Twenty-three years into his career and Simon Evans unearthed a life-changing revelation. Ahead of his latest tour, we spoke to Simon about his career, the effect of this revelation and, more importantly, what his dog would say about him.
1. Thanks for your time Simon. Your tour has just started, how has it been going ?
Yes, I’ve done about four dates now and it’s been very rewarding. I’m very pleased. It was a little bit nerve-wracking at first because I hadn’t done the show since Edinburgh which was in August. It would be ideal to have gone out on tour once the Edinburgh run was over but there were various reasons why that wasn’t possible. Now, you have to reacquaint yourself with the material again but we seem to be running smoothly again.
2. After 23 years as a stand-up, what is life like on the road for you? Do you enjoy the other twenty-two hours that go with the time on stage ?
It’s very difficult to make sense of it all. I do have plenty of other writing commitments going on. As well, I write for a couple of online magazines and I get to work on script editing on a couple of TV shows. I try to remain as in control as possible but it’s not always possible. Still, you’ve got cafes and WiFi and all that but they also provide adequate excuses for not doing the work [laughs].
3. A large part of this show is handed over to a personal revelation that had you re-evaluating your career. How much did that revelation affect your plans ?
Well, the revelation in question, which I don’t want to reveal because I want it to be part of the show, came to me in about October 2018 into the early Spring. It gradually came to me that it was going to be a gift to me, as a performer, if I wanted to explore the implications of it and this was a very interesting and positive experience. This wasn’t something horrible that I had to confront and deal with or ‘fess up. This was more like an evolution of something that might have stayed hidden for the rest of my life without me knowing about them. It wasn’t like ‘am I going to come clean about this?’, it was more like ‘oh, that’s interesting’. I’ve benefitted from it as a performer and it is nice to have something serious to talk about.
4. How does it feel talking to rooms full of strangers about ?
Really good actually. The funny thing is that, although I’ve always enjoyed doing Edinburgh, this time around, talking about it night after night, it felt almost therapeutic. I’m always wary about considering stand-up as therapeutic because I think it should be therapeutic for the audience, not the performer. There was something quite lovely about it. It allowed me to express some gratitude to something that had remained hidden from me until now. That is a really nice thing to perform on a nightly basis. You get to stand up in front of a room full of strangers and say “you know what? I’m really grateful for what I’ve had.”. It’s almost like going to church but funny as well [laughs].
5. Looking back over your career now, what have been the high and low points ?
Highlights of my career? I think that, in any career, the highlights come fairly early on. Like the first time you deliver twenty minutes and the audience accepts you as being at least as good as the other acts on the bill. It’s very hard to beat that to be honest. Those early days when you’re overcoming significant obstacles and hurdles and moving up the rankings fast. When you do something like Live At The Apollo and you think that a million people are watching and it was nice, well, the TV recordings are never quite the same. It’s not like playing to a room full of paying punters who are pissed up and don’t know how to behave, you’ve got to win them round on your own terms. Don’t get me wrong it’s nice to do things like that because it’s times like those where I realized I was actually able to make a living from this and be able to earn enough money to provide for my family without having to skulk back to the corporate world I had emerged from.
One of the highlights from those early days though was when I played a gig at the Banana Cabaret at the Bedford in Balam in London. I was on the bill with Phil Jupitus and Al Murray that night. It was in 1998 or something like that and, on that night, I think objectively, I think I had a gig that was as good as theirs and I came off thinking “my God, I’m actually doing this!”… it was wonderful!
6. Over the two decades you’ve been a comedian, how do you feel you’ve changed ?
I don’t know that you change or evolve smoothly. Somebody said to me you have to reinvent yourself every ten years. I have seen somewhere say that in show business generally, the audience get bored of you if you do the same thing endlessly. In the first ten years of my career, it was an honest representation of who I was and where I was coming from. I was a thirty-year-old bachelor with a certain amount of disdain for popular culture [laughs]. That’s where my schtick was, eye-rolling at the Spice Girls or whatever. I had routines about having an educated accent and all that stuff. In 2003, I was six years or so into my career and my daughter was born. I became quite quickly, well, that’s quite a transfiguring experience, you change. Without consciously intending to, I became a grumpy Dad and then you become a spokesman for that generation where you’re acting like you’re aloof from it all.
Where I am now is that I’m twenty-three years into my career and I think another change is taking place. My children are growing up and I’m taking a more nuanced approach to topical and current affairs. I’m genuinely interested in the opportunities opening up to me and I’ve started to appear on discussion panels and things like that. I’ve done five series of “Simon Evans Goes To Market” which is a show about economics on Radio 4 and I’m becoming a little bit more embedded now. I don’t need to go “me! me! over here!” all the time. I can do what I want a little bit more without having an almost cartoonish caricature of myself.
7. You’ve touched on your early days a bit. Was there a particular person who helped you the most ?
That’s an interesting question. One person I do remember with a great deal of affection, who has gone from the scene, I don’t know if he’s even still alive now, was a guy called Malcolm Hay. He’s was a lovely chap who curated the Timeout comedy listings and there was a sense that he was occasionally phoning it a little bit as he’d moved and wasn’t on the scene as much as he used to be.
He was a really encouraging, gentle figure and I was very fond of him. He used to give me… well, everyone had their default adjectives, mine was “delightfully sarcastic” and I think I was okay with that. It was quite nice that I was noted in the Timeout listings and he knew what I was. Whenever I met him he was always encouraging and you got the feeling he was this big nurturing figure in the London comedy scene back in the ’90s.
8. Going forward then and taking into account your life-changing revelation, what are your hopes and ambitions as a comedian ?
You know what? I’ve never really sat down and thought about it. I know a lot of comedians have a bit of a game plan. There was a time when I let it run away with it without having a proper career structure. My hopes and ambitions were to make people laugh and get beer money. I didn’t adapt to the evolving corporate structure of the industry as quickly as I could have done. The opportunities to tour, play bigger and bigger venues, get onto panel game shows, to evolve pilots of my own designs. I look at somebody like Jimmy Carr who came onto the scene about three or four years after me and had that “Your Face Or Mine” show and he just went up and up. It was very impressive how thought out it was and I probably should have more of a game plan than I did but I didn’t and, well, there it is.
9. Just for fun now, if your pet could talk, what would it say about you ?
We have a large Golden Retriever. My wife is slightly jealous it was her dog but, because I take him for a walk more now, he’s starting to show me more affection. He’d say “that’s my guy, let’s go for a walk” and that’s something I’m quite proud of because, having let the kids down so badly, at least I’m there for the dog [laughs].
10. Finally then, 23 years in your career, a life-changing revelation, and a new tour. How would you describe life for Simon Evans in 2020 ?
Full of opportunity and hope and ready to move to the next stage. I haven’t felt this excited and positive about what my career has in store for quite some time and it feels quite rejuvenating.
You can find a full list of dates and tickets here.