A Q&A With Joe Pasquale

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A man with short gray hair and glasses is posed against an orange background. He is wearing a plaid blazer in green, blue, and red, over a yellow shirt, and has an animated expression with one hand raised as if making a point or explaining something.
Credit: Mark McGee

The English comedian talks getting older, attracting new audiences, playing a singing toilet, and his new tour 'The New Normal'

Your latest tour is called The New Normal – 40 Years of Cack. But it’s far from that!

It’s self-deprecating, that’s what it is! I watched a documentary that Jim Carrey made, and he said that when he was younger and first went onto the stage, he thought: “What do the audience want?”. He had an epiphany and realised that what people wanted from him, or any live performance, was to be free of concern. If he could adapt himself to be the person on stage who is free of concern, the audience will see him like that, and I try to apply that to myself every time I go on stage. It’s almost like a meditation.

What can we expect from the show?

It’ll be a mixture of comedy and questions from the audience, but it’ll be me flying by the seat of my pants most nights. The show is a relentless barrage of nuttiness, really. I just go out there and have fun. I don’t have Ray Tizzard with me who used to play my twin brother Raynard. He’s got a family now and his wife doesn’t want him on the road in his pants anymore. He’s now the stage manager at Wolverhampton Grand but he’s aways calling me and saying: “I miss it so bad”, so when we’re in Wolverhampton, he’ll be coming out for the return of Raynard.

Is it important for a comic to keep a young mindset?

It’s important not to grow up as a comedian, you have to be childlike - but there’s a difference between being childish and childlike. I’m very childlike in my attitude to the world; that way you can still play, and I like to play when I’m on stage and off. I’m always playing with words and with stories.

I’ve got a young attitude to comedy like the older comics I admired, like Bob Monkhouse and Ken Dodd, who were also interested in knowing what the younger comedians were doing. The comedy scene is changing; the world is changing, and you have to be adaptable to fit into what’s acceptable and what’s not. I don’t find there are things you can and can’t say, I think it’s if the person who is saying them is acceptable or not acceptable. Some people get away with stuff and other people can’t.

But I don’t do anything that’s contentious anyway and I’ve got no political agenda. My comedy is just childlike simplicity and what makes me laugh.

You’re incredibly physical in your shows; do you work hard at being in shape?

Yes. Because of the nature of my act, I have to be physically fit. I don’t drink or smoke and the only drugs I take are statins! When I’m not working, I’m at the gym all the time as I don’t want to get to a point, particularly in panto, when I can’t physically move. I don’t want to be that fat old comic onstage. I know I’m getting older, but I want to remain as physically fit as long as I can.

You’ve returned to playing comedy clubs, haven’t you?

Yes, and I love it. I love the intimacy of it, when you put your hand out and you can touch someone, it’s a lot more personal. And I feel inspired by working with younger comics.  Everyone’s quite happy to go along with my antics so far. I was doing The Comedy Store recently with Josh Widdicombe, Kevin Day and Geoff Norcott and when I finished, the MC said: “Can you believe you’ve just seen a man, 63 years old, barefoot, in a leotard with Donald Trump on the front?”. I loved doing it, as you could see the audience are thinking: “What is this man doing?”.

So you’re attracting younger fans?

I think I attract a mentality rather than an age group. Kids and grannies come along and they’re like minded in their stupidity There are so many mental health issues out there, particularly with young people, that I think a bit of escapism is good for everyone and even the younger crowd are tagging along saying: “This bloke is so stupid; how can he reach his age and be so stupid?”. They just fall into the stupidity of the show.

Did you enjoy being Dunny, the singing toilet, on The Masked Singer?

I loved it - it was the best telly I’ve ever done! Absolutely nobody knows you’re doing it, apart from the two producers, the singing coach and the people who put you in the costume. On the first day, they give you a jumper with the words ‘do not talk to me’ on it, and you can’t talk to anyone else, which, given my voice, was a good thing! You also get a reflective visor, a balaclava and gloves so you don’t have any skin showing. I found it very hard not talking to people and I felt I was being rude, but that’s how the show works.

Did you learn anything about yourself when you were doing it?

That I was a much better singer than I thought I was when I couldn’t be seen! My confidence went through the roof, and people said to me: “I didn’t know you could sing like that”, and I said: “Neither did I”. It was a bit different taking the costume off and singing as myself.

You don’t mind a bit of nostalgia, though, as you played Frank Spencer in a tour of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em…                                                                                                                                             ,

That was a brilliant experience. The director and co-writer Guy Unsworth wanted to get the rights to do a stage show and got in touch with the writer Raymond Allen. He asked Guy who was going to play Frank, and when he told him it was me, he said he’d been watching me for 20 years. Every time I toured, he’d buy a ticket and sit in the front row.

When I met Ray, it was like meeting the original Frank; the most warm, genuine man I’ve met in my life. Even as he got older and weaker (he died in 2022) he still travelled from the Isle of Wight to see as many of the Some Mothers shows as he could. And he would sit in the front row and cry; not because he was embarrassed but just for the joy of seeing it onstage.

Some Mothers was a famously physical show – did the stage version have lots of stunts?

We were going to have a lot of them, but we had to cut them down because there was no way I was going to last 168 shows over three tours. There was a stunt at the end of the show where I had to fall down the stairs and knock every banister down with my crutch. We had a stuntman come in and show me how to do it on the set. When he got up he went “unhhh…”. I said: “Are you alright, have you hurt yourself?” and he went: “Yeah, but don’t worry, you’ll be alright”. I said: “You’ve only done it once, but I’ve got to do it 168 times!”

After the first week on tour, my legs were black and blue, and there was a scene where I had to lose my trousers. The audience were just going: “Oh my God, look at his legs!”, so I had to put makeup on to cover the bruises. The stunt was in the second half so at the end of the first half I put on these American football shorts to provide some padding, and people were wondering why my thighs were so much bigger in the second half!

What’s been your worst injury?

I’ve broken my hand, I’ve broken my toe, dislocated my shoulder, had 15 stitches in my shin, had concussion, black eyes and chipped my tooth, but last year was probably the worst one when I got stabbed by a moose in Skegness last year.

The curtain came down and I had a moose head as a prop on stage. They turned the lights off and I don’t have a clue where I am. Then suddenly, these big moose antlers are coming at me; I’d just watched the latest Mission Impossible and I was challenging Tom Cruise and I spun in mid-air to avoid them stabbing me in the stomach. I still landed right in the middle of the horns and got impaled on the back of my leg. I was told I needed a medic, so I went to hospital the next day and the doctor I saw had last seen me 30 years ago when I was entertaining the troops, and he was a medic. He gave me eight stitches, antibiotics and a tetanus shot and I was on my way.

Next day, I saw the papers and it said: “legendary comedian attacked by moose” and I thought: “They’re talking about me!” It was all over the papers, and they had me on Loose Women talking about being attacked by a moose. It was the best publicity I’ve ever had without trying!

What else are you busy with at the moment?

After three books of short horror stories, which I’m working to get made into short films, I’m writing my first novel with the working title of The Vampires of Whitby. I’m a massive horror fan and I think that stems from when I had an accident as a kid and spent a year in plaster up to my chest, just lying on the settee. My family would go up to bed and leave me alone - I couldn’t even turn the telly off, I had to do it with a crutch, as there were no remotes in those days. I’d watch every horror film that came on, I loved them and I still do. I like being scared and I like scaring people as well.

I love horror in all formats, and I think it’s so popular because in real life, we’ve forgotten how to be scared, but that’s something that lies deep within us from the dawn of time. I enjoy being scared; I did a zombie hunting thing in a secret underground bunker off the A12 and I nearly cacked myself, it was so brilliant.

I took up flying as I was scared of flying and boxing because I was scared of being hurt in a fight and jumped out of planes because the idea of doing that frightened me. But once you do them, you get over your fear and step over your self-imposed boundaries and your life just gets bigger and bigger.

I hear you live in a haunted house. It must suit your love of horror!

I live in a 500-year-old house in Norfolk, with witch marks on the beams to protect it. There’s also a blocked-up well in the garden which I don’t want to open up in case there’s a skeleton inside and release the evil spirits. And the lady I bought the house from told me that it was haunted by a Second World War German fighter pilot who used to visit her a lot.

I definitely think there’s something here. When I come home from gigs at night, I talk to the house - it’s a living thing.

Even after a long career, do you ever find performing scary?

Yes, and that’s what I like about stand-up; doing it is scary. You have to really work at it. I hate it when people say: “The audience wasn’t very good tonight”, because it’s you as a performer who has to work the audience.

That’s one of the things I like about doing the comedy clubs; the audience hasn’t necessarily come to see me, they’ve come to see comedy, so you have to go on and start being a gladiator. I do like it when I get a tough crowd if I’m honest, as it means you really must work. After two years of Covid and not being able to perform live, I missed it so much. I felt like performing had been taken away from me  and I wondered who I was without that, what my place in the world was. So now when I get offered a job, I don’t even ask what the money is, the only criteria for me is can I get there, as I don’t like the really long drives at night.

As a performer, you do like flying by the seat of your pants!

My show has a skeleton but it’s different every time – it’s like having a Christmas tree and putting different decorations on it every night. You don’t know what will happen, and because there’s a lot of audience participation, you don’t know what you’re going to get from that.

During a show in Norfolk, a bloke came on stage and gently edged his way onto the stage and came over to me. I thought it was an  Ant and Dec wind-up, and I said: “Are you alright, mate?”, to which he replied: “Did you order a taxi for Beccles?”.  I said no, but he said he wasn’t leaving until he took someone to Beccles. I said I’d go with him, so went outside to the foyer with him, gave him £20 for the fare and he disappeared. The audience thought that was a set-up by me, but it wasn’t. Stuff like this is the sort of thing you can do ten minutes on when you get back inside.

At The Comedy Store, I was doing astral projection where Donald Trump and I swap bodies, when a bloke got up and decided he wanted to go to the toilet. In a big theatre nobody notices but in a small room everyone can see it. And as he got up, I noticed – because nobody in this day and age does – that he had Shakespeare’s hair. I said “Where the bloody hell are you going, Shakespeare?” and he said nothing. His friend said he’d gone to the toilet, and I asked him if he was going to do ones or twos. I waited for the bloke to come back, and I said: “To pee, or not to pee”.

It’s only when you’re free and easy and don’t have to stick to a time that you can do this, because there’s no sense in what I do and no linear storyline.

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from it?

I want them to leave having laughed until they ache.