Words: Tony Fyler | Photo: Steve Ullathorne
Stand-up comedian and star of Radio 4's Bleak Expectations Tom Allen will be returning to the tents of Latitude this Summer. Edition Online had a quick chat to talk about the festival, as well as his career in comedy, Doctor Who and empire building...
I saw you at Latitude a couple of years back. What brings you back? And which acts will you be watching?
Oh well I only started doing festivals a couple of years ago and I've come to Latitude for the past couple of years. It's delightful! All that literary and theatre stuff lalala to go with the music and comedy - what’s not to love!? And those pink sheep?? I have one of their sweaters. I’ll watch as many acts as I can, maybe from some sort of grassy bank. I’m really excited to see the Divine Comedy on the Sunday and also whatever Soho Theatre bring to the Cabaret Tent will be splendid.
In terms of your comedy, you're somewhat challenging to try and categorise. How would you describe it? For a start, your style is rather more conversational than many on the circuit. What was it that first made you think 'This could work as a stand-up routine’? And have you refined your style very much since your early appearances?
Well thank you for noticing that I'm different (and I assume by that you meant ‘more special’?). I think I'm still pretty energetic onstage - you have to believe in what you're saying for people to listen. But I guess it's quite conversational in that I often talk about the things people say and what I think it reveals about them. So it's conversational in that way. But it's not conversational in the way that a conversation consists of at least two people talking - I’m the only one who talks. Otherwise I think people would get overwhelmed.
You're probably what's described by media types as a multi-modal performer - acting, writing, comedy etc. Two questions: a) Is there anything you're willing to admit not being able to do? And b) is there anything you particularly want to try your hand at that you have yet to do?
a) I love the idea of being multi modal and yes, please describe me as this from now on. I should confess though, I am unable to fly. Currently.
b) I played the piano at school and so I'd like to get back into that and even learn how to play jazz. Some people might think this a pretentious aspiration. But I'd ask those people to remember that a) I’m multi modal and thus above their petty judgements, and b) very lonely.
You're also pretty multi-media - audio work, live stage, TV, print. Do you have a single natural 'home' medium, one you prefer to all the others, or are you building your own media empire?
I am building my own empire. All of the above are just distractions for me.
You've done quite a lot in the audio realm: Bleak Expectations, Doctor Who at Big Finish, podcasting with Suzi Ruffell. Do you enjoy the freedom of that medium?
Yes I do - you feel like it's a much more intimate relationship with the listener since you're right there in their ear. You also have a lot more license to create whatever you want because it's all about the imagination. There's no restrictive budget for building a set. Isn't that wonderful. And maaaaaaaaarrrrrgical??
How was the experience of working with Big Finish, and where does Oliver Harper fit in your body of work so far? Do you still get mail from mad Who fans? And on a related note, the BBC has still made no announcement about who will take over from Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who. Fancy a promotion from companion to Time Lord?
Of course I'd love to be a Time lord. But that's just to escape. I loved being Oliver Harper and it felt really exciting to be the first gay character in that series. I got to go to a convention which was really fabulous. So many great costumes! People really commit.
One of the many things people always say about you is that you're sharply turned out whenever they see you. How important is your image to you?
Well it's not very important to me because I hardly see it, unless I walk past a window. But I like to look all done up, yes. I guess it makes me feel special. Tom Ford says dressing well is a form of good manners - it’s a show of respect to the people around you, and I think that’s probably true. And wearing suits makes me look like I have shoulders. And I don't mind telling you, I actually have very narrow shoulders.
With the multi-modal career you're building, it seems absurd to think of you doing anything quite as dull as 'relaxing', but you've just extended your tour with Suzi to almost the end of June. What then? Will you take some time to chill or, given you say you respond well to deadlines, is chilling not on your agenda at the moment?
It's been wonderful to be busy and I love doing what I do, (for example, you may have heard that I am multi modal now?). Alas there's no time for ‘chilling', as you say. I'm busy writing my new show and previewing that at the moment. Sometimes I get to watch a Netflix series like The Crown or Grace and Frankie in the bath but baths are often only fun for the first few moments and then I get too hot. But actually, as Noel Coward said, 'work is much more fun than fun'. So I'll go along with that for now.
You've done very well supporting and working alongside strong women, and your Indeed show proved your mettle as a solo performer. What next? Tom Allen and Minions? What actually feels like the next step in your career?
Well I'm actually doing my first ever solo tour. I've been working as a stand up for twelve years so this feels like an exciting step. It starts with a run at the Pleasance Courtyard in Edinburgh this August and then hits the road in September. It’s called Absolutely and tickets are available at tomindeed.com. Beyond that I'd like to do lots of things, and keep being busy so I can write some interesting memoirs when I'm old. Just to be busy that's all I want really…