It has taken the funny folk behind The Laughter Factory 15 years to talk Mike Wilmot into performing in the UAE – but their patience finally paid off. The Canadian comic is booked to make his Middle Eastern debut this week with a string of Dubai gigs.
A familiar face from UK television shows including Live at the Apollo and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Wilmot is also remembered for his role in cult dance-music movie It's All Gone Pete Tong.
In the game for three decades, and renowned for his close-to-the-bone, personal material, Wilmot, 53, is signed to A-list agency Off the Kerb. Last year he headlined a Just For Laughs TV special alongside Jimmy Carr, Mike Ward, Gilbert Gottfried, and a surprise turn from Louis C K. And now, at last, he's at The Laughter Factory. We caught up with him on the phone from London.
When was the last time you wrote a joke?
I’m a comedian 24/7, maybe not with pen in hand, but I’m always lurking around for material. I’ve been at it so long – it’s the only thing I do. I used to be embarrassed by it – I think Canadians feel guilty for being in show-business – I don’t know why. It took me about 15 years to get over it, and now I’ve been guilt-free for 15 years.
You mean you felt bad for making people laugh and getting paid for it?
It’s such an American idea to be a stand-up, or even to be a celebrity. Canada doesn’t really have show business – you can get a standing ovation in Canada, and people will still ask what you do for a living. It took me living somewhere else to realise being a comic was sort of cool.
Who is your favourite Canadian celebrity?
All the comics know who it is – Derek Edwards. If anyone were to Google him they wouldn’t be upset. In music, I like everybody except for [Justin] Bieber – universally, you can apologise for Bieber. But every country’s got a Bieber – there’s like 100 Biebers for one Neil Young.
Where do your ideas come from?
I usually jot meticulous ideas down on napkins, and then just bring them to an open mic and try to get them out. I do one or two a week if I can.
Wait – so you’ll go from playing the Apollo one night to playing a pub for free the next?
In a heartbeat. There’s a fantastic one my friend, Tiff Stevenson, runs called the Old Rope, out in [London’s] West End, and there’s a noose on the stage and if you’re doing old material you have to hold onto the noose, which no one wants to do, because the club is rammed full of comedians. You’ll see guys like Stephen Merchant and Jack Dee there – they all go there. It’s remarkable.
Is the scene competitive or fraternal?
It’s become really, really big so there’s millions on the line, but I haven’t seen really any evidence of viciousness. Most comedians are still people with a social disorder, nobody figures comedy is a good way to get to be an actor. It’s not like when America got at its most desperate – it was really, really tacky. You know America, they really want to come in on top because there’s no second or third place, it’s just winners and losers. So they tend to get really nasty and desperate.
So which country is most funny?
Right now, Britain, because there’s so much work, people can get better. There are a thousand comedians in this town. There’s a show going on every night. I’m still meeting people I’ve never met.
Describe a typical comedian.
Absolutely in love with themselves – if they’re not busy really, really hating themselves.
What was your worst ever TV experience?
Years ago I did a game show called Shoot the Messenger, which we later called Shoot My Manager – it was absolutely horrible, but it was my fault because I did it for money. I haven't done anything just for money since. I had trouble sleeping, it was absolutely [awful]. What they did to my hair – I had this bouffant, I looked like an anchorman from Eastern Europe. No one was coming in the studio so they started bringing in the homeless. I learnt a lesson: When you stick to your guns doing only what you want to do, that sends a message to people that you're ready to get better.
Are you still getting better?
You have to or you get worse. It’s like what B B King said about the blues – it’s like law or medicine, you practise it. The day you think you’re great at it, is the day you start getting rubbish.
Can you get better forever?
Eighteen or 19 months ago I thought I was dying. I found out I had Type II diabetes and it was really out of control. So thinking that was a shot over my bow in life – I started eating right and running, and 19 months later I’ve got pre-diabetic blood. It is possible – for anybody reading this, if you have Type II diabetes, you can grab the bull by the horns.
• The Laughter Factory is at McGettigan’s JLT tomorrow, 8pm; Mövenpick Hotel, JBR on Thursday; and Grand Millennium, TECOM on Friday, both 9pm. Tickets cost Dh140, visit www.thelaughterfactory.com