x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Comedian Justin Moorhouse to deliver up laughs in the UAE

Ahead of his performance at The Laughter Factory comedy club on March 13, we talk to the Manchester-based comic.

A raucous Wembley Stadium in late February, and minutes before kick-off at one of English football's showpiece occasions, The Carling Cup Final, the big screens are filled with the familiar face of not one of the superstar players on show, but of Justin Moorhouse.

The Manchester-based comic is not on the ground though, or even watching on TV: football is the last thing this lifelong fanatic wants to see right now.

Moorhouse will be performing stand-up for The Laughter Factory on March 13, but is more often recognised back home for several football-related acting roles. The avid Manchester United supporter made an ironic TV breakthrough a decade ago as the permanently Manchester City-shirted Young Kenny in one of Britain's best-loved sitcoms, Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights, and portrayed a lapsed United fan in Ken Loach's acclaimed 2009 movie Looking for Eric. He also made a film for England's Football League, which is still widely shown before matches, including that Wembley final. And yet since last summer, Moorhouse has purposefully "not been to a game, not seen a game, not thought about the game".

"Well, I have thought about it - you can't get away from it. Yesterday afternoon I was on Twitter and you can see how people can get annoyed about football. I never thought I'd be in a situation where I'd consider un-following [Absolutely Fabulous star] Jennifer Saunders because she's boring me about United. She's a massive fan and tweets through every game."

The "season sabbatical", as he calls it, began after a stressful evening watching United lose another big Wembley game, the Champions League Final, last May. Determined to kick this irrational obsession, he resolved to spend the current season pursuing more cultural pastimes.

"I went to see some art-house films, theatre. I'm going to try opera, try ballet, these mass spectator events. It's more about why we go to football really, more than how much I'm missing it. Do I get the same buzz from musical theatre?"

There is an ulterior motive to this unlikely lifestyle change, as Moorhouse is hoping to write a book about his experiences later in the year. Right now, the abstinence is adversely affecting his income, however; several football-related presenting jobs have been regretfully turned down, including a prestigious one for the European governing body UEFA, but perceptions are hopefully changing, too.

Often cast as a lovable fool on screen, Moorhouse is actually an erudite, opinionated and thoughtful figure off it: he recently posted a record score on the celebrity version of the tough TV quiz show Mastermind and has hosted a popular radio show in his native city for the past decade. "I've stopped doing that now, too," he says, "so I can travel and do the gigs I wanted to do, get away and mix it up a bit."

The first new departure was a five-week stint in a well-received play called Two at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre, which has whetted his appetite for further thespian challenges. Something heavier, perhaps? "There's nothing more serious than comedy," he counters, with suitable solemnity. "If you do comedy, you can do anything. It's harder to pretend to be happy when you're sad than the other way round."

As for travel, the comic will be playing his first gigs in Tokyo later this month, but before that comes this useful Emirates trip.

The live shows should polish up the stand-up skills he was forced to shelve during that theatre run, while the week away from his family "and dog" will be used wisely. Moorhouse has a second series of his BBC Radio 4 show Everyone Quite Likes Justin to write, although the exotic location may not be entirely conducive to the subject matter.

"I'm supposed to be writing this sitcom about a world-weary Mancunian DJ, the greyness of his life, so it might turn out a bit different," he laughs.

"I went to the Emirates once before in about 2003, there were only a few gigs at the time, and I'd just started going out with a new girlfriend so I spent all my money making phone calls back to her. It was all a bit lovey-dovey. I won't be doing it now. She'll probably get the odd Skype call and that'll be it."

He can forget about finding somewhere to watch football this time, too.

• Justin Moorhouse performs for The Laughter Factory on March 13, 9pm, at Heroes, Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi. Tickets, priced Dh130, can be purchased at the door or on www.timeoutickets.com

artslife@thenational.ae

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