Comedian Adam Rowe wrote the funniest joke at this year’s Edinburgh Festival. Northern Soul met him
When I realise that Adam Rowe’s award-wining Edinburgh Fringe joke came at the end of a long rant about a job centre, I tell him my story about the humiliation of signing on after redundancy and complaining to the member of staff that I don’t belong there. The job centre employee snapped back: “None of us belong here.”
Rowe seems to appreciate my honesty and says he likes the anecdote. He detects a slight Scouse accent and asks if I’m from Liverpool. “Nah, I’m from Warrington. I’m a woolly back,” I say.
Meanwhile, he seems genuinely staggered to have won the Edinburgh best joke award and says it has been “insane” ever since with a multitude of interviews. “I’ve done the same interview about 200 times. I spoke to all the BBC local radio stations individually even though it was essentially the same interview. My voice was ruined by the time of my gig in Edinburgh that night.”
The greatest surprise was that the winner of the Edinburgh best joke award is usually a one-liner. “When my agent rang up to tell me I was like, ‘nah Christian, you’re lying, I don’t win things.’ The hardest part was keeping it a secret for a week.”
If you’ve been asleep for the past few weeks and missed it – here it is.
“Working at the job centre has to be a tense job. Knowing that if you get fired, you still have to come in the next day.” It’s funny and clever and a deserved winner.
Now aged 26, Rowe was born in Liverpool and lived with his grandparents for the first three-and-a-half years of his life. When his younger brother came along, the family moved to a house in Dovecot. He described his childhood as “mixed”. A good chunk of this year’s show is about his childhood.
His Mum was an alcoholic and had an addiction to sleeping tablets which developed after she was given them following a botched hysterectomy which led to painful nerve damage. Despite the challenges he faced, he said he has always managed to “find the positive” in any situation, which is remarkable. Both his parents were on benefits and struggling to find work. Consequently, Rowe has “worked my arse off” because of his background. He did his first stand-up gig eight years ago when he was studying for a maths degree at Liverpool University and quit his bar job in 2011 after being named Liverpool comedian of the year.
He says all the interviews he’s done so far have been very similar. I warn him that I tend to go off-piste and I see it as a challenge to make it different. I ask him about his childhood, his Mum (who died five years ago), about his neighbours and his comedy heroes. I ask what paths his friends and family have followed. His Dad is still alive, although Rowe now lives with his girlfriend in West Derby.
Sadly, alcohol “got the better of my Mum and she’s no longer here”. She was alive to watch videos of his work and was immensely proud of her son. She was an influence on his comedy aspirations as a child and they watched comedy videos together which helped to nurture his talent.
Of his childhood peers, “a couple of lads have been to prison and a couple have already got two or three kids”.
Rowe adds: “My best mate when I was growing up, I remember speaking to him because I’d just been declined a mobile phone contract as my credit rating was so bad. He had just got a mortgage. He’s saying he’s jealous of me because I’ve got freedom and no kids and I’m well jealous of him because I can’t get credit.”
He remembers being a kid in a poor area where “most people on the street had jobs and money. The drug dealers had a bit more money than everyone else. I remember throughout the year it always seemed like we had less money to go out for meals than everybody else. We never went on holiday, apart from when my aunt and uncle took me when I was four. My first time abroad was earlier this year.
“At Christmas, we always had the best of everything and I didn’t realise that my Mum had got herself into massive debt to make sure that we didn’t miss out. I think about that and I have got nothing but the best things to say about my Mum. I don’t want to wallow in her death, although it was very sad when it happened. It sometimes irks me that that she never saw me perform live and I know she’d have been very proud. I could be cleaning the toilets in Tesco – not that there’s anything wrong with that – but it’s not what I wanted to do.” Meanwhile, Rowe admits that he drinks “a bit, but I am no way remotely dependent on it. But I don’t shy away from a pint with the lads.”
As for his younger brother, who works in railway maintenance, Rowe says that he is “OK, but he’s an angry little boy at times. He works in a job which he says he hates and he absolutely resents that he works a 12-hour shift to get what I get paid for a gig. But you don’t see all the hours on the motorway and the work that goes into it.”
He admits that comedy is not a hard life and he’s lucky to be doing what he’s doing, but Rowe has clearly slogged away at it. “You get the odd heckle and you wouldn’t be able to do it if you didn’t love what you do. If I don’t go on to achieve anything else, I would still die a happy man.
“A 40-hour week Monday to Friday behind a computer is not for me. But it can feel like a slog when you are travelling along the motorway late at night and it’s supposed to take three hours but with closures they add on an extra hour-and-a-half to your journey. I always think you can just drive your car into the cones and end the suffering. But I love my job and I don’t really mind it.”
On heckling, Rowe says that at gigs in Liverpool, Newcastle or Manchester you’ve got people “who’ve paid £10 and want to see someone funny. If you’re not for them, they will let you know. Maybe it’s their one night a month out and maybe they will think they are funnier than you.”
While developing his career in comedy, he pinpoints two acts that have influenced him: Jason Manford and Kevin Bridges. Neither are a surprise to me as there are similarities with their working class backgrounds and observational comedy. As funny as he found Lee Evans and Richard Pryor, “they were not necessarily people I could identify with.”
Now, Rowe is beginning to be influenced by American comedians like Bill Burr and John Mulaney. He likes their abrasive style and offering a viewpoint that the audience may find difficult to swallow – but then persuading them round to their point of view.
“I do this thing where I tell them that my girlfriend’s not the one,” he says. I gasp. “Everyone does that,” he laughs. “But when they listen to what they say in the act, they come around to it. It’s easy to try and please as many people as possible and I think it’s a real representation of people and not a cartoonised version.”
At the end of our interview, Rowe pays me an enormous compliment by saying this is the best interview he’s ever done, adding that it wasn’t like the usual chat and “more like a group therapy session with someone you’ve never met”.
Watch out for Adam Rowe – he has stellar potential.
(Main image: Adam Rowe, photo by Steve Ullathorne)
Adam’s tour Undeniable is coming to Salford Lowry November 4, Warrington Pyramid November 10 and Nottingham Glee November 18, for more dates and info on Adam please visit www.adam-rowe.co.uk
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