Thursday 11 August 2011 | By Richard Herring
Barry Cryer: When Richard met Barry
Does Barry Cryer need an introduction? He’s a familiar face from TV, a familiar voice from the radio, and he’s written comedy for most of the big comedy names of the last half century (and more) as far as we can tell: Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, Richard Pryor, Les Dawson and Tommy Cooper, to name but a few.
He’s a legend in the comedy business. It’s therefore no surprise that this week’s Guest Editor Richard Herring, wanted to put a few questions to him.
RH: Hello Baz, thanks for agreeing to answer my questions. Over the last half a century you have worked with seemingly all the greats of comedy from Stanley Baxter to Richard Pryor – is there any one attribute that unites this disparate group of people? Can you home in on what makes them the geniuses that they were?
BC: They have one thing in common: They have nothing in common.
RH: You are possibly the only act on this year’s Fringe to have had a number one hit record in Finland. How did that come about?
BC: Sheb Woolley, country singer and actor – he was one of the baddies who was going to kill Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon’ – had a big hit with the ‘Purple People Eater’ in 1958. For some reason, his version was not released in Scandinavia, so they pushed out my English cover version. I then got a phone call: “You’re number 1 in Finland”. I stayed there for three weeks – I believe they gave away a car with each record.
RH: One of the things I most admire about you (and there are many) is that you still seem to love comedy after all these years, and are interested in the new generation of comics rather than complaining that they’re all rubbish these days. Many comics get bitter about their lot and annoyed by the formulas and mechanics of comedy. How do you keep it fresh after all these years?
BC: I have no knowledge of my limitations.
RH: You always come across as a calm and polite gentleman and no one bitches about you behind your back (which is unusual for a comedian). But there must be a dark side to you. Come on, what’s the nastiest thing you’ve ever done?
BC: I once trashed a hotel room by throwing a crumpled tissue on the floor. Please don’t open these old wounds.
RH: You’ve seemed to be happy in your career working behind the scenes as much as in front, writing gags for other people did you ever envy them their fame and riches or is the real trick of this job to be able to constantly work?
BC: There was no envy – if you were writing for Eric Morecombe how on earth could you do it better?
RH: Do you have a favourite comedian out of all the ones you’ve worked with?
BARRY: At the risk of unpatriotism, my idol was and is Jack Benny. He played a mean, conceited coward and loved other people getting laughs. I rest my case.
RH: You were great mates with Michael Mcintyre’s dad – what do you make of Michael’s breathtaking rise to fame?
BC: He seems to have provoked some reaction from other comedians… they know who they are and I know where they live. Nuff said.
RH: According to Wikipedia you played the waiter serving the wine in the original Four Yorkshiremen sketch on ‘At Last The 1948 Show’. Did you have a hand in the writing of this all-time classic sketch? And if so can you remember your contribution?
BC: No, I had no hand in the writing of the sketch, but I believe an older Oscar Wilde was involved.
RH: I am a few years younger than you and yet still find performing at the Fringe enormously draining. Do you have any tips to surviving this stressful occasion for the less youthful comedian?
BC: (1) Sleep. (2) Sleep. (3) Get Up (4) Sleep.
RH: Every time I see you, you regale me with your latest joke (often two or three times, but they always bear the repetition!). Which gags are you enjoying the most at the moment?
BC: At the risk of repeating myself (who are you by the way?), my current favourite concerns a man who, instead of drinking liquid Viagra, drank some Tippex by mistake. He woke up in the morning with an enormous correction.
RH: You are a great craftsman of comedy – do you know it all now, or are you still learning new things?
BC: The day I know it all I’ll realise I don’t know it all.
RH: My plan is to stay alive longer than all my contemporaries so I can rewrite comedy history with myself in the centre of it – has it been hard to cope with the loss of so many of your contemporaries and do you contemplate your mortality?
BC: Only every day. The day I look in the mirror and there is no-one there I’ll realise I’ve become a vampire.
RH: Can you please live forever?
BC: Can I get back to you on that?
Barry Cryer performed at Gilded Balloon Teviot during Fringe 2011.
Photo: Mark Conway