Ho, ho, ho! Comedian Michael McIntyre on his star-studded Christmas TV special – and why he bailed out of Britain’s Got Talent
Michael McIntyre’s fretting about his Christmas Day TV special. But he says it’s nothing compared to the stress of Britain’s Got Talent, which was so scary he had to quit
Just six years ago Michael McIntyre was 30,000 in debt and was frustrated at being unable to secure top billing at even small-scale comedy clubs
Maybe it’s the millionaire showman’s equivalent of the Christmas pudding tie, or reindeer socks. Michael McIntyre is telling me he’s had a bespoke suit made for a very special gig – a televised comedy show that goes out on Christmas Day.
‘It’s got a special novelty Christmas lining,’ he beams, seemingly delighted that in his more excitable moments he’s going to look like a giant Quality Street on national TV. ‘You don’t think it’ll be too OTT, do you’
You can understand his desire for a special festive flourish. Getting your own show on Christmas Day is the Holy Grail for entertainers. For Michael, 35, it’s jawdropping.
Just six years ago he was the turkey of the comedy circuit: 30,000 in debt, struggling to afford the Tube fare for a meeting to see his agent, and frustrated at being unable to secure top billing at even small-scale comedy clubs.
Today he’s possibly the most successfulcomedian in the country, responsible for the fastest-selling stand-up DVD of all time, which sold over a million copies in five weeks. Next year he’ll play a 58-date tour that includes eight nights at London’s gigantic 02 Arena.
You might think his own Christmas Dayshow is small-fry in comparison, even if it does feature special guest Kylie Minogue dressed as a fairy. But he isn’t underplaying the significance of the slot.
‘It’s huge, isn’t it It’s actually a departure, having stand-up on Christmas Day. You used to have big Christmas specials like Morecambe & Wise, but the recent tradition’s been about watching EastEnders. Someone usually dies in EastEnders. We’re going for less of that, and more laughs, hopefully. But yes, it’s terrifying. I’m worried I don’t have enough jokes. I did the Royal Variety Performance last Christmas. If I’d known they were going to give me my own show, I’d have kept some of the Christmas jokes back!’
The show will include a smattering of music and some ‘surprises’. He’ll be joined by, among others, James Corden, Jack Dee, Rob Brydon and Miranda Hart – a cornucopia of comedy talent. How did he decide on the line-up ‘I basically wrote letters to people I found funny, and asked them if they’d like to be on my show. Some even said yes.’ Some didn’t, though. He falls about laughing as he tells of his ‘audacious’ bid to pull in some of his big comedy heroes.
‘I wrote to John Cleese. He wrote back and said that, for tax reasons, he could only be in the country fora certain number of days each year – and he couldn’t give me one of them, but maybe we could catch up for a drink some time next year. I wrote back suggesting we should meet at Duty Free in the airport, if that was easier.’
Being Michael, he started fretting around August about whether anyone would watch. ‘My own Christmas Day will be ruined, of course. I’ll have all day to build myself into a frenzy about whether anyone will tune in. Then Boxing Day will be spent worrying about the viewing figures.’
Michael”s Christmas show will include a smattering of music and he’ll be joined by a cornucopia of comedy talent such as James Corden, Jack Dee, Rob Brydon and Miranda Hart
However, he’s delighted at the prospect of fronting a show built around his core talent of telling jokes. For a while it looked as if Michael was going the way of so many entertainers who achieve fame in one area, and start ‘diversifying’. One minute they’re lauded for their ability to tell jokes; the next they’re popping up in Coronation Street and bringing out cookbooks.
Last year he was wooed – successfully – by Mr Showbiz himself, Simon Cowell, into accepting a place on the Britain’s Got Talent judging panel. The role involved him being sandwiched between Amanda Holden and David Hasselhoff and assessing dancing dogs. It may have been primetime Saturday night TV, but was it really him The fact he’s refused to sign up for another series would suggest not.
My own Christmas Day will be ruined, of course. I’ll have all day to build myself into a frenzy about whether anyone will tune in. Then Boxing Day will be spent worrying about the viewing figures…
Indeed, as he chats away about his BGT experience, it becomes clear that, in terms of personality and approach, he’s about as far removed from the likes of Simon Cowell as you can get. ‘It didn’t actually occur to me not to take the job,’ he admits.
‘I was flattered. Simon Cowell says he wants you – and you have to give it a go. There were things that concerned me about being part of a big show like that, but Simon dismissed them, and you kind of get caught up in it all.
‘And there are no regrets about doing it. I had the most fun I’ve ever had. In some ways I was in my absolute element. The bit about being on TV every night – I loved that. So much so that I’m thinking what I’d really like to be is a newsreader. Or maybe they’d let me do the weather.’
What the experience has taught him, however, is that he absolutely does not want to be a Simon Cowell. He says the role catapulted him into a ‘terrifying’ showbiz limelight. ‘When you sign up for a programme like that you become part of a juggernaut, and it can be dangerous. I just about got away with it, but it was an uncomfortable place to be. A lot of it I found amazing, but other bits were just scary.’
Michael and wife Kitty has two children Lucas, six, and Oscar, three
Stressful: Michael with fellow Britain”s Got Talent judges Amanda Holden and David Hasselhoff
It seems strange that someone who can hold an audience of 10,000 in the palm of his hand can get freaked out by a bit of tabloid telly, but he did. It wasn’t the show itself that distressed him but the hype that surrounds it.
‘It was having every opinion you give dissected. I actually got terribly stressed about it. It’s the nature of the beast, of course. That’s what judges on these shows sign up for. You’re not a real person. The judges are there to promote the show. It’s all fun and fluff, but when you’re that person inthe middle of it, it’s difficult.’
You could accuse Michael of just being over-sensitive. He was neither demonised as a nasty Cowell figure nor ridiculed for being a lightweight Kelly Brook type. But he clearly felt out of his
depth, and – perhaps more pertinently – that he wasn’t in the driving seat in his own career.
‘You work very hard to create a fan base, to control what people see about you, and when you become part of something that big it’s difficult. I didn’t want to feel so exposed. One series was fantastic, but to put myself through that again To be honest, with a big tour coming up I didn’t want the stress.
On show: Michael says he wants to write jokes and make people laugh
‘It also forced me to focus on what I wanted from my career. I never wanted to be anything but a standup comedian, but I was suddenly seeing myself described as Britain’s Got Talent judge Michael McIntyre. Was that how I was now being defined I want to write jokes and make people laugh, and I want people to come to see me when I’m old. Where does Britain’s Got Talent fit into that Let’s face it, no one buys your DVD because you give someone a ‘Yes’ on a panel. I’m not sure anyone would have watched me on there and thought, “I must go and see him at the 02.” If you look at some of the most successful comedians – people like Billy Connolly, Lee Evans and Peter Kay – you know exactly who they are and what they do, even if you don’t like them.’
He says he didn’t actually speak to Simon Cowell directly when he bailed out, which is odd given that they appeared to be best mates at one point. He laughs.
‘When you first meet Simon he’s so charming. You have a conversation and think you’ve bonded. Then you don’t see him for months. People can never find Simon. He’s always off on his yacht, then he’ll turn up to film two minutes before you start. I do love him, but Simon is Simon. He plays his character well.’
And they’re cut from completely different cloths. Where Simon is confidence personified, Michael, he confides, still worries it will all end tomorrow.
‘When they offered me the Christmas show, my first thought was, “Thank God. That’s a definite in the diary.” It’s the same with next year’s tour. I can sleep easier at night knowing people have actually booked tickets.’
The first time I met Michael, a few years ago, he told me the birth of his first child, Lucas, made him realise he had to get out of debt and make his career happen. Lucas is now six – Michael also has another son, Oscar, three, with wife Kitty – and he has only ever known his father as the famous Michael McIntyre. ‘It’s embarrassing. He went through a phase of shouting, “It’s Michael McIntyre, Comedy Roadshow Man!”’
He doesn’t make a big deal of it, but there is quiet satisfaction in ‘finishing the circle’ by having Lucas watch him perform. He remembers doing the same with his father, Ray Cameron, who worked with Kenny Everett, and who died when Michael was 17. His father did not die a rich man, and his last gift to Michael was a book about cars because he could not afford to buy him an actual car.
It might seem redundant now Michael drives a Jag, but it remains one of his most treasured gifts. ‘Although the He-Man castle comes close,’ he says, ever keen to end with a laugh.
Michael McIntyre’s Christmas Comedy Roadshow, Christmas Day, 10.30pm, BBC1.