This episode of High Tofail is sponsored by Joe Malone, London's charity Candle Collection, one in four people will be affected by mental health issues in their lifetime. Joe Malone, London, are proud to support those struggling with their mental health, empowering people to recover, to reconnect, to grow. Joe Malone. London is shining a light on mental health. Since 2012, Joe Miller in London has donated over two point three million pounds to dedicated projects with inspirational charities to help shine a light on mental health, raising awareness, providing support, stamping out Stigmas One-Step and Kandal.
At a time you can discover a little bit more about the charities and the projects that these candle purchases helped to make possible. Joe Malone Dakoda UK Forward Slash How to Fail. Thank you very much to Joe Malone, London. Hello and welcome to How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, the podcast that celebrates the things that haven't gone right.
This is a podcast about learning from our mistakes and understanding that why we fail ultimately makes us stronger, because learning how to fail in life actually means learning how to succeed better. I'm your host, author and journalist, Elizabeth Day, and every week I'll be asking a new interviewee what they've learned from failure.
James Acosta is a comedian who finds humor in the unlikeliest places. His highly acclaimed standup shows have tackled everything from car crashes to mental health and witness protection programs. His latest book, Perfect Sand Whatever, describes finding refuge in the music of 2016. During a year in which his relationship broke up, he was ditched by his agent and on the verge of a breakdown, sought counseling for the first time. If all that sounds a bit depressing, rest assured that Acosta manages to do what he always does, which is to distill the saddest parts of his life into the funniest jokes.
He also recounts how he shot himself in a steakhouse and how he accidentally found comfort in the form of a cold lasagna, referring to the refrigerator discovery as one of the most iconic moments of twenty seventeen.
Acosta's love of food is evident in his hit podcast Off Menu, which he co-hosts with Ed Gamble and which is often above heartful in the iTunes charts. So I'm actually raging with ill concealed bitterness as I read this introduction. But hopefully you won't notice. He's recently launched another podcast series, Perfect Sounds, based on his contention that 2016 was the greatest year for popular music. Acosta has been nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award, a record five consecutive times and is the only British stand up to her.
Fronted a four part Netflix special. The Evening Standard has called him the Jarvis Cocker of Comedy. But however successful he is on paper, EcoStar never fully seems to believe it of himself.
You should try and live a good life, he writes in perfect sound, whatever. But you should also lay off yourself when you don't get everything perfect all the time. I personally wish I was better at acknowledging my mistakes without having to punish myself over and over, but it can take a long time to get to that point. James EcoStar, welcome to Hide to Fail.
So off the back of that quote, have you got there yet? Have you got to the point where you're easing up on yourself and you're not punishing yourself for mistakes over and over again?
Well, first of all, so needed the book, so I didn't think that anyone would ever read it and then interview me. I'd be able to suffer because it's a more personal book or I'll be able to say these things are now never I never need to follow it up. But you got me there. I think I am getting better at it. But then I think that I'm getting better this year because weirdly, we've covered and locked down and everyone kind of like being put on pause for a bit.
And my usual job being put on pause. It means that I'm weirdly in some areas of my life anyway.
Less stressed I feel I found constantly going around doing gigs to be pretty stressful. I'm finding that now that I'm feeling a bit more relaxed, I am a bit better let myself off, although I don't feel like I'm making as many consistent mistakes as I think most comedy gigs I do. I've always got something that I didn't like about it, especially when I'm really tired of them doing it all. I have some nights where I just come off and like I said, so many things.
The audience that I didn't deserve was really horrible to them. I'd rather give myself a hard time there. And obviously with no gigs this year, that's not happening at all.
And I am pretty surprised, but also worried to discover how much more relaxed I am in general. I want to say my life better because no one's life is better right now. Some people's lives are better, aren't they?
Well, I imagine the thing with with gigging is just the travel and the late nights is exhausting. So to be able to get out of that cycle and spend some time catching up on sleep, much as we wish, there wasn't actually a global pandemic which had triggered that. But I can imagine it.
It does make you feel a bit more sorted. I mean, it certainly has for me, because I'm actually a stand up comedian.
No, I'm not. But normally I travel quite a lot and it's been a real liberation not having anything in the diary.
Yeah, I think as lucky as I feel to be able to do all those gigs and to have that as my job, I haven't stopped since I started doing the open mic circuit in 2008. And I've just been constantly gigging and trying to do as many gigs as possible since then. And definitely last year A. In my tour, it was the longest and biggest tour I've ever done, and I was on stage for the longest amount of time, and when I said yes to all that was because I felt like what an opportunity to do all this.
And I didn't really factor in the fact that it would emotionally, physically and mentally wear me down following that up of a year where I'm able to be at home and work from home. The contrast is pretty huge. I always feel weird to hear about that kind of side of covid for me because not everyone is having that experience. And there's also a lot of things I would obviously sooner not have. This pandemic happens to everybody that my life be like this.
But in terms of just giving myself a little bit of a break and not be so hard on myself, I definitely found it easier this year.
As I mentioned in the introduction, you mine your own life for a lot of your standup material.
Do you feel that there is a kind of relentless self awareness that comes from that?
Yeah, I definitely feel more self-aware. Like since I started doing standup just within the first week of doing standup, I became more self aware than I was before, because before I didn't have anyone bluntly feeding back to me what they thought of me. Whereas with standup, suddenly every night you were going on stage and discovering I'm not that funny, like I feel like genuinely before this stand up, for I was quite a cool person and thought that, like, people thought I was cool.
And then I started doing standup like, oh, no, people see me as a bit of a nerd and an outsider more than I thought I was. And they don't want me to come on and be this relatable, cool guy. Actually, that's even more good when I try and do that. And again, with that kind of like coming back to, like, give yourself a break and not to give yourself a hard time. I definitely look back at so many of my interactions over the years, I mean, since it was done, but also definitely before and how I was and who I thought I was and thinking everyone must have thought I was an absolute dickhead.
Like I was going around thinking that I was a really cool, great guy that people wanted to be like. And actually I was just getting everything wrong. I just had this misplaced confidence. So, yeah, stand up is for a while. It made me a lot more self-critical maybe, and finding faults in myself because those routines were funnier and less certain aspects of improved. But also it means that every time I do notice, I've done something that might sound stupid or whatever, I don't get out of my head for a long time.
I'm a bit too self-aware in that regard. There's tiny things I've done, you know, years ago in social interactions that I still think of now and go, Oh, that person must hate me, but I don't think I had that before I did standup.
One of the reasons that I love your work, which I did actually read to me, is because it is a man being really open about the emotional cost of relationship break ups.
And I don't think you often read that, and I really admire that about your work. How difficult was it for you to confront that? How easy was it for you to make the decision to write about it?
I didn't take it lightly. I wanted to write a book about music because I was so excited about all these albums that I discovered from this one year. But because it's such an odd music project to do, to tell everyone, like you bought hundreds of albums from Twenty Sixteen and you now think it's a great year for music of all time. You can't say that and then not put it in context like they have to know the full story. So it's like, well if I do that I do have to explain to them why.
So I'm going to have to talk about my personal life. Luckily with a book, you can just write whatever you like and then you can read it back and see how you feel about it and choose what goes in and what doesn't. So I think in the early stages of it, I just decided, well, I'll just write everything and I can always take out the stuff that makes you feel uncomfortable or that feels irrelevant. And quite early on, I decided that no one wants to hear the kind of personal, gritty details about a break up and someone trying to make out like one of you was in the right, one of you was in the wrong.
And all that tabloid drama is stuff that actually doesn't help anyone to hear that about someone else's relationship. What is helpful is just your own story. And being like this is how I felt when this happened and this is how I came out of it or didn't cope with it various times. And the more that I wrote about that side of things, because in the book, my ex-girlfriend, she's not named, but she's also I don't talk about anything specifically that she did.
And the thing that happened between us is not relevant.
You refer to her as Becky with the good hair, which is a reference to you, one of 2016 seminal albums, Beyonce's Lemonade's. I massively appreciated that.
So tell us about showcasing yourself in a state steakhouse, because that's what we really want to hear about. Yeah, it's one of those things where, like, not really ever spoke about what? Stuff about stand up before are mainly done, like whimsical stand up, and people would never expect me to do a story like that necessarily, but I was very grateful to have that story going into this book because a lot of the book is about suicidal thoughts and about depression and anxiety.
So it's nice to have a story where you shoot yourself at a steak house. At one point it was just an unfortunate series of events, was my first time. Well, maybe my second time actually in L.A., but it's my first time in American television. I was very excited about it. And the night before I did a gig, while I tried out the material that I was going to do on TV the next day, and it went really well.
So to celebrate or just like drinking with the other comics and went and got a chicken case, a deer from the Mexican food truck outside, and that gave me food poisoning. I woke up in the middle of the night very poorly, then had to go to the TV show the next day, try to start out like I didn't have food poisoning. Also, I was told that the audience at that gig. The easiest audience ever. They weren't on that particular day.
I got very, very lucky. They had to go out to a very quiet audience and just do my set while try not to shit myself. And then afterwards, my agent at the time wanted to go to a steakhouse to celebrate the awful gig. And I went there, went to the toilet. At that point, I didn't I didn't need a shit anymore. So I think I'm okay. But while I was urinate in my body was like, you do need a shit and it's going to happen right now because I had makeup wipes and stuff in my bag because I was doing a TV show, I was able to weirdly clean myself up.
I had a change of clothes as well, so I had to clean myself up better than most people in that situation would be able to. But then go out to my agent and ask that we now go home because this has happened to me. He'd been looking forward to this steakhouse for ages. So somehow I would never do this now. And this is probably a better answer to your first question. If I have, I stopped giving myself a hard time for stuff because nowadays I would just go, no, I'm not staying here and having a steak dinner with you.
I just shit myself. I'm going back to my Airbnb and you can have a meal on your own. But I'm not doing this. But at the time I didn't have that in me. I was like, oh, okay. He's also he's really looked forward to coming here. So I should really stay and just sat there and I can eat anything that my insides were a mess. So I just sat and watched him eat a steak dinner, one moment cold.
And then I was in bed for a week after that with food poisoning. I mean, the agents that I've got now would 100 percent never do that to me. Like if I came out and went to shit myself to go, okay, well, we're all going home now and we going to cancel this meal because, of course, we're not all that at least go. Well, we'll put you in a cab home if you don't mind. We're going to stay here after the meal.
And even then you'll be like, that's a bit off, but fair enough.
But yeah, I think so far, like, I wouldn't want to eat my steak opposite someone who just shot themselves. You would think so. It's Off-putting. Yeah, I think for some reason I have been told I said, look, I've clean myself up as best I can, but I'd like to go home. It's like it's clean himself up. I'm up in this state. I think he'd been looking forward to it so much that nothing could ruin it for like he's been thinking about it for a very long time of having this state dinner.
He was just going to have it no matter what.
I mean, we are laughing about it now because you are very funny and how you tell stories, which is lucky for you given what you do professionally. But I think it does highlight that story like how low things had gone when actually on the one hand, there was this career high of performing on Conan O'Brien and on the other hand, your being really let down by your agent in a foreign sexy food poisoning and you don't feel able to stand up for yourself and to voice what you need.
And you talk, as you mentioned there in the book, about depression and suicidal thoughts and going into therapy for the first time. And again, I want to salute you for that, because not only do I think men find that harder, but particularly male stand up comedians, I imagine. And I just wanted to ask you about that, about how helpful you have found therapy in your life.
Very. And I had had a massive speed bump with it at the end of twenty seventeen. But I've got a new therapist now and they're fantastic up and doing Zoome sessions during lockdown to begin with. It was just very useful for again what we're talking about, the whole kind of not being as hard on myself. I didn't even realize that was a thing that I did until I went to therapy. I kind of went to therapy because I blamed the whole break up on myself.
I found a million little reasons, little many of the things I'd said or done over the years to convince myself this is all my fault, even though no one was telling me that. But I was convinced that I was just not worth being with and I don't know these awful things or whatever.
And then when I went to therapy, I went because I was having suicidal thoughts and that scared me. And I didn't want to have suicidal thoughts. I didn't want to kill myself because I have. Friends and family, especially my family, nephews and stuff, and I don't want to do that to them. I don't really know what I wanted out of it. First of all, I didn't want to have suicidal thoughts anymore, so I wanted to stop being a dickhead almost.
I deliberately chose a female therapist as well because I thought a male therapist would let me off the hook if I told them, like, what an awful boyfriend I was. And what was weird was like sitting down and actually talking to someone who doesn't know you isn't being judgmental, but also you can't offend them that have a personal stake in what you're saying and just telling them stuff which in your head was really bad. And then you hear yourself say it out loud and you're like, oh, no, that was just like an argument that couples happen.
Hmm. Actually, that wasn't that bad and I was okay.
And there's certain things which I saw in a completely different light when talking about it in therapy and then gradually kind of looking at, oh, actually my main problem is I'm so self-critical and hard on myself that I've driven myself to a nervous breakdown. Essentially, I've kind of put so much on myself that no one else has put it on me that I've kind of fallen apart. And that's really what's got me here. Although actually I won't say that that's what got me in therapy, because I don't want people to think that you have to get to this point and then go to therapy.
Anyone can go at any point and it's just a healthy thing to do, just like going to the gym is healthy. And I know some people listen go well. I don't go to the gym, but we all know we should. So Ali says that with the gym is that even if you don't go, you know, you should go. So there's that step with therapy that we need to take of going like, OK, don't go bullshit no matter what.
So that was really helpful to begin with. Not blaming myself for everything anymore, even if I had done something wrong in my life, like not repeatedly beating myself up for it.
The speed bump you refer to just for people who haven't read the book is that you find yourself being sort of lightly stalked by your former therapist, which is a very unfortunate turn of events, and that's why you had to find a new one.
But why do you think you were so self-critical? Do you think you were born that way?
There's like a lot of different things. I mean, I was raised Christian, which sounds like it's putting the blame on my parents, which one hundred percent isn't, because they have always been on the very progressive, liberal and kind side of Christianity where it's, as I say, was more focused on forgiveness. But even then, when it's more focused on forgiveness, it's still focused. You've done something wrong. Yeah, I wasn't going up the Christian household where it was like focusing on sins and you're a sinner and all this kind of stuff.
But I still went to a sea of high school and we went to church and I even went to like, you know, Cub Scouts, which were very Christian when I went to those things. So my life was full of a lot of readings from the Bible and sermons and assemblies about the Bible and stuff like that. And a lot of that was based on especially my primary school. But there's a lot a primary school of assemblies which were assemblies about things you shouldn't do, even if it was like smoking or something.
So I've never smoked to this day. I've never even smoked a cigarette or even had a whatever they call it, a drag or a joke. I don't know what the cool kids are say, but like, I'm done any of that because I remember that don't smoke or somebody from school scaring the shit out of me and all of that. I don't do this because it's bad. And I remember getting in trouble at school for swearing and being absolutely in tears when my mom got told about it.
But my mom not being that angry at me, I just told from an early age most of the things that I was going to that, you know, if you do something wrong that is bad. And I wasn't being told as much, but it's okay. You can be forgiven or human. We're going to do these things. There definitely wasn't a sense of we're all just people and we're going to make mistakes. It was you should it do this.
So there was that. And then over the years as well. I guess. So it's not like Britain in general. Also like Katerine, where I grew up, is full of critical people. Apologies in a way, to anyone listening from Catman. But you also if you're from Canada, you know that I'm right, that there's a lot of nice people in camp. And but if you go to school in Kampmann and you grow up around there, go to the pubs and whatever my experience growing up, it wasn't the most supportive town to grow up.
And there were supportive people there and there were supportive places you could go, youth clubs and whatnot. But there's a lot of like you shouldn't think UNEF and great and don't think you're good. Anyone one were successful. They'd get shot down pretty quickly. You had a metal band in Katmandu do well in as soon as they did well. F1 was like the shit that sell sellouts and they're not good anymore. So there wasn't people turn into whichever going good on you.
That's brilliant. What you've just done. That's great. It was more like, oh what a good do you because you just done that. You're not good actually. So you're not allowed to feel proud of yourself. You're not allowed to pat yourself on the back. You should be more self-deprecating and self-critical. And there was that. Well, which I think England in general is like most places in England are like that, there are some positive places you've got Brighton and Bristol, but everywhere else it's pretty, pretty negative.
Apologies to all the places that I've been to that are really positive. There's loads of places that are positive. Oh, my God.
You're hating yourself for this as you're saying it. Oh, yeah, well, exactly. You say this stuff, especially nowadays with like I doesn't help as well, that now we've got the Internet where if someone slips up, we could all do a tweet and say that they were no selfies. So as soon as I said that, then in my head, what I'm thinking is somebody lives in Somerset is going to tweet. Oh, yeah. Thanks very much, mate.
Like we're a bunch of people. We're not actually going to get that. So, like, in my head, that's always what's going to happen. So, yeah, but it's all that it's a mixture of a whole bunch of things.
My final question before we get onto your failures is do you think the having gone through UPS makes you better or wiser and enables you to have a more successful relationship now?
I don't know. I mean, I'm 100 percent in the best relationship I've ever been in, but I don't know if that's because I've been in failed ones. Or just because I mean, this one just feels and from the start just felt completely different to anything else, it was like I felt like I could just be myself. I didn't have to put any effort into things constantly, you know, like I'm going to say that I don't mean, you know, I'm not doing anything nice.
But fact is that when you do put effort and it doesn't feel like ever because you just want to do it, you just want to do a nice thing for that person because, yeah, it just feels like there's something you want to do rather than a stress of if I don't do something nice for them, we might fall outside. We're over the top. But I think definitely being in other relationships that haven't been right for me and I also haven't been right for the other person I was in a relationship with has it's given me perspective.
If this relationship I'm in now had been the first relationship I was ever in, I might just assume that all relationships are like this and take it for granted a bit more. And every day that I've been with my girlfriend now, I've just felt incredibly grateful and lucky.
I might not have if it was the first person I met and I didn't have other relationships to compare it to. I mean, if we talk about self-criticism, this is the only relationship I've been in where I'm not doing that to myself. And I think in all other places I've been and I've been constantly self-criticism and stuff, criticizing and criticizing them in my head. You know, I've been like, oh, I don't like that. And that's not great.
And then looking at the relationship and criticizing the relationship and looking at myself and going, oh, I'm doing this, this and this, this isn't good. And this is the first relationship where not only am I not doing that, but also it's not even an effort to not do that. I just I just feel like I can just be me. And it definitely has made me more certain that this is the right relationship for me. But, yeah, I mean, you know, I've I've I've just had one relationship to learn that lesson.
That's so lovely.
I mean, being yourself in a relationship is the thing and it's so underrated and I totally agree. So I'm glad you found that. Let's get onto your failures. So the first one is relentlessly calling a heckler a paedophile, drawing your first year as a stand up. So. Well, and that was it. One heckler at one giggle.
Does he keep coming back or she was one for one gig. I mean, when I started standup, we want anyone to start standup. They don't know what they're doing. And you're just someone who you have an interest in stand up comedy or you are the funny one in your friendship group, whatever it is that makes you want to do stand up comedy and try out and every single routine that you write and everything that you say off the cuff is an experiment are you don't know what works and what doesn't, and you're figuring out who you are on stage, what works for you.
And I'd seen the comedian Daniel Kittson, who is, you know, for people who don't know him, I he'll be glad that you don't know him, but also why stand ups is regarded very highly. And he was and still is one of my favorite comedians. And I got to see him and I've seen him deal with a heckler by calling him a paedophile. And it was hilarious and understandable enough yet to know that what works for one comic doesn't necessarily work for old comics.
And also what works in one situation, does it work in every single situation, even if you're that comedian like it worked because of what was going on in the room and all that, he was somehow able to pull that off. So I did this gig in Hitchin and it's a very nice gig. And it was all like all the locals and everyone kind of knew each other in the crowd and stuff. And a guy turned up who I later learned his nickname is Matt John locally.
And he's got a bit of a reputation. He knows he has any. He showed up during my set as well. So I was like the third act on of six or something like that. But like he turned up during my set and immediately started shouting out without knowing what I'd been talking about. And just immediately outside your Peter mate without any context for it, like they had been at the Kittson show.
I'm sure something had happened at the kids, which meant it made sense to go live, that I just called him immediately and it got a laugh, probably just because it was so out of nowhere. But then as a new comic, I didn't understand. Every time he shouted out, I couldn't repeat it. Right now, this is the of one of the stand up comedy stories where people are like really just their make out. So we failed. And actually they're just trying to talk about a success because the gig did go well for me, calling it a paedophile over and over again.
However, to me, that doesn't paint a success in comedy. An audience laugh. It doesn't necessarily mean you're doing the right thing. In fact, a lot of the time you're kind of like taking whatever power you have for being on stage and you could be misused the last don't mean you're doing something right. And after that gig, I felt so bad about it at all. I was doing was talking to my friend David Trent, who was on the bill as well, and saying to him, I really wish I hadn't done that because that man had mental health issues.
Definitely when I spoke to the people who know him afterwards, I was like, okay, I was just like that was not a good way of dealing with that. I never did anything like that again because I just felt, you can't look at yourself and go, oh, with the laughs that important to you like. You had to get of that much that you were just happily destroy this guy. It's not like after he came up to me and go and I said, that was brilliant.
He was a bit miffed because fair enough to him. It was like what a called the look. I'd like to say that I've never made those mistakes again, have never called someone a paedophile relentlessly again. But like, I've definitely gone too hard on audience members since I got sidetracked with something that sometimes the rest of them doesn't even care about, especially on my most recent tour.
Every now and again, the reason why I continually make that mistake is because every now and again, it works in a way that's actually good and that I don't come away from the bad. I mean, and again, it works in a way that I'm like, oh, that did make the gig better, take that risk. And actually being negative about the gig made the gig better and no one was upset and that was good. So then I continually rolled the dice on gigs where that doesn't work and then I come away feeling like I gave them a really bad show there, because any time a gig feels misled and like it's going to be forgettable, I panic and I want to make the gig memorable.
I don't want people going away just going, oh yeah, that was all right. And so in the moment, I try and make it an event and take a risk. And often because I'm tired on tour or grumpy or whatever you go with, whatever your true feelings are you authentic feel inside because that's kind of in the moment feels like your best chance of making the gig good. And often that just makes it worse and you end up bumming everyone out and making them think that they've been a bad audience, that you don't like the gig and the gigs been shit.
I think it's such an interesting failure to have chosen because it highlights the capacity of comedy to be cruel. And I think what's very interesting about you is that you've spoken in the past about how there's a responsibility both to acknowledge your privilege, but also to realize that times change. And I know the comedians are constantly asked about this, like, is there any joke too offensive to make? And you're very interesting on that. So what is your position on that?
Well, often what we get asked, because it's interesting how you phrased it, because people don't usually phrase it like that. People don't usually phrase it. Is there any joke that's too offensive to make people cleverly? Fraser, it is there any topic that's out of bounds which you're saying, I'm not clever.
Stop hassling me just so like an idiot, a paedophile sneakily. I should have said they sleekly phrase it like that because your question is a better question, but their question means as they kind of get out there, because I don't think there is any topic that is out of bounds, because it just depends how you deal with that topic and all these freedom of speech people. And look, I believe in free speech. I'm pretty sure everyone does.
Like I don't know anybody who doesn't believe in free speech I'd ever met anybody who doesn't believe in free speech, but people who use free speech as an excuse to say awful things.
And often like they're the ones who scream freedom of speech. When people try and disagree with a joke they've made, they will make out like it's topics. We can't talk about that or we're not allowed to talk about rape or we're not allowed to talk about paedophilia or race if you're white or whatever it is. And it's like, no, you can absolutely talk about all those things, but all of those things are white, much more weighty subjects, depending on who you know.
Well, actually, whoever you are, that white is subjects. But like if you're on the more privileged end of the scale when it comes to that subject, then there's even more weight behind it because the routine is different when you talk about it. And it's not just a joke, it's a joke. Like, say, if you're a man and you make a joke about rape and the joke about rape is very much either at the expense of the victim or it's quite flippant about just having a laugh about that subject and trivializing it and making it seem like it's not not important.
It doesn't. And I know that men get raped. Also, men can be sexually assaulted. But like a lot of the time, the jokes that men do about it at the expense of women, and they'll kind of get wound up at a job not all over the place now, but it helps to have a more specific example. Bill Burr has a routine where he says about there's a waitress at a cafe and she wrote on the chalkboard outside of that pub and she wrote on the side, We like our beer, like we like our violence domestic.
And that's the joke she puts on the chalkboard outside and he tells his story and says that she then got lost her job over it because everyone on social media kicked off about this joke. Now, why do you think she should lose her job or not?
Is a different discussion. But the main thing he defends is the joke. His point is it's a good, solid joke. You take any word out of that joke and the joke doesn't work anymore and no one's going to see that joke and then go, oh, that's a good idea. And then go home and beat their wife up. And that's his whole point about it. And the weird stance people tend to take on it is that no one is saying that, no one is saying that if you're in the audience and you hear a joke about domestic violence, you're then going to start doing domestic violence when you never did it before.
That's not the case. What it does do that kind of joke. And the comic never thinks of this. There might be someone in the audience who has experienced domestic violence, who themselves have been on the receiving end of that at home or who have witnessed it maybe with their parents. And those jokes are going to be funny to that person if they're going to be quite the opposite, a disturbing and quite horrible and make them feel very alone and isolated when everyone around them is laughing at that joke and your failure to acknowledge that that person exists.
And it means immediately just thinking about people who aren't that person. So immediately Bellbird thinks of the person doing the violence and not the victim of it. Yeah, that's where his mind goes to immediately. And so the disregard for the person who is the victim highlights the problem as well. We don't see those people as maturin or as individuals, hence why you're making that joke. Also, it's not just the people doing the violence who are completely responsible for it as a society harms us, not given those things, the weight that they deserve and us not acknowledging that they're bad and just being flippant about them and just treating them like they don't matter.
And that's something we can joke about and actually take no positive action in terms of combating it. But we can all make jokes and have a laugh. That is a problem. And that kind of like lets us make jokes about gay people as my jokes about trans people. It's just making it that these things don't matter and those people don't matter. And we can all just like enable when people go, well, I'm not transphobia, I'm not homophobic, I'm not racist.
It's like but you're enabling these people. You're allowing them to continue. The people who are racist and transphobia can before you. But you're kind of like backing up that culture that allows them to feel emboldened enough to do what they do all the time. So for me, getting a laugh out of an audience is not as important as those things being eradicated and those things being combated. And I'm sure that any kind of like edgy comic who defends those kind of judge could listen to this and think it's a bunch of bollocks, but like nothing is going to change their minds anyway.
They seem pretty stubborn on that front. And if any of those people are listening, I'd want them to ask themselves why they care about that them, why are they choose in that side of things and sticking to it so aggressively instead of considering the opposing point of view? And why is your main hell that you would have done immediately? Is defending the comedian making that joke, who, by the way, is receiving no repercussions? Most people hold up like very rare cases where things have gone to court.
These comedians who are releasing these trailers all the time for their Netflix specials or whatever, being like, no one dares say anything anymore. This guy is going to say it all. So you've got a Netflix special and you're saying all of this on Netflix and nothing's going to happen to you and you're a multimillionaire. What are you talking about? You've literally made millions from, say, in this kind of shit. The world is not against you, but the world is against all these people that you're making the jokes about.
People are dying. I can't with good conscience, go out and just make a flippant joke about the stereotype and encourage the same old tired arguments about minorities and people who experience in bad shit happens to them and just like feel that I'm justified in doing. I don't really see.
And I have to say, I think that's an amazing answer. I really do. And thank you for putting it so eloquently. This isn't one of your failures, but I'm always very interested when I discover it about someone and I know that listeners like talking about it, is that you dropped out of school before sixth form, during school, during sixth form.
And your dad was a teacher at that same school, wasn't he, before I was there?
Yeah, okay. Almost got that right.
That's more than most people ever know. That's good. Why did you drop out? I mean, I would have dropped out earlier, but my dad had made a deal with me to do one year of school before I left. And we talked about this recently, actually. He thought he'd got me because like I said at the end of jokes, I just said I'm I'm going to form a band and that's what I'm going to do now. I want to try and be in a band.
And what I was like, just the one you asked for. And if you don't get and if you don't like it, you can stop after one year. And that was the deal. And I made the deal with him and I did one year. And then I dropped out and he says that he thought he'd got me, that I was just going to go, well, I may as well do a second year because I've got to the end of the first.
I may as well just get my A-levels. But the reason why is because I think I was obsessed with death. But like, I was definitely one of those people who was like, well, I'm going to die one day like this. Life isn't forever. And at that age I was like, I didn't see any point not just going for my dreams at that point. I was like in a position where I could try and do that. Yeah, I could try and be in a band or 17 less sexual assaults like, you know, a great age to start trying to do that kind of stuff.
I would have been playing drums since I was 15. If I fail at this, then I'll probably be quite young by the time I've accepted that. So I can always do something else again. And I'd say, hey, I think that's too strong a word. But yeah, I did pretty much hate school. Like, I didn't like it. I didn't like the environment. I had a teacher who bothered me in my first year of year seven.
She was very nasty. And also the whole thing was like, I'm still in touch of one person from school and everything else. I just found exhaust in the whole constantly trying to like, be liked by people, be cool enough to be in with that group, be cool enough to not have that not bully you. It was like a constant thing in my head of like just trying to keep on everyone's good side, because in my school, if you did slip into the kind of like outsider weirdo kind of thing, you were excluded by a lot of people.
And I was terrified of being bullied for whatever reasons. I was looking back. I was very stressed all the way through school of like trying to keep a certain position in my peer group, in my school, where, like, I wasn't getting shit from people all the time. I didn't enjoy most the lessons and all I wanted to do was creative stuff all the way through school. I loved music. I loved drama, I love art class.
I even like to dance. When we did that, actually, those were like the ones that I enjoyed. I didn't enjoy the rest of it. I enjoyed English when we were writing stories and whenever I was like getting ready to go to university. Also, like I was one of the teenagers who I didn't like drinking at that point. I hated it. I mean, my friends who started going to the pub and I was always having Cokes and they were all getting hammered and I didn't see the appeal whatsoever.
So going to university held zero appeal to me because I thought, well, what I want to do doesn't require qualifications being in a band. And I'd like drum teachers and stuff at the time say to me, well, what if you don't make it in a band? You might want to be a session musician who needed qualifications for that. But I don't want to be a session musician, so I'm not going give myself a qualification and work hard on my plan B and then I won't be able achieve my plan.
And then I'm doing Plan B and A die. So I'm not doing that. I want to be a musician. Not only qualifications, I don't care about getting past and getting drunk with people. So university doesn't hold that extra appeal for me there. I don't really like hanging out with a new group of people and stuff like that. So I don't want to live in a house with them like there was nothing there, really, apart from the prospect of travelling to a different city and living in a different city.
That appealed to me. So I was just like, I don't see why I would do this. I want to be in a band. I want to make music and release classic albums. So I'm going to start doing that as soon as possible. I went to a sixth form college after dropping out of my form and did the two year Betacam music practice, which isn't really a proper course. But I didn't really get a very good grade at the end of that because he had to form a band for the course.
And towards the end I thought, well, a better use of my time right now is booking my bands loads of gigs and trying to get as a demo and stuff like that, rather than doing this coursework and getting this qualification that I'm never going to use anyway. And so there's a whole bunch of things of that cause I didn't get good grades on because I was too busy actually trying to be an abandoned work and actually doing the thing. Yeah, working on what the plan was.
And although being in a band didn't work out, you have become a phenomenally successful comedian. Have you ever regretted dropping out of school?
No, that's not me saying that everyone should do what I did, but I hope that's clear to people. But like, I think I was very lucky to know what I wanted to do with my life early on. And I was lucky to be so single-minded and driven about it. I mean, there's definitely that thing of like acknowledging privileged stuff. We've moved it to a nicer house than we were considered middle class at that point. But there wasn't any major risks in going for a band.
Of the worst thing that could have happened is that I would be scared and my parents would let me move back in with them. So I was lucky that I had all that and that I was able to just roll the dice and go for my number one dream. And that when that didn't work out because I hadn't given myself a plan B or back up, I started doing stand up because I'd done a couple of standup gigs already just for fun.
And I enjoyed them. I didn't have any ideas when the band stopped. So because I don't want to sit around moping at home and complaining that I wasn't in a band anymore, I thought, well, I can get out the house and do comedy gigs. And I booked myself gigs all over the country because I did enjoy with the band travelling somewhere to do a gig. I gigs were always a disaster. As a band, we drive to Blackpool and play to seven people and drive home and none of it would listen to us.
But I liked the journey. I like, oh, I'm going out of Kettmann, we're going to Blackpool today. And that was exciting to me. And so I thought I can sustain that by doing the open mic circuit in England. I'm doing stand up and I was twenty three and someone told me early on, if you're not making a living out of standup after three years, you should quit. And I was like great, I'll be twenty six.
So I just like threw myself into it but not thinking at the time it was going to be my career but I wouldn't have done that and had that as a plan B if I hadn't given myself a plan B at all and was then forced to just do whatever. The second most enjoyable thing I've been doing was.
I think it's so important for people to realise that there are so many different paths to get somewhere and that it doesn't have to be the traditional route of school and A-levels and university. So thank you for that. But your second failure is related to music, which is trying to explain to people why I couldn't play the songs they requested at my friend's wedding when I was still some pretty stressful to be part of it was bad.
And also like it's not even just that wedding. It's like a lot of different experiences. And I think there's some metaphor here for life, I think, and something that I haven't yet learned.
So I love music. I love introducing people to new music. And so my first ever day experiences when I was still in a band for probably 18, 19, and I did a guest spot, the Prince of Wales in Katherine, and it was an hour and they just do an unpaid hour long deejay set and it was usually at like eight o'clock. So it's not jumping yet. And I just thought what a great opportunity to play people all these amazing songs they've never heard and introduce people to the music.
I'll be like John Peel and the amount of people who was constantly coming up to me going, Can you play something we know, please? And they got progressively more angry with me with being like, mate, if the next song you play is an oasis on a fucking kick off. I mean, knowing that I was about to play some massive metal band that they'd never heard of, I remember that ended with a group of people chant in Wanker at me in time with the song I was playing.
And that goes back as well to the encouragement of the public. That's what I was growing up with, was a. They're trying to connect with the Bajada and try to do something positive. They're literally calling me a wanker over and over again and I'm not sure if I'm going to get out the pub alive. And I learned from that to play songs that people know. And so I play this together over the years. That was like all big hits that would dance to detect at a friend's house party.
Well, with that playlist and then I deejay defense went in and that also went very well. The film was a comic and it was just so much fun and it was in twenty seventeen a year where I wasn't having a good time and then deejaying at where I just felt amazing and everybody's dancing and I just felt so happy to because I'd felt so isolated on my own all year and then suddenly to feel connected to a room full of people and just a purely positive way and in a way where your ego wasn't as involved as with stand up, you know, you haven't written the songs, you are just playing them.
So you feel a bit like you're doing this and you're choosing the songs, but you're not there going like, yeah, I've written a pretty great song. So like that you're sharing something with people more than being the recipient of all the credit. I just loved it. I want to deejay and so I kind of offered to a couple of friends that I know who are getting married. I put my name down to do two weddings that were coming up.
And the first one, there was no Wi-Fi in the venue. So I had my iPod, which already had this playlist that I'd made for them on my iPod, and they had a laptop which already had a playlist that they had chosen the bride and groom that they wanted. So all I could do, all I was capable of doing was going back and forth between these two. Now, I'd like to add the dance floor was full all night, these all banners, nothing I'm playing is like obscure.
There's no ego involved in this ever completely given them the songs wants at weddings bar at the first, they're not done. Most people were performers and performers don't heckle each other and performers don't bother each other. Just so no one was coming up to me at my comedy friend's wedding and requested songs because most of them have been on stage or they just wanted to have a good time and they were going to give anyone any hassle. So at this word, I'm deejaying at its COSWELL and a guy who's pretty drunk at that point just comes up to me and also like he walks on a stage, but he just walked onto the stage and right up to me.
So there's that thing of, like, it's not stay in the other side of the booth and speaking to me like that from the safe distance, he's just coming up to me and just says, if you got any queen.
Oh, no, I'm sorry, I don't have any queen. They said we'll go on the Internet and find that I don't have Wi-Fi in the building. So all I can do is I've got my iPod here and it's got songs on it. And that playlist is bridegroom's playlist. So all I can do is go back and forth between the two and Queen on on even one of them, I'm afraid. Anyway, so it's a yes or no question.
Me as I allocable know why not. And then I had to explain it again and then he went, oh, so I'm like, I'm not the biggest in the world for asking, am I? Are you thinking? Well, I think you were. But now you've said that it doesn't feel like you're a great guy. And then I was trying to be like, no, I'm just telling you, I said, I'm sorry. I don't really know what's going on here.
I. What, you don't know what's going on? Well, I'm asking you for a song, you're just completely bugging me. No, I'm not. And I was to explain and then he was in my face and really and then someone had to come and get him and drag him away. And then because of that, I was pretty shaken up and the square it up to me, I thought, oh, I'm going to get the bus, get beaten up and then like, it goes away in compliance with friends and you can see them.
So you can see the group who are now looking over at you.
And now in my head, I'm like, oh, they're going to bankrupt me. It's like a whole thing now is going to happen again.
And one of his friends comes up, she requests a song, Brian Adams or something, and she's half smiling as well because she's like, I'm gonna go and see if he's a dickhead again. And I look at both playlist no, Bryan Adams explained the exact same thing to her as she looks over her shoulder at her friends and his, like, shakes her head. And they're like, this guy's a fucking Adalgisa, though, right? OK, so you're not going to play it then?
You're just not going to play what I've asked for at a wedding.
I was like, I know it's a wedding, but I haven't got this. She goes away. Then a friend comes up to me, but you fake this is fine. And she's like, Are you OK? You don't look like you're enjoying yourself. I was like, Yeah, I just love this guy. Shower in my face. He's like, sign off on the biggest in the world. And all this, like, it was very aggressive in this group are kind of like looking over at me now and I just feel a bit uneasy.
She's like, well, do you want to cheer up? It is a wedding, James, as I. Yeah, I just need a second. Like, someone just confronted me, so I just need a second. And then she starts laughing and go and you're being so stupid. Just tell them you're not going to play the song. I was like, well, I did. And that made them angrier because I just tell them no requests.
So I don't think that will go down better if I just say to them, no requests, I think I'm in big trouble also. Well, I hadn't taken it. I talked to people afterwards and some people were like everyone at that wedding. Well, a lot of people at the wedding knew who you were. You're a local comedian who's now on TV and they get to fuck with you like they get to go over to. And so you not playing their requests, it's like, oh, you think you're fucking too good to play.
I request that we're coming over and ask for my dick because the week I won't play ball. And so, like there was that on top of it, which I hadn't factored into it at that point. I just thought, no, these are strangers who hate me.
How is this a metaphor for life? I'll tell you what it is. The next time I did a wedding, I spoke to my friend who's a deejay and told him about the previous wedding. And he said, You don't say no requests, are you? Don't explain to them why you can't play it. You just say, yeah, I'll do my best and they'll leave. You said that. They said they're drunk. They actually don't give a shit if you play their song or not.
They don't care. All they want is to be heard and to chip in and tell the deejay how to do their job. So there's coming over. They're going to request a song. If you've got it, play it. They'll think you're amazing if you haven't got it. So you'll do your best. They'll go away. They won't come back up and request it again. That won't happen. They'll accept it. And then I was like, yeah, too much of my life.
I'm constantly trying to do the very best by everybody I've got. I've got to explain to them, if I can't do something, I've got to explain to them why and justify. I want them to realize why I don't want to let anyone down or what the votes are like, not feel Madoff and all this kind of stuff. And actually, some people there's no winning with the. And so following him off isn't the worst thing in the world for me, I've really learned with some people now just to smile and nod and go, yeah, sure, that isn't the worst for the right.
It really reminds me, I heard Mickey Tickle interviewed on a podcast recently and she talked about taking the note about when someone is aggressive or criticizes you, you don't have to react or defend yourself there in the moment. You just take the note and think about it and then decide whether it's worth your time or not. And I just thought that was such great advice. It sounds quite similar.
Yeah. And that's an excellent way of putting what I think was a 20 minute story for me. But yeah, absolutely brilliant. Yeah. And I think those that I think also just like because weirdly, looking back, you almost do sound more shitty in that situation. You're going to make them feel better just saying, yeah, I'll do my best well and go in. No. And even if you explain to them why they feel like it's been explained to them in a patronizing way or whatever, like they should have known that it's not, you try to explain to them why, because you want them to know.
The only reason I'm not playing this is because I'm physically incapable of doing it like there's no way it's impossible. That's the only reason I'm not playing to request. Otherwise I would play it. No one's making you off. But instead, you're like just every now and again in life, just so that certain people. Yeah, sure.
So I don't ever hear your final failure is trying out new material on the TV show live at the Palladium, which I can imagine is like quite an intense place to try out new material. What happened there?
I think I was at a point I don't know if it was in twenty seventeen or twenty sixteen, but I was at a point where I'd done quite a lot of my up on TV and I was getting ready to film these specials. I don't think Netflix had picked them up yet, but I had it in my head. I was going to film basically everything I've ever done and release and that was my next goal. And I was offered live at the Palladium.
And I think it is, you know, to be vulgar. I think it's one of those situations where the money was too good to say no to it. Maybe it was maybe the money was awful. And I just I just wanted to play the Palladium. I think that was a big factor as well. I said yes, because it was standup as well. I think at the time, if I was offered to do standup on anything, I was just going to say yes, because there's actually not loads of opportunities for stand up comedians who do stand up on TV a lot of times on panels or something like that.
And so it was great. I get to do stand up, so I say yes to that. And at the time it might have been twenty seventeen actually, in which case I'm annoyed that I didn't put this story in the book at the time.
I mean I was tired of doing old stuff and I was more into doing new material and I, I respected the program enough, even if I respected the show enough for some reason I just for I'll be fine. I've done this routine about squash a couple of times and it worked. I'm going to be more engaged with the room and enjoy myself more if I do this routine. This is the routine that currently on the most excited about it was set.
So I'm just going to go on and do it, even though I've only done it twice before I got there. And the bell was like, Bradley Walsh is hosting it. There's an improv group called The Noise Next Door to an asset when they get suggestions from the audience and do improvisation. And there's like the cast of School of Rock are doing one of the songs on their West End musical and stuff like that. It's a real variety show. Might be in a band on as well.
And the vibe is very TV.
I'm going to say Brexiteer for the audience is they would much rather want to. Yeah, in a way, yeah. They'd much rather listen to the songs of School of Rock like Joe Pesci while he was in the audience as well, going around with a roving microphone. They'd much rather that they'd have someone go on and try out a whimsical new routine about squash. Yeah, I'm just talking about how when you're a kid, your parents make squash fear and then when you grow up, you get to make it yourself and how that's a sign of independence.
And now eventually that would become a routine which worked quite well for me at this point.
It was a weak squash. I was I was just playing to pretty much nothing. And the only people who were laughing were Jordan Banjo and his friends. It was sitting in the audience. Tim and two of his mates would join it, bless him. And I kept on referred. I didn't know it was a banjo at the time. I hadn't heard of it because I thought, but it's Got Talent now. I know Jordan and I've done a couple of shows with it, but he's told me that that was him at that gig.
I didn't know it was. I just kept on going, oh, thank God for you guys. I kept saying to them on stage, which you shouldn't say during a normal gig, let alone a TV recorded and keep going off. Thank God these for your enjoyment. I'm really glad you're liking it. I remember coming off a bloody Welshman in the wings and just smiling at me. But this smile that like I was, it was quite nice.
A smile between comics of like that was shit like probably that was shit, but it's pretty funny how shit it would make me feel a bit better.
And is this the most. Stupid question the world, but is he actually alive, so you're being recorded and it's being beamed in to be. No, luckily not. It gets edited down and if you're lucky, some of those ones, they plug laughter into it. Although I say if you're lucky, Jawa, it saves you the complete embarrassment when that happens. But generally speaking, it's not the same on panel shows. Sometimes you do a panel show and the audience could be dead and then it goes out and the audience at home love it.
And that's because the panel enjoyed themselves. If you enjoy yourself within the panel, it doesn't actually matter what the studio audience are doing because you are making each other laugh and it is fun and it's a good show. Standup, if you're doing badly in the room, it rarely comes across well on TV at home, even if they've plugged laughs and made it fake, people can still be like this hasn't got much energy to it is a bit flat and it's because the comic, it's nothing and their confidence has been eroded with each line.
And so they're not going to give a good show, you know, unless they're completely bulletproof when it comes to their confidence, which some people are.
Did you watch it back?
No, it's one of the only things I've never watched. But there's a few things I've never watched back. There's that there's at least one panel show appearance that I've never watched back maybe to actually know those two panel show appearances that I've never watched.
But occasionally you do something where you go.
There is nothing to be gained from watching this back. I like to watch things, but sometimes just to learn from it and be like, OK, I like that thing that I like that thing that I did.
And next time I have a better idea of how I come across. And then sometimes you just had a really good show when you did it and you you want to watch it back and forth back and go. Oh, great. I feel proud of myself. I started to doubt myself. Next time I go on something, I never watch that. And I'm never going to I think someone would literally have to force me to watch it and create a format for some podcast or TV show where people have to watch their most embarrassing TV appearances.
I didn't go on Twitter that night because I was like, that's going to be nothing good there for me. There's no point to it that I know is objectively a bad performance. And anyone who said it was was correct.
James, I love talking to you so much and we're really running out of time. So I want to ask you, because I know so many people to there's also rightly, I love your podcast off menu and in off menu. You interview people about their favorite foods. But instead of asking you what your favorite meal would be in your restaurant, have dreams served by the genie? I wonder what dish you would be if you were reincarnated as a dish.
What would? James Accustoming.
Well, I've spoke about ice cream so much on things and I'm so obsessed with it and still am convinced it's the greatest is still the best food. The best food group would be ice cream, in my opinion. And I've eaten so much of it in my life that I can't think of anything outside of that which I would justifiably have had to put myself as just because of like just how much of a factor it's been in my life. I think the main motivation in my life has always been some point I'll get some ice cream.
So, yeah, I mean, I'd probably have to be ice cream. And in terms of what flavor would be a difficult one to choose, I think if you just go with the classic flavors, I would ever want to be mint chocolate chip or raspberry ripple, because I think they're the more interest in classic flavors of ice cream.
Also, I just I think they're tastier. And I know some people who hate mint ice cream. Those people are wrong. If all that was available was the classics. Mm. And Raspberry Apple is like on the very edge of the classics is the classic. It's like an eccentric classic. Yeah. But like I'd want to be one of them in terms of like all the ice cream I've ever had, then it gets difficult because then you're like if it's me represent it as an ice cream.
I like ice cream that has a lot of stuff in it. Like that's like any ice cream I can eat. Yeah. And I like salty ice cream. I like salty and sweet ice cream that has like if it's got so it peanut butter, salted caramel or salted fudge pretzels, even potato chips in it. I say potato chips because it's only the American ice creams that put those in there. So you know, if I say crisps, no ice cream was crisp because it doesn't do that.
Yeah, that's the kind of stuff that I like. However, if I'm thinking about representing myself as an ice cream, I don't know if I think anybody says I'll be one of those ice cubes. I've got a bit of everything in me, a lot of stuff going on.
It's like and this is the area is a bit of a good, but I don't think I would really feel comfortable. So I think I think I would put myself as raspberry ripple. I would put myself on the well I've aimed for on the stand up comedy landscape is the wacky edge of the standards. You know, this is your mainstream ice creams, but right on the wacky edge of it is raspberry ripple raspberry can pop up in a boring person's ice cream sundae and it could also pop up had a wacky person's ice cream sundae.
And I would like to be enjoyed by both. So because that's what I I've achieved in comedy, but I've aimed for is the raspberry ripple of comedy. So I'll take that.
Well, as your dad famously tweeted once, he's not for everyone, but he works hard.
Yeah. There you go. Spirit for classic ice cream comment. You were asking me why I doubt myself so much.
Oh, James, you've been an absolute delight. You are raspberry ripple. You are a cool classic traditionalist. You can aspire to having pretzels in you one day. But thank you so much for coming on to fail.
Thanks for having me. If you enjoyed this episode of How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, I would so appreciate it if you could rate review and subscribe. Apparently it helps other people know that we exist.