BBC Newcastle's Alfie Joey does stand-up every day
PUBLISHED: 17:11 10 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:50 20 February 2013
Stand-up comedian Alfie Joey has carved out a new career anchoring BBC Newcastle's popular breakfast show with fellow presenter Charlie Charlton. Michael Hamilton asks him the questions Pictures courtesy of Alfie Joey and Doug Pittman
Stand-up comedian Alfie Joey has carved out a new career anchoring BBC Newcastles popular breakfast show with fellowpresenter Charlie Charlton. MichaelHamilton asks him the questions
Pictures courtesy of Alfie Joey and Doug Pittman
MH: Tell me about your memories growing up in Peterlee.
Alfie: My first home was Thornley Workingmens Club. My mam and dad, Marlene and Alfred, were the stewards when I was a toddler. It was a real family affair because my uncle Stevie was the club secretary too.
That was the old days when it was no women allowed in the bar and all quiet when the bingo was on. Ive got lots of old black and white photographs from those days.
My dad spent most of his life down the pit but he loved club life. He didnt like working down the pit and he never wanted me to do that. He was a really good singer and he would always warm up for a night out with a song.
Sadly, he never got to enjoy his retirement. He was made redundant from one of the last North East pits to close - Vane Tempest at Seaham - and he died shortly after. He was only in his fifties. His mates said: "Poor Alfie - he never got to spend his redundancy." He was very popular.
He would have loved to see me make it as a presenter and entertainer. My story is a bit like Billy Elliott with a religious twist. Because when I was a kid I told him I wanted to go away and train to be a priest. He was a Catholic but didnt really go to church. He just couldnt get his head around it.
Ironically, when he died I left the religious order I was part of and finally tried my hand at showbusiness, and thats what he would have loved.
He was a great Sinatra fan and one of the greatest nights of my life was to take him to see Sinatra in 1990 at London Arena. He cried from start to finish - he loved him. Ive become a huge fan now, too. Ive got all the books written about him and Ive even been to visit his birthplace in Hoboken in New Jersey. He was past his best when we saw him but he was still magnetic. You knew you were seeing something legendary.
Looking back, I suppose showbusiness started for me at the workingmens club because wed book acts like Kelly Marie and Paul Daniels. Their apprenticeship was the clubs and Thornley was a big club in the early Seventies. Apparently, even as a kid I used to go on stage and do a bit of Tom Jones or Mike Yarwood. People would come up to me in the street and say: You are a great little turn.
What prompted you to want to become a priest?
I have no idea where it came from. To this day I look back and its like Im looking at someone elses life. I went to a Catholic school - St Godrics in Thornley - and I had a very good headmaster, Mr Smith, who we all idolised. He lived a good life. My mam still cleans his house, actually. Maybe he was the inspiration because I wanted to be a priest when I was seven.
When the teacher says draw in your book what you want to be when you grow up most kids drew firemen or cowboys. I drew a Catholic priest.
I went away to Upholland Junior Seminary in Wigan then I went to Ushaw College in Durham from the age of 18 to 24. I wanted to go at 11 but I was persuaded to do a few years at Peterlee comprehensive, St Bedes, first. My dad just cried his eyes out and said: If you ever want to come home just tell me. It must have been bizarre to my parents. My mam wasnt even a Catholic.
Tell me about your time at Ushaw College before it closed recently.
I had a great time. It was just like being at Hogwarts. Thats where I fell in love with the arts and sport and my horizons were really expanded. In normal life you just wouldnt get the chance to be a hospital chaplain or be a confidante for people in extraordinary positions. My spiritual director was Seamus Cunningham, who is now the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle.
Recently, I did a benefit show called Ushaws Last Stand-up with Jimmy Cricket and his son, comedian Frankie Doodle, to give it a send-off. Ironically, Frankie is going in the opposite direction to me. Hes given up comedy to become a priest. But its all very sad for Ushaw, so we tried to finish on a happy note. The people I really feel sorry for are all the domestic staff. A lot of them have been there for generations.
I left Ushaw to join a religious order, the Salesians of Don Bosco, and I became Brother Alan with them for five years. It was then, at 28, that I realised my true vocation was to be an entertainer. I studied and taught drama and we had a module in stand-up comedy and I suddenly realised this was what Id always wanted to do.
Do you remember your first proper gig?
It was at one of the oldest comedy venues in London, Downstairs at the Kings Head in Crouch End, and I did it the same night at Alan Carr and Angelos from Vic and Bobs Shooting Stars. It was one of the best feelings Ive ever had in my life. I floated home about five miles completely sober. No drink or drug could come near it. Its just a feeling of tremendous exhilaration.
I remember the story of Bob Paisley, the manager when Liverpool won the European Cup. Everyone was drinking champagne and asked him whether he didnt want any. He said: No, I want to remember and savour every moment of this. Thats what I felt like when I first did stand-up.
How did you get into radio?
I fell into it by accident in a way. As a stand-up comic you get asked to do other things. Ive had a part in the BBC3 sitcom Ideal for the last seven series. I auditioned for a small role in that and they give me a bigger part. I play Derrick the dull gardener and the show has become a real cult. Its quite dark. Johnny Vegas plays the part of a drug dealer and he has all these weird characters coming round to his flat to score stuff. The TV critics have dubbed it a dope opera.
In turn, doing TV threw up some radio work. I was doing a regular feature reviewing the papers for Radio Scotland and some Manchester radio spots. It snowballed from there. The boss of BBC Radio Newcastle wanted someone funny to present the afternoon show about three years ago, then I switched to the breakfast show about two years ago.
I love it and every show is different because it is about the news. A lot of comedians ask me if I miss gigging, but Im gigging every day to more than 100,000 people. Its exhilarating and draining, but brilliant. I still do some MC-ing for the Grinning Idiot stand-up gigs around the North East too.
Whats your most embarrassing moment on radio?
There are too many to recall. I do remember the angriest Ive been was when I was interviewing Gerri Haliwell from the Spice Girls down the line and I could hear she was eating. I said to her: Are you eating? and she said: Yes, carry on. How flipping rude is that? It was a pre-recorded interview so I carried on and we built a competition around it and asked the listeners to guess what she was eating. It was actually chicken. When you have been in the Spice Girls, I suppose you can be as rude as you like.
Whats the worst thing about doing the breakfast show with Charlie Charlton?
Most people think its getting up early but its actually going to bed at 8.30pm. I dont even get to see my wife Kati and 15-month son Charlie in this job. Anyone can set their alarm to get up early but you cant set it to go to bed early. Its the discipline required.
Who are your comedy heroes?
It has to be Laurel and Hardy. You will never get any better comedy. They doall the things in comedy that good
people do today. They do surreal gags, sight gags, music gags, the lot. They were brilliant. They make you laugh and cry: comedy perfection. I still love watching their stuff now.
Im a major fan of all comedy. I prefer mainstream stuff but Im a big fan of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer too.
What have you got coming up?
Ive just written a one-man comedy
show, Monopolise, which I will be doing at the Edinburgh Festival in August. Ive pushed everything in to this. Ive written all the songs myself and play all the
parts, about 20 characters. Then Ill be touring it around North East venues from September.
Its completely clean. Its a bigger challenge to make everyone laugh without reverting to bad language.
Ive always seemed to have the knack to make people laugh whatever age. I used to do the warm-ups for University Challenge on Granada TV and that was a challenge because the audience was predominantly pensioners and students. I had to keep it clean. n
You can listen to Alfie Joey and Charlie Charlton on BBC Newcastle Breakfast show 6.30-10am weekdays.
For more info on Alfies upcoming gigs and performances go to www.alfiejoey.co.uk
The print version of this article appeared in the August 2011 issue of North East Life
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