same but I do remember really watching lots of his stuff.”
8. If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice before you started Eton and University, what would that be ?
“Oh, that’s so hard. I would have said to try and relax more and try and be more socially adventurous. I would have probably given myself some very specific advice about certain situations with girls outside of Eton who I fancied as a teenager and opportunities that I might have had that I ruined myself. I think if I had more confidence at school or had a more fun extra-curricular social life, I’m not sure how much that would have been for the comedy that I went on to do. I think the reason I wanted to start stand-up when I was at University was that I had really loved Eton that much – it’s that careful what you wish for like in Back To The Future where Marty goes back in time and he stops his father meeting his mother but then erases his siblings existence. I would be very careful.”
9. Curveball question for you now. What would you do if you found an elephant in your back garden?
“Well, our garden is a shared garden with eight other flats so I would have to do what I do with every building situation and that is report it to the building committee. The elephant is not my individual responsibility and certain neighbours would be very annoyed if I took this on without involving them. I would be legally responsible for an eighth of the elephant though. I have a lot of spare time during the day so I would probably take care of the elephant but at the same time exploit it for its instagram attention as well because, what I’m really lacking is a picture of me, my baby and an elephant.”
10. Brilliant. Thanks for your time Ivo, just to finish then, you’ve got the shows in May then what are your plans after that?
“I’m going to do a new show at the Edinburgh Festival about… having a baby again! The same topic for the next twenty years! So, I’ve done the ‘am I ready to have a baby show’ now I’m onto the ‘I’ve got a baby what the hell is happening now?’ show. I’ll try and talk about other topics as well so I don’t feel like I am one of those guys who just bangs on about their kids all the time. I’ll do that then a new tour while trying to be a good parent. I’m going to try and do some music festivals performing at them so it’s legit and then I’m going to go back to trying to write a film but I don’t know what about. I have a lot of vague ambitions but I don’t know what to do about them. I’d like to think I’ve got a good film in me and this year I think I’ll try and write it!”
You can find a full list of dates here, including ticket information