Stand-up comedian Alun Cochrane is someone who has mastered his trade to the extent that he makes it all look so easy, deceptively so. His comedy is largely observational and it's intelligent without trying too hard to be, in fact almost while pretending not to be ("I'm making more of an effort to grow up… sometimes I watch Newsnight all the way through and then think shit, I forgot to listen"). As he suggests in this interview I recently did for Plush magazine, perhaps his understated style has worked against him when it comes to earning wider recognition.
"I would much rather spend the evening with all the guys off Mock The Week if there were no cameras there," he says on the subject of television panel shows. "I've had a couple of really good gigs on the night on panel games. It's just I find there's a certain level of aggression that goes with them that I find a bit disinteresting. And now that comics know that they could sell out a tour if they get a handful of regular spots on a panel game, then people are even more aggressive. And this isn't me being mean to any particular comic," he reflects, "it just brings out a side in people that I just find a bit dull. In truth, I was brought up by my mum, single-parent family, with a real interest in politeness and good manners, and I find it physically difficult to interrupt people. And on the shows you really have to. I sit there and think, oh I'd rather not interrupt folk, I'll be funny when they ask me!"
A well-respected circuit comic, perhaps Cochrane hits the nail on the head with the suggestion that his unassuming demeanour works against him in the cut-throat world of panel shows, which these days seem to form a big part of the standard career path for a successful stand-up, which begins with small gigs in pubs and ends with a well-paid TV presenter's role, with panel shows, stadium tours and a live DVD somewhere in between. But when he's been given the opportunity to perform stand-up on TV, Cochrane's talents have certainly translated well to the small screen, as his everyday tales of supremely observed incidents, and his warm delivery, carry a universal appeal.
We start discussing his current tour: "It's called Jokes. Life. And Jokes About Life. And it's basically that. It very much describes the show. So if you don't fancy it, don't come!" he laughs. I ask whether his comedy style has always been storytelling rather than gag-based. "Well, actually in this show I am doing joke telling," he reveals. "I've got a tub full of jokes that I've written that I pull out and I also contrast that a bit with doing what I do normally, which is jokes about life. So I'm mixing it up a bit. So there are moments of experimental stuff, because I'm doing joke-jokes, which isn't really my thing, but it's really good fun. And yes, in answer to your question, I like it when it's just about life. I love the fact that you can literally turn thoughts you've had on a train into comedy; I really love that experience."
Having performed stand-up for a number of years, Cochrane jokes that he can’t remember his life and work before comedy. "Last year I was on tour and I was going to Brighton and I jumped on the train from Manchester to London, and Gail off Coronation Street was in the same carriage as me, in standard. I then said on stage that night, 'I think if you've been doing stand-up as long as I have, you've got every right to expect to be the most famous person in standard class'. First class, different rules apply - you can be on there with Andrew Lloyd Webber - but Gail off Coronation Street is provably more famous than me. I've been quite good at this for a while - I should be more known than that, surely?"
Originally published in Plush magazine