Si Hawkins interviews Jim Tavare, now a big star in the US, who is playing in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi at Heroes on June 12 as part of the Laughter Factory tour. The only cello-wielding stand-up, he's Prince Charles' favourite comedian and used to regularly play private gigs at the palace.
Jim Tavare brings his funny musical act to Abu Dhabi
Shortly before the most prestigious and nerve-racking show of his life, Jim Tavaré received a warning from the staff at Highgrove, the country home of Prince Charles.
“They said: ‘Don’t look at the Queen. She doesn’t laugh; she’s seen every comic ever’,” recalls the distinctive stand-up, of his dealings with the British royal family. “But she sat right at the front, two or three people with her, laughing her head off – and the others weren’t. Then when they saw her laughing they all started joining in, by default. So I have immense respect for the lady.”
Tavaré, who appears at Heroes in the Crowne Plaza in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday night as part of the Laughter Factory tour, really is enjoying the most remarkable career. Once renowned as Prince Charles’s favourite comedian, he now lives in Los Angeles and is much in demand for horror movies and hip music videos.
In the evenings, he returns to his regular line of work, appearing at a local comedy club in tuxedo and tails, with his ever-present double bass. That instrument may have been cumbersome to drag around London while working the clubs, but it certainly opened doors; other famous names on his CV include Michael Bublé and Harry Potter.
The Manchester-raised comic had initially dreamed of becoming a professional double-bassist and also dabbled with stand-up, unsuccessfully. “I was probably the worst comic,” he admits. “Then I thought, hang on, I’ve got this bass, I could do something a bit different.”
The result was so successful that his act has remained roughly similar ever since, the material evolving to suit new environments. Tavaré’s comedy persona is a sort of bemused classical musician who appears to have wandered onto the wrong stage but has a sharp ear for a musical punchline (the Jaws theme is particularly versatile in this respect).
Having discovered that unique niche, he made rapid strides, even securing his own BBC television show, which also launched the career of Ricky Gervais, and several appearances at the Royal Variety Performance. That televised gala can massively boost an artist’s status, but Tavaré’s performance propelled him in an unexpected direction.
“Prince Charles was an amateur cello player and I think he saw me on the Royal Variety, thought I had a cello and started becoming a fan,” ponders the comic. Tavaré has performed numerous shows for the royal family, the grandest being the aforementioned event – a banquet celebrating the King of Greece’s 60th birthday. “There were literally 26 crowned heads of state there,” he recalls. “It wasn’t the easiest gig.”
Does that royal approval still prove useful? “I should have the royal charter on the back of my bass,” he laughs. “But if I go to America and mention it, they think I’m making it up.”
Los Angeles may seem an unlikely destination for this slightly dour Englishman, but the prestigious acting school RADA is also on his resume, and his tall, bald, boggle-eyed looks have earned some high-profile film and TV roles. The move came about because of a successful stint on Last Man Standing, an American reality show featuring comedians; meanwhile, a memorable cameo in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban helped his Stateside stand-up career. “Harry Potter was huge there and even though I only had a five-minute role in it, they came out to see me – the college kids. I did a whole college tour just based on Tom the Innkeeper.”
His current live work includes some lavish Las Vegas dates, although he admits that "I won't get a big name from stand-up" in the US, as opposed to back home. In 2004, Tavaré toured the UK with Michael Bublé, for example, albeit in a less luxurious fashion than the hot new crooner. “He had a big tour bus and I decided to rent an RV, a small one for myself and my wife and we just followed the convoy,” he recalls. “Occasionally we’d have a hotel but usually we’d just park the van on the street.”
Not that Bublé was off-limits. The comedian got to play occasional onstage bass with the “lovely” Canadian, and supporting him at the majestic Royal Albert Hall was another career highlight. A connoisseur of classy venues, the comic is clearly relishing this Emirates break, having toured here before.
“Great sound systems, big crowds every night, it’s really enjoyable,” he says. “And big hotels.” It certainly beats sleeping in a van.
• Jim Tavaré’s show at Heroes in the Crowne Plaza on Hamdan Street, Abu Dhabi, starts at 9pm, as part of the Laughter Factory. Tickets are Dh140, available from www.timeouttickets.com