Ian Stone – a sparkling comedy gem (and an angry one)
As-seen on Mock the Week and Buzzcocks, as-heard on 5Live's Fighting Talk and the Arsenal podcast, Ian Stone's natural home in onstage. And this month, after 20 years in the biz, he has his first hour-long show in London
While most comics on the London circuit are shitting themselves as we speak about the impending Edinburgh Festival, there is a strata of comedian that doesn't share this concern: those comics who have been around a while and don't feel the need to prove themselves north of the border on an annual basis, nor do they need the career boost. Yet they're not household names like your O'Briains, McIntyres, Macks or Dees.
It's an "inbetweener" strata that contains some of the funniest comics around, the sort of guys who are about as close to a cast-iron guaranteed brilliant headliner as you can get on the circuit. Ben Norris and Gary Delaney are a few names that spring to mind … and Ian Stone.
So it is noteworthy that Stone is performing an hour-long show this month. Noteworthy, as in, note it in your diary, on your hand, in an email to your mates. It takes place at the Udderbelly on July 14 and not only does Stone rarely do full-length sets like this, this is the first he's ever done in his hometown London, after 20 years as a stand-up.
And if you like some current affairs in your comedy, along with the likes of Paul Sinha, Stone is your man. Fresh (ish) back from a trip to Glastonbury with his nine- and 13-year-old children, he tells LiF what you can expect from the show: "It's essentially moaning, if I'm honest about it. It's about what's going on in the world now and why it's such a struggle. As things happen in the news I write jokes and stories, so the show is an accumulation of stuff from the last six months.
"It sounds simplistic but it's mainly anger. Everything gets me going. I see things in the papers and I think, that's just stupid why are they doing that? Like Ken Clarke talking about rape, the head of the IMF being a sex pest, the news coverage of the Japanese earthquake – eight reporters standing outside the same four-storey building with a bus on top of it – the vacuousness of that sort of coverage. The fact that the front page of the Sun was Robbie Williams saying 'I inject sex hormones twice a week'. Why does anyone need to know about that?
"I'm not really political, in that I'm not tribal. I'm a Labour supporter and always have been, I will vote for them and I do work for them, but I'm not tribal. So my comedy's not about dogma. I'm not afraid to be wrong and I'm prepared to have my mind changed. I just think all this stuff is going on out there, and here's my take on it. When the Arab Spring stuff was happening a few months back – everyone was watching that on TV, so why not talk about it?"
Topical comedy demands frequent turnover of material, so it's not for more slothful comics [Rolling Stone gathers no dross? – headline ed [No chance – SEO ed]]. Stone keeps his comic muscles toned with regular slots at the Cutting Edge nights at the Comedy Store, where comedians are given subjects to talk about on the night – invariably subjects of a topical nature.
"I have to keep writing new stuff, otherwise I get bored," says Stone, "I don't understand how [comics] can stand there and say the same thing for ten years. There are so many out there who are dead behind the eyes. That's something that won't happen to me, I won't let it happen."
Keeping match-fit like this is essential for keeping the young whippersnappers at bay. Comedy's Frank Lampards need to see off the threat of the Jack Wilsheres, although comedy has a less inevitable cycle of renewal compared to football. By staying fresh, a good comic can keep going for several decades. And there is more competition than ever before, with unprecedented numbers of "guys with E4 haircuts", as Stone says, coming through the ranks. And as you may have seen with LiF's enthusiastic tweeting during the recent Laughing Horse New Act final, there is quality out there, not just quantity.
Harlesden-born Stone came to comedy in 1991 after being an engineer ("looking at ventilation, pipe work, heating work, eating shit soup"), all the while having a nagging voice at the back of his head that he wanted more. After his partner and now mother of his kids told him to try stand-up, he detonated his engineering career. Now he's one of the most sought-after comics on the circuit and has appeared on Mock the Week, 5Live's Fighting Talk, Buzzcocks et al. And as that "nagging voice" suggests, comedy is a pathological need for him.
"Stewart Francis was saying to me once that there are two types of comic: you either have to make people laugh or need to make people laugh. I'm definitely in the 'need' camp. It's terribly sad but I do need the adulation of others on a nightly basis. It helps me get through the day, it calms me down. Stewart said that he would give up comedy if he won the lottery, whereas I would do a gig to celebrate. And charge people admission for a laugh. Michael McIntyre is the same – he can't help himself, he has to be up there going 'look at me'."
It is probably of benefit to Stone's health that he doesn't do Edinburgh anymore (2008 was the last of the five festivals he has performed at), because of his devotion to Arsenal. Edinburgh can make June, July and August into a misery for comics, and when you spend September to May tearing your hair out about your beloved team, a man's gotta have a break.
Gooners will know all about Stone from the Tuesday Club Arsenal podcast, in which he is joined by host Alan Davies, Keith Dover and Tayo Popoola. It's essentially a bunch of mates sitting round chatting, with the 'record' button pressed down, making it a wonderfully uncontrived, unpretentious, unedited listen, and it's testament to the podcast that fans of other teams tune in.
"I love the podcast," he says, "I earn absolutely nothing from it but it's the thing I love doing the most. We're proper football fans and we're friends as well. I've known Alan for almost 20 years. So we can be very rude to each other hand nobody gets upset. We sit together at the games; there are about 11 of us in the same stand, and another 15 people dotted about, then after the game we go for a drink and crack on.
"The podcast is very simple: we meet up once a week, sit down, say go, Alan says 'it's the Arsenal podcast, my name's Alan Davies, I've got Keith Dover with me,' and Keith will come out with some shit about something or other … and we're off. After an hour or 45 minutes, we stop. And we chat like that all the time.
"With Alan there and me, plus Keith, who used to be a comedian and is now a carpenter and is a tremendously funny guy, there's a bit comic heft in there. We're looking for the gags, but we're talking honestly and seriously in a serious away about something we love. And I don't think you can recreate that for anything else, because there's nothing quite so important and the same time as trivial as football."
• Stone firmly believes a good comedian is funny offstage as well as on. He singles out "a drunk Ben Norris" as a example of this. "When he's drunk, he's astonishing, to the point where your'e going, 'oh my god, you're a monster'."
• Re Arsenal, he suggests that Sami Nasri is over-rated ("I think he's had half a good season and he's getting ideas above his station"), he is far from doom-laden about the imminent departure of Cesc Fabregas ("you know, players come and players go, but Arsenal remains"), and he is optimistic that Robin Van Persie is becoming less brittle, and is more loyal to Arsenal than the likes of Nasri.
• Stone has to ration his compering of the Comedy Store's (new act) Gong Show to once every six months "because it's too much fun being nasty to young children, which is essentially what it is."
• He describes John Terry as an "appalling human being".