An Interview with Comedian Alex Lowe
by Victoria Holdsworth
You are as busy as ever, with seemingly back-to-back tours, however this time without your most recent comedy partner Dan Renton Skinner, who of course is the enigmatic Angelos Epithemiou to your precocious pensioner Barry from Watford – does it take some adjustment after being with a wingman for so long?
It really does! I much prefer being with someone, as it’s always kind of nerve wracking on your own. Travelling on your own, getting to the dressing room on your own, and of course that long lonely walk up to the microphone is terrifying. Dan and I are great mates too, so we have a great laugh. So that’s the main differences for me, but I suppose the good thing is that I have rehearsed it on my own, and know exactly what to do on my own, so at least you sort of have the sense of what you have to do at any given moment.
On this tour you have resurrected the character of Clinton Baptiste who most people will remember as the psychic medium from Phoenix Nights. Was this a character that you had played before, or was he specifically created for that series?
He was actually created by Peter Kay. When we did it years ago, I don’t know if he though Phoenix Nights might have another life, other than the two series it became. It wasn’t until 2015 when we did ‘Phoenix Nights Live’, that I did it live on stage, for about twelve minutes worth of material, that Peter and I had both written, and it went really well, beyond our wildest dreams, and people went mad for it. I thought, ‘I really must do that as a stand-up character’ and Peter very kindly let me do it as a standalone character. Since then I have been out on the comedy circuit, headlining a few gigs, and I thought, ‘There must be at least an hour or more of material in this, so Peter and I discussed it, and he’s been very kind to let me do it. I had a podcast out called ‘Clinton Baptiste’s Paranormal Podcast’ which got ridiculously good listening figures. I say all this, like it’s my own doing, but I can’t ignore the fact it is from Phoenix Nights. It is great having a head start though, because you already feel 4-0 up before you get on stage, and you know they are going to laugh.
I also believe that you have been commissioned for another series of the podcast, is that right?
I did a second series of that podcast, ‘Clinton Baptiste’s Paranormal Podcast’, which still has 600 listeners a day and that was way back in March. Now I have a Patreon site that people can donate a tiny amount of money to hear the weekly podcast, but that is for real aficionados. So far, I have done three warm up gigs, and my first night at Maidenhead, and I’m so pleased that it went really well. But to answer your initial question, this is on my shoulders. I have written it, I’m performing it, I’ve even made my own props [laughs] which is something I’ve done from about the age of 13, and I hate doing it! It’s because I’m too stingy to get a designer and a prop maker [laughs]. It’s hilarious being the age of 51 years old, and finding yourself in a joke shop or a junk shop, or a bloody B&Q, and you think that you need a bit of pipe for this and that, to make something that looks like a man’s knob [laughs].
Even though the character was Peter’s, who or what is your own inspiration behind the character?
I think the name came from Neil Fitzmaurice who plays Ray Von, in Phoenix Nights. I think he had seen somebody called that, or it’s an amalgamation of a couple of names, but back in 1999 or 2000, Peter phoned me up and said, “Have I got a part for you to play kid!” He was only really in two scenes in one episode, in the first series! It’s one of those things that is really odd, having a catchphrase. Especially when people come up to you and say, “I’m getting the word… Nonce!” It’s a gif I see everywhere now, and even my son has seen it, and I always think it sounds just so horrible [laughs] but Peter wrote it and he and I have very much fleshed him out. Clinton even has a back story now and his own history, plus two podcast series worth of stuff. The hour long show is not just stand up either, there is a story behind it. What I found was, after you had done half an hour of ‘I’m a terrible clairvoyant psychic,’ you have to go somewhere else with it. Tom Binns does a character that is a clairvoyant, and I remember seeing him in Edinburgh and thinking he was really clever because he had actually learnt to do some slight of hand, and some cold reading and that sort of thing. I thought why has he bothered with that. That doesn’t interest me at all, I like gags and characters, but then I realised why, because you can only be a crap psychic for half an hour [laughs].
Are you a spiritual person yourself? Do you believe in the paranormal side of life?
You know what? I have my own kind of private faith. I don’t really go to church, like a lot of people. I occasionally call upon my beloved relatives, and I often think that people are with me, but this kind of end of the pier, Clinton Baptiste nonsense, I do not believe for a second. I have had people come up to me at gigs and say, “You won’t believe this, but I belong to the national society of psychic lunatics or whatever, and I was in Twickenham and a lady came up to me and said, “You know I do get it, it’s a joke isn’t it? I love it and it’s very accurate, but what you don’t know is, on stage behind you was your Gran.” So I asked her, “What did she look like?” and the woman said “She looked a lot like you” [laughs] What a surprise! That’s very coincidental [laughs]. So I do occasionally get that sort of thing, and no matter how much I comb myself into a stupid hairstyle, Clinton is clearly a charlatan, but I do meet people who don’t take it at face value.
“You are just asking for trouble”
I recently did a gig on Friday night, in Hampshire, and there was a woman who I approached in character, who was sat in the audience and I said to her in Clinton’s voice, “I’ve got someone here for you my love.” And she said, “Is it my Nan?” so Clinton replied, “Well it depends” [laughs] I didn’t want to upset her, but then I had to just go with it and said, “Oh yes, it’s your Nan, I’ve got your Nan here”, and did all the usual stuff that Clinton would do. When I got back on the stage and finished the remainder of the act, I thought, ‘Oh God! She does not look very happy. She looked strangely devastated, and I suddenly thought, ‘Did she think that was real? Did she not get the joke?’ The clue must have been everyone laughing, but she seemed to miss the whole thing. So some people do take it at face value, and sometime I do think I might be pushing the envelope a little bit by doing this, as you never know if someone has lost someone recently, but I always like to think the character is so obviously a charlatan, and that’s the joke. I’m not taking the piss out of people that have died, and I would never, ever, ever go in and say, “I’ve got your mum here.” Because you are just asking for trouble. If Clinton wasn’t doing this for a living, he would be selling second hand cars [laughs]. It could be any walk of life that he found himself in, he would always be the charlatan. I would hate people to think I was taking the piss out of them, or anyone’s religion, or faith and all that.
If you could really talk to the dead like Clinton, who would you most like to have a conversation with?
My Nan! Who I apparently look like [laughs]. That is a great question, which I haven’t really thought about. Some of my loved ones, and my family probably.
So what does Clinton see in his crystal balls for his further resurrection?
I think that the tour is selling so well, that it’s unbelievable and I am delighted and see… [Alex slips straight into the character of Clinton with ease] a long tour! Maybe even an extension, or even a sitcom! A nice big house in the Bahamas, and being swarmed with lovely dolly birds, or if that’s too sexist, we’ll go with independent women with their own minds. [Back as Alex now] If it does do well, then I wouldn’t mind writing another show, as Clinton, and maybe some more podcasting. I have often thought about a sitcom, based around a spiritualist church. My wife was saying that there are so many programmes now on TV about the paranormal, witchcraft and ghosts and all that side of things. Maybe it is because the church has declined a bit, and people are looking for other paths to follow, and looking for something, anything, that is heightened to the spiritual side of life, so maybe it’s about time. I hope so.
Are there any new characters in development, or is it just an ongoing collection of personalities?
Not at the moment. One day, I would like to write and perform comedy that appeals to me as a 51 year old bloke, and go on as Alex Lowe, and not have to put prosthetics on, or a funny wig, and run the risk of offending people, and just really do some proper stand-up comedy. It is such a distinct thing, when you go into a comedy club to do stand-up, it’s not the same thing as character comedy.
Will we be seeing more of you in 2020?
Well, I have done about four episodes of In The Long Run, which is a Sky 1 show with Bill Bailey and Idris Elber. I’m actually in two series of that, and then I’m in Brassic, very briefly, and play a similar character to Clinton Baptiste. I really hope that Dan and I are going to do more Angelos and Barry. As for Clinton, the tour will be going on until March 2020, so if people still want him after that, I would definitely extend that. I say that now though, and I’ve only just started the bloody tour [laughs] ask me two weeks down the line.
‘Clinton Baptiste: The Paranormal Returns’ visits Leeds City Varieties October 4, Halifax Square Chapel October 5, Sheffield Memorial Hall October 6