An Interview with Sean Lock
Not a man known for being especially serious, Sean Lock is upping the ante yet further with his new tour, the very suitably named Keep It Light. But as ever, he’s either looking at everyday subjects from a freshly original perspective or discussing topics which don’t get much of an airing on the nation’s comedy stages. “I’m going to talk about jewellery heists and I just got into ballet recently so I’ll talk about that. I watched a ballet on BBC Four and after five minutes I really got into it. I’m not into contemporary dance, though: you can shove that back where it belongs in small marginal arts venues on the fringes of town.”
Lock may not be winning over the contemporary dance crowd during this tour, then, but what else is he taking aim at? “I’ll be talking about my bucket list and about some of my behaviour on the internet which I’m not especially proud of. But it’s not what you might think, don’t worry. And then I’ll have material about how I’ve got to an age where everything I do is considered to be a midlife crisis; so any activity and anything I buy or wear. If I get a pair of glasses, they’re considered to be a desperate attempt at disguising my age. It’s not my fault that all glasses are trendy these days; you can’t buy boring glasses any more, they’ve all got clear bits and a bit of lime around one of the eyes: I didn’t want to wear these, but that’s what they’re selling.”
“Keep it light”
Taking a deep breath, he plunges into yet more areas of concern for the tour. “I also talk about James Bond: I find the very notion of him so ridiculous. This thought that one man can save the world is so childish; an inebriated nine-year-old would struggle to maintain plausibility in that idea. I’ll talk about immigration which is always fun because it’s an easy topic to get wrong. But I keep it light. I talk about isolation of the elderly in our society and how they can live out forgotten and anguished lives with barely even the flicker of recognition from their neighbours. But I’ll be keeping that light.”
This might be the right time to ask Lock what attracted him to the title phrase. “I like the ambiguity of ‘keep it light’. I like it as just a throwaway comment you can make to somebody when they’re talking about a terrible mishap that has befallen someone. It’s a pinprick to any kind of heaviness, and ultimately I see that as my job. So I can go down a particular path but I can keep it light by doing some silly stuff.”
Keeping it light is one thing but actually getting the show written is another matter entirely. It’s something that Sean Lock continually struggles with each time he sits down to create a new stand-up set. “I have this weird feeling that other comics have a much more effective and swifter, more skilled working policy where they’d say to me ‘no you don’t have to do it like that, you don’t have to take a year saying the wrong thing. You do it like this’.”
Lock puts this perceived flaw in his working methods down to not having gone to university. “It’s my major regret in life, though not for the qualification I would have gained. People I know who went to university have a working method where they sit down and get something done; they know how to start and get on with things. I will do anything to avoid getting on with stuff. I have one method and that’s blind panic so I’ll sit down in my kitchen and suddenly get on with it.”
Whatever Sean Lock’s working methods, they have proved mightily successful across a comedy career that has lasted just over 20 years. He’s toured with shows such as Lockipedia and Purple Van Man, written the critically adored sitcom 15 Storeys High and notched up a weighty TV CV which features the likes of 8 Out Of 10 Cats, QI and Argumental. He even has his own office now as a means of injecting a degree of discipline into his working regime.
“I spend a lot of time achieving nothing; days go by sometimes. I do rent an office and go there, though not every day: that would be a lie. I have my huge word-game commitments: Countdown it’s called. But I have to be at my office just in case something comes along. It’s like fishing. If you don’t sit at the river bank with a fishing rod, a line, a hook and a worm on it, you’re never going to catch any fish. If I do this for a whole day, then something will slot into place. People perhaps assume that you just walk into a room and make this stuff up, but jokes are very hard to come by.”
He might claim that jokes are hard to come by. But Sean Lock is one of the best in the business at creating gags that live long in the memory. But once they’re all in the bag and ready to be offloaded onto the public, other problems arise. Such as dealing with the rigours of large-scale touring and handling the post-show come-down.
“I lay off the sauce and don’t do too many dates in a row. Doing the show is enjoyable. The hard bit is being normal afterwards and trying not to be this twitching demented clown. Last year I thought I might knock stand-up on the head and take a longer break from it. After a few months, I realised I didn’t really like that idea. All the things that make me good at the job don’t switch off and so if you have nowhere to go with it, you just turn it on yourself. So, I’d give myself a hard time, mocking myself and then patronising myself to try and make me feel better. When it comes down to it, comedy is rehearsed moaning.”
For the good of the nation’s stand-up scene, let’s hope Sean Lock finds plenty to keep complaining about.
Editor’s update: On August 18 2021 it was announced that Sean Lock had lost his life to cancer