x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

The comedian Michael McIntyre's rise to fame

Michael McIntyre is the UAE's hottest ticket this week, with two sell-out shows at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Si Hawkins, who interviewed him regularly when he was an up and comer, explores the McIntyre phenomenon.

Michael McIntyre says that
Michael McIntyre says that "better laughs come along naturally" on stage than TV. Lefteris Pitarakis / AP Photo

Michael McIntyre's surge from struggling unknown to front-page superstar has been particularly remarkable. In 2012 he became the highest-grossing comedian in the world. He is in the UAE this week with two sell-out shows at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

Comedy genes

The London-born comic is the son of a successful TV comedy writer. He grew up immersed in light entertainment, although live performance would prove a more fertile outlet for his own gags.

"They gradually evolve onstage," he explained in the mid-2000s. "Better laughs come along naturally in gigs. I can sit and write clever things, but that never quite works as well as when I'm just chatting about stupid things in the moment."

His apparent overnight success occurred after years of struggle on the UK circuit and some dispiriting runs at the Edinburgh Fringe.

McIntyre admitted to "crying in Starbucks" during one particularly difficult Edinburgh experience, but kept plugging away. "I thought it'd be much easier to be honest, but I knew that I could do it. I just had to get over lots of hurdles."

The snowball effect

When television eventually called, he felt very much at home. Energetic, edge-free and hugely accessible, his material cleverly mocks modern life's mundanities.

His first prime time TV appearance came in 2006, on a now-defunct chat show hosted by the singer Charlotte Church.

"I don't want a chat show or to be on telly every day, as that's not my business; my business is standing in front of people and making them laugh, and I want to see how far I can get with that," he said at the time. Increasingly poised and popular, he began to revel in the profession's rewards.

"I've been to a lot of places now, and if it wasn't for this job I wouldn't go anywhere... This business is so easy, once you're funny."

A dream McJob

For the BBC, finding a regular vehicle for the comic proved remarkably simple: it turned out to be a truck. The signature lorry carrying Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow travels to a different UK theatre each week, where the eponymous host performs a new set (hence the need for extra writers), and showcases fellow stand-ups. It soon became the most sought-after booking in British comedy.

A spot on the Roadshow can do wonders for a career. "It was really the turning point," the comic Imran Yusuf said after his successful guest spot in 2010. "For him to share the love and give opportunities to newcomers like myself, it makes all the difference."

The inevitable backlash

Despite helping other comics' careers, McIntyre has always been a divisive figure on the UK circuit. "Nobody liked him from the word go," insists one veteran act, "because he was so competitive. He wanted to make sure he was the funniest thing on the bill."

"He did have a plan," agrees the abrasive Australian comic Steve Hughes, another Roadshow beneficiary, "which didn't offend me. He's a great performer. He's funny. Comedians just get upset at someone so mainstream."

McIntyre has learnt to soak up the cynicism: "You need to be criticised in this job. It's nice to get used to the fear. If you can deal with it and carry on and believe in yourself, then you're in good stead."

Michael McIntyre will be in Dubai on Friday and Saturday at 8pm at the Sheikh Rashid Hall in the Dubai World Trade Centre. Tickets start at Dh250 and are available from www.timeoutdubai.com

artslife@thenational.ae

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