Leeds First Direct Arena
Jack Whitehall is looking forward to returning to Leeds, but recounts one past appearance with a shudder. “I was doing a student gig in Headingley and it was the first time I’d ever compèred a show,” he says, recoiling at the memory.
“Jim Jefferies was up on stage and there were two drunk people heckling him. If there are two people you don’t want to heckle it’s Frankie Boyle and Jim Jefferies. After they started he did five minutes of the most brutal put downs. The compère is supposed to smooth over any gaps and I had to come back on and pick up the pieces. I stopped compèring after that,” he says.
Whitehall will be hoping to face a less rancorous crowd at the First Direct Arena later this month. His At Large tour is his first in two years. “In the old days comics could sometimes tour the same show for decades whereas now there’s constant pressure to write new material.”
Whitehall, though, isn’t just a stand-up comic. He’s earned rave reviews for his portrayal of former public schoolboy JP in Channel 4’s hit comedy drama Fresh Meat, and he also created the Bafta-nominated sitcom Bad Education – not bad for someone who’s not yet turned 30. He almost landed one of this century’s most coveted film roles when the casting team for the Harry Potter films turned up at his school in Oxford. “I was 11 and every child in the country wanted to be Harry Potter. My mum dressed me up as him, though I looked like Harry Potter anyway, but I completely flunked the audition, it was a bit of a disaster.”
Instead, he concentrated on honing his craft as a comic and trying to find what he calls his “voice.” “It was this kind of mythical thing and I had no idea what it was and how to find it, it was really frustrating,” he says. “I went through a period of being deadpan, doing a version of Jack Dee. Then I went for the oddball angle and bought a massive parka, but at one gig in Bristol it was so hot under the lights I nearly passed out because I was sweating so much. Then I tried doing a cockney accent because I was worried that I sounded too posh.” In the end he returned to his “original”, and more authentic, voice which he describes as “posh and slightly camp... someone who wants to be one of the lads but never quite fits in.”
It’s a persona that’s helped him become a household name. “There’s something thrilling about stand-up,” he says. “Because it’s never the same each night and anything can happen.”