LEE Evans was back at Fort Regent with a bang (and a slightly mad Russian!).
After three long years away from stand-up, he is returning to live comedy with a vengeance this autumn. And he’s clearly relishing the prospect.
Lee Evans”The rush you get from live comedy never wanes,” beams Evans.
“Because it’s a shared experience, the buzz is immediate. Sometimes I’ll go on stage and say stuff that I wrote down in a mad panic in the car on the way to the venue. And when the audience gets it, you think, ‘blimey, you and all!’ “What I love is that it’s a communal thing. We all come together in a room, point out of the window at things and laugh at them. It’s as simple as that.”
Lee is hugely entertaining company. Constantly coming up with one-liners, he possesses what the title of one of his best films describes as Funny Bones. You can’t help but laugh when you’re with him.
Evans has now headlined with dozens of major-league Hollywood stars such as Bruce Willis, Jay Leno, Gary Oldman, Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Christopher Walken, Nathan Lane, Ian McKellen and, um, Jerry Springer.
But success does not appear to have gone to his head. He is still the same lovably shambolic, self-deprecating Southend lad I first met more than 15 years ago.
“Success may be important to other people, but it isn’t to me,” he declares.
“I’ve still got the same mates I’ve had for years, and they treat me in the same way they’ve always done – by taking the mickey!”
Evans is equally self-effacing when it comes to characterising his live show.
“I stand on stage and talk b******s for two hours,” he smiles. “We’re analysing it here, but in fact it’s complete and utter b******s. It won’t solve anything and it won’t change the world, but I hope it relates to people.”
Evans, who scooped the coveted Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival as long ago as 1993, is a past-master at working a live audience, with his bravura, sweatsoaked act – he still leaves a towel at the back of the stage so he can periodically wipe the perspiration from his brow. It is a uniquely uplifting act.
One of the principal reasons audiences are drawn to Evans is that he plays the fool so well. A brilliant physical comedian, he is a natural clown, forever tripping over the microphone stand or falling down on stage.
“Obviously, that idiotic persona is exaggerated, but it comes out on stage because of nerves,” says Evans who turned 41 in February.
“I’m not even aware that I’m doing it, but it’s who I am. My dad and my brother and various old friends have for years been desperately trying to get me to be more tough or more sporting or more cool or more fashionable. Unfortunately, it never works!”
During the first half of XL, Lee focuses on the manifold annoyances of Britain.
“The first half will basically be a rant about the things that are really getting on my nerves,” he states. “I’m starting to shout at the telly – and it’s switched off.
“Even though we think we’re in charge of things, in fact we’re losing control of our lives. When you phone up a utility company or the bank, you have to press seven different digits and then listen to Lionel Ritchie for 20 minutes – all for the privilege of talking to a machine at the end of it. You never get through to a human being. Even though I get sucked into this, I find it so irritating.”
In the second half, Evans discusses “what’s been happening in my life”. Inevitably, much of that will centre on relationships. It’s material that will strike a chord with everyone.
“I’ve been married for 21 years now,” he reflects, “and I realise how ridiculous things become when you’ve been married that long. Years ago, if all the change fell out of my trouser-pockets when I was getting undressed, Heather would think it was cute. Now, it’s ‘bloody hell, you idiot!’ And if we try to recapture the romance now by having a bath together, it’s impossible. Women’s bath-water is always far too hot!”
Topics that are preying on Lee’s mind at the moment include his own childhood. “We lived on a rough council estate,” he recalls. “The lift was a toilet.
That’s why it had that sign – ‘maximum load’. We were also forced to eat Brussels sprouts the whole time. We were the only people in the world who had to. They didn’t even eat them in Brussels; people in that city would say, ‘why are they named after us?’ “To an extent, my parents and grandparents wore blinkers about what a person should do, but at least they knew where they were going. I feel it’s all gone a bit mad now, and everything’s very confused. The point is, there is no point.
Maybe I should become a monk. Life would be a lot more simple then: get up, milk a cow, pray a bit and then go back to bed.”
When not touring, Evans has been building up a more than healthy career in the theatre, starring in hugely successful London productions of Endgamewith Michael Gambon, and The Producers, opposite Nathan Lane.
However, he is currently taking a break from Hollywood. “I haven’t read a decent script in months,” he says frankly.
Nor is Evans likely to spend any time making adverts. He is not short of offers to star in commercials, but turns them all down.
“I wouldn’t know what to do if I had to tell people to go and buy something I didn’t use myself,” he shrugs. “I was offered a fortune to do a whisky ad, but I don’t drink whisky.