“I’m a non-smoking, teetotal vegan so I couldn’t make myself any sadder really. If I got an allotment, that would finally tip me over the edge.”
So speaks Justin Moorhouse, one of the hugely successful stand-up comedian alumni from Manchester’s Frog and Bucket Comedy Club and fondly remembered as ‘Potter’s Tiger’ Young Kenny from the Northern Powerhouse that was Phoenix Nights.
Now at 48 and at a crossroads in his life, it is a reflective Moorhouse I encounter as we speak about his latest stage offering, Northern Joker.
“The show is essentially about the fact that my kids don’t need me the same as they used to,” explains Moorhouse. “My daughter turned 13 this year, she’s more about having fun with her pals, and she stopped reading The Beano. It was a big moment in our life. My son is 21 and since he was a baby, I’ve bought The Beano. I pretend I enjoy having children so I can carry on reading The Beano. There’s a really awkward thing about cancelling The Beano, what it is saying is my child’s childhood is over.”
Moorhouse didn’t set out on a quest to explore ageing, it just fell into place. “When you’re writing shows, you find that the meaning of it all comes as you’re writing it and it seems about uncertainty and change. The whole world is changing. We don’t know where we are with Brexit, Russia is back again, Trump’s crackers. The last 20 years have been quite dull and suddenly now we’re back where we were in the 80s.”
Maybe it’s the human way to laugh in the face of adversity? “The bigger the story, the easier it is,” agrees Moorhouse. “Somebody like Trump is an obvious pantomime villain. The danger is you’ve got to find your own unique take on it. The way I do it, I kind of support him. I compare him to everyone’s Dad who has failed at a DIY project. He says he’s going to build a wall, but he’s not picked up a brick yet.”
Meanwhile, Moorhouse isn’t averse to looking closer to home for inspiration.
“All of us have created this snowflake generation. I don’t want to put millennials down but it’s our fault. My daughter phoned me the other week and she’d forgotten her lunch. If that had been my Dad he would have said, “double dinner for Dad” but I’m jumping in the car, doing The Sweeney so I can give her her lunch. They don’t understand what will happen if they don’t do what they need to do”.
Moorhouse has spent part of 2018 honing this material in preparation for his 2019 tour. “You spend a lot of time saying to your other half, ‘is this funny?’ and she’s like ‘oh god’. I do some new material nights, but I find people’s standards are not that high, they know it’s new stuff so they laugh at everything. The best test is to try and slip it into a normal gig. Once I’ve got about 45 minutes of stuff, I’ll take it on previews. I do about 30 previews before I go to Edinburgh where I’ll do it 25 times, so it’s been done about 60 times before I go on tour”.
“The danger of this job is not the late nights and the cocaine and the hookers, it’s pasties. That’s what will do for you in this job. British service stations are the worst place in the world but when you get to one at three in the morning, nothing is open and all there is is a meal deal from WHSmith. So, planning is what I do. On a Sunday I write down what I’m going to eat for the rest of the of week. Oh god, I’m hearing myself say this out loud and I’m ready to die.”
Moorhouse is the archetypal Northern comic with wry observations about life that we can all identify with. But what is the most northern thing about him?
“I had a dog when I was a kid that refused to die. Now I’ve got a Labrador that comes with a best before date. You know you’re Northern when you’ve got a dog that’s on your baby photos and your wedding album.”
He adds: “And I always get a bit of a lump in my throat when I hear brass bands.”
That must make Christmas a world of pain. “I do find it overbearing. I love the build-up more than anything, wandering around the markets. The worst thing about Christmas is when the markets pack up two days before Christmas. It makes me dead sad.”
Moorhouse should use the holidays to rest up before his six-month nationwide tour starts in January at The Lowry. But wherever he ends up, he’s always on the lookout for fellow Northerners.
“If I’m on a train anywhere in the world and I hear a flat vowel I’m like ‘All right, mate. Where are you from?’. When you’re on holiday, somebody could be from Newcastle and you’re best friends, aren’t you?”
Photos of Justin Moorhouse by Paul Wolfgang Webster