Jarred Christmas is a comedian. From New Zealand. Fed up with jokes about his name. Travelled the world for circa 20 years telling stories. But he admits he is ‘Remarkably Average’…
They say that making people laugh is the hardest job in showbiz. Is it?
Let’s ask Father, sorry, Mr Christmas. He will know. He’s a top comedian from New Zealand and is often on the box. He has won awards. Superstar Steve Martin is a fan. He’ll know…
“It can be. Yes. When it works it’s amazing, but when it doesn’t, you are just a person talking and we can all do that. That’s where the passion for comedians comes from.
“It can be just one person talking to a room and if there’s no laughter, that’s a lecture and that’s horrible. Yeah, getting those laughs out of words, I think it is pretty tough”.
Jarred will be trying hard to do just that for about a month when he heads on up to Edinburgh for his stand up show as part of the famed Edinburgh festival in August.
He will be competing with a zillion other shows, acts, comedians, bands and probably some old woman juggling soot and knitting fog while stood naked in a bucket of ferrets. There’s some strange stuff goes on up there, I am told.
So it pays to come up with a striking title. Something sexy, with sparkle and oomph. What’s your show called Jarred? “Remarkably Average”. Oh, dear! Not sure he gets the marketing thing, do you?
The blurb says, and I quote: “Jarred’s brand-new show ‘Remarkably Average’ is an uproarious journey of self-discovery. In his true effervescent style, Jarred reveals the very disappointing results of a recent DNA test, and revels in the glory of being classed as average but never letting that hold him back.
“Exploring his personal ancestry, 39-year-old Jarred discovers it includes a German Drag Queen, a missing cat with David Bowie eyes and the question “Is it possible to gain University Level Education by listening to Podcasts?”
Good evening Wembley…
He’s in a hotel room near Wembley Stadium, when we speak to plug the new show. “I got a DNA test done and I was very excited about getting the results, because I thought there was going to be something really special in there.
“But it turns out there is nothing special about my DNA. I am bog standard and remarkably average, and I thought I’ll do a show celebrating that.
“Celebrating the specialness (sic) of being average. The DNA test is the backbone of the show and then I tell stories inspired from my DNA results. I am 3% German, so I talk about my first trip to Germany; which was having to go on stage after a German drag Queen called Fräulein Erotica. I did not go down well going on after Fräulein Erotica.
“I’ve been working on this one hour show for pretty much the last year. The DNA test is the inspiration behind the majority of the material. When I was reading through my ancestry results, it says I am 69% British. So for me, that was, let’s talk about what it is to be British and my observations of British people. My observations of living in the UK. What I think it means to be British”.
Jarred moved to the UK in 2000. His Dad was born in Towcester, in Jarred’s grandparents cottage with no electricity. A stone’s throw from Silverstone F1 race circuit. The family emigrated to NZ when Jarred’s father was two.
Jarred has done rather well for himself in his chosen career, so far. He has appeared on Mock The Week (BBC2), Never Mind the Buzzcocks (BBC2) and 8 Out of 10 Cats (Channel 4).
He also recently hosted BBC NI’s series Monumental, taking the reins from Adam Hills in the hit panel show. He took part in Celebrity Mastermind. He was in the feature-length documentary “The People vs. George Lucas”.
He has given storming performances on One Night Stand (Dave), Russell Howard’s Good News (BBC Three), The Comedy Store, Edinburgh & Beyond, Comedy Blue and The World Stands-Up (Comedy Central).
He co-hosted The Rhod Gilbert Show (BBC Radio Wales), guested on Act Your Age (Radio 4), Jest A Minute (BBC Radio Wales) and Flight of the Conchords (Radio 2) to name but a few.
As an actor, he appeared in two films, “The Wedding Video” and “Is This A Joke?”, and in the hit TV drama Jonathan Creek and worked with Warwick Davies both on stage and in the web series, Dwarves Assemble. Jarred also plays the part of the Joke Master as host of the CBBC series, The Joke Machine. A day or so before our chat, he had just been cast in an independent comedy heist film.
Taking the piss…
He does the voiceover on the ITV2 game show “Celebability”, which he says is “me taking the piss out of celebs doing ridiculous activities”.
Back to this new show and his DNA test. “I am 3.5% Scandinavian, so what do I know about Scandinavia? What about the times I have been to Norway and Sweden? Do I know any interesting facts about those place?
“I just open up that whole avenue of thought on Sweden. With being 3% German, what are my experiences of Germany? Then moving on to the DNA traits, there’s things like male baldness, asparagus odour detection…all those things mapped out inspired by and associated with those topics.
“Also, hereditary diseases. I talk about Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons. That was the main reason I got the DNA test, because my Grandfather had both of those and I wanted to see if I had any of that shit looming in my future. That’s the big reveal on the show….”
So does part English means you are shit at football and enjoy warm beer? Part Scandinavian, you can assemble flat pack furniture without the instructions and you will never have any spare screws left? Moving on….
Jarred has done 21 “work in progress” shows so far to hone the material for the Edinburgh show, and had about eight more left to do when we spoke. He will perform 26 nights in Edinburgh. After Edinburgh, that will have been around 50 hours of performance time on this new show.
“You can sit in your room writing jokes and routines as much as you like. The only way to find out if they work is getting in front of an audience. Even if that is 12 people in a pub in Exeter. Sometimes, those smaller audiences can be the ultimate test for it, because it has to be really funny to get 12 people laughing.
Jarred gets out onto the streets of the Scottish city for an hour or so before each show, to interact with the crowds that flock there from around the globe for the annual festival. Plugging his own show in an effort to help bring people in, as there is so much competition during that month of the year.
“The only person who can really sell your show is you. If you haven’t got a huge TV or radio profile, and people automatically know your name, getting out there and getting that one on one engagement is the way to get people in.
“I’ve got a bit of a profile. People recognise the name from bits and pieces I’ve done over the years. I’ll wander round, engaging with people and get them to come along. If you can make them laugh one on one on the street, the chances are, they’ll come to show”.
So, what can people expect if they have never been to the festival? “Joyful chaos. Don’t have a strict timetable, because you will never keep to it. So many people; everywhere there is a crowd. Performers from all over the world. Getting the full spectrum of your entertainment needs.
“It’s a beautiful melting pot. Probably the largest. Best at full spectrum of stuff. Edinburgh is the only beast like it, where you’ve got everything going on. If you make it big at Edinburgh, it transfers to other festivals. It opens up everything else”.
Jarred has appeared at the festival every year since 2006, but this year will be the first time he has done more than a week since 2012. When he first went up there, he was couch surfing, and then sharing a flat with other comics.
Pot Noodle Man v Madonna’s Pink Leotard
It will be a family affair this trip, with Jarred’s wife and two young daughters, nine and six (strange names for children, boom boom) joining him. They hire a house or flat for the duration, outside of Edinburgh. Jarred’s wife is a Brit’ and works in PR. She works with him to run several comedy nights around Somerset and other areas. The family live in a village near Bath.
His profile from appearances on TV in the Pot Noodle adverts back in 2007/8 helped sell out his runs at Edinburgh in 2009,and his stock value shot up again in 2011, when Jarred was invited to take part in “Let’s Dance”, as part of Comic Relief on primetime national TV in the UK.
He dressed up as Madonna from her infamous “Hung Up” music video, for that TV appearance. Dressed in a tight pink leotard, blonde wig but with his trademark dark lamb chop sideburns still visible, and wearing his black-framed spectacles.
A lot of people choked on their supper that night! “It was one of the highest profile things I have ever done. I was kind of going, ‘jeez, I have been a comedian for 15 years and the biggest thing I have done is dancing around as Madonna, nothing to do with the skill set that I have. Same as when I did the Pot Noodle adverts, and my run at Edinburgh was selling out because they knew me from that”.
So is that your real name? Christmas. “Yes it is. I took enough shit at High School to confirm that”. So are the gags about your name tiresome, or are you used to it by now? “Tiresome. Yeah…I had an encounter checking into a hotel in Liverpool, where this full on ‘Scouse’ guy checking me in was just relentless with them. I was giving him nothing, and thinking internally; read the room mate, you’re getting nothing, yet you still persist.
“Have you parked your reindeer outside? You won’t need a room key, you’ll just come in through the chimney. All standard stuff I have heard over the years. Nothing new. I was thinking; I don’t really want this as I am checking into a hotel. Every day he would make a comment.
“As I was checking out, I spoke to the manager and complained and got the whole stay for free”. He laughs. “It’s the first time I have been able to cash in on my fucking name”. Did he crack the one about you only coming once a year – and that’s in a sock or down a chimney? “Oh I used to get that one a lot on stage. I’d do material about my surname and someone would always shout out, ‘it’s because you only come once a year’.
“It always got a massive laugh. Then I’d wait for that laugh to die down and then I’d just simply say, Yeah, and it was all over your Mum”. He did like the line his mate recently delivered though: “As a Muslim, I don’t believe in you”. Boom.
After touring the world for more than two decades as a pro’ comic, and having been born and brought up in New Zealand, Jarred has come across many different comedy circuits in his time. But he considers the UK as having maybe the strongest live stand up scene in the world.
“UK TV Comedy Is Far Too PC Today”
“So many creative comics coming from here and comics come from all over the world to perform in the UK. That’s the environment I want to stay in. You are constantly having to up your game, as there’s always someone new coming along with an incredible angle on comedy”.
Having appeared on many of the UK’s TV panel shows, I ask Jarred if he thinks that most are now a pretty tired format and losing their appeal? “Yes. What 8 out of 10 cats has done transforming into Countdown is fantastic. Giving a new burst of energy to both those formats. They work if you give the comedians room to breathe. I cannot think of any panel show idea that hasn’t been done. Only a handful have stuck around”.
Well, I’ve got one for you. “Celebrity Electric Chair”, or “Funny or Fry!”. A comedian gets strapped in and has a set amount of time on a clock to get three or more laughs or he’s toast. So, I just hope Josh Widdecombe owns a thick diving suit.
Jarred’s response to that idea: “You need to change the title because comedians aren’t celebrities. This is what I think has watered down the panel shows. Booking celebrities because they have Twitter followers, rather than comedians who can actually do the job.
“Also, the term celebrity has got very fucking loose recently. That’s what I think has watered down panel shows a lot, when producers of channels are looking for someone from a reality show that they think will bring people in. They might bring a few in, but you are not going to get a quality show out of it”.
Which two comics would you put in that chair? He laughs and diplomatically says: “I respect comics too much to put them in that chair. I’ll tell you who would go in that chair and not get electrocuted. Gary Delaney. He’s a one liner guy, and would just bash them out boom, boom, boom; pretty quick. James Acaster would get away with it as well”.
Would you? “Would I? Yes. Just give me the chance mate. Put me in that electric chair”.
We both agree that Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer could have used that idea in one of their shows and got away with it. “Yes, absolutely. That’s the chaos that’s missing, right? Shooting Stars was incredible. You kind of get that chaos with Keith Lemon’s Celebrity Juice. Shooting Stars was just unbridled, joyful chaos. It feels as though TV is scared of that right now”.
Jarred’s comedy flame was lit early on by comedians Eddie Izzard and Eddie Murphy, watching their videos.
A huge influence on him early on in his career was a New Zealand comedian Brendan Lovegrove and a British comic called Ben Norris. Both encountered at a New Zealand comedy festival.
Jarred thinks UK TV producers ask too much of a comedian when they expect them to tone down their act, and so the comedy the public see over here is far too PC.
“Yes, I think they demand people pull punches too much. When you look at some of the stuff that comes out in America, like comedian ‘roasting’, it can be pretty vicious.
“The UK one they have turned it into comedian versus comedian, and that has softened the blow a bit. The political comedy out of the States really hits hard, and I think the UK could really take the gloves off a bit more”.
Jarred has won the national “Best Compere” award twice. So what makes a good compere and MC? “Got to be engaging and likeable. You’ve also got to be funny, which is the bottom line. Interact with the audience and build a rapport with that audience. I bring energy…..”
Hecklers and putdowns
The heckler is a comedian’s enemy, but can also be a slick comic’s friend if he or she can nail that son of a bitch with a cracking put-down. Tom Stade and Frankie Boyle are masters at that skill.
But Jarred recalls one moment many years ago, at a packed club in Croydon, when he was literally lost for words. Only five minutes in and some guy yells out, “You have ruined my birthday”. Hope he choked on his cake.
I ask for his best put down yet, and the answer is brilliant, very funny but….I have chosen not to use it in this article. Yes, it is very rude and has the C word in it, but mainly because it is so good, he really should use that one again sometime when there is an utter pain in the arse spoiling the night for others. But ask me in person, and I’ll tell you! Oohh, I’m such a tease.
One of the toughest jobs he has ever had: “In New Zealand doing stand up on a bus, driving through mountain roads. I had to do 40 minutes while we were on these treacherous winding roads, with sheer drops each side.
“People were somewhat distracted with the fear of dying, so it was very hard to get their attention back to listen to a joke about mangoes”.
- Jarred Christmas: ‘Remarkably Average’ will be running at 8pm each night at The Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh, from 1st August to 12th and then from 14th – 26th. https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/jarred-christmas-remarkably-average
By Simon Redley