It’s fair to say that Leeds-born comedian Billy Pearce is a national treasure. Having honed his talents on the club circuit in the seventies, a mid-eighties appearance on New Faces helped propel him into the mainstream. Here, in an exclusive interview with “Pulse” author Steve Rudd, Billy chats about all and sundry…
Q. Hey Billy, how are things?
A. Great. Everything’s hunky dory. I’ve got plenty of work. Everything seems to be going alright, touch wood. I finished panto in the middle of January, took about ten days off, and I’ve been doing a bit of all sorts since then.
I’ve done some weird gigs this year; I was in a coal-mining museum one week, and I’ve done some Good Old Days shows at City Varieties in Leeds.
Q. You’re in Scarborough for the summer season. What memories do you have of performing in Scarborough in the past?
A. I’ve been coming to Scarborough for many years. I remember coming to 2B’s, which used to be above some shops, as part of a double act.
I’ve also played at the Futurist and Grand Hotel, as well as the Spa.
I’ve done quite a few gigs in town over the years.
Q. So what can people expect from your new Laughter Show?
A. It’s a family show; kids can come. There’s something in it for everybody. It’s not just me who is on; it’s like a variety show, with some music, some comedy.
I think I bring a bit of freshness to the format. I’m not one of those people who just goes on at the end; I’m involved throughout the show.
I do a lot of adult shows, eleven o’clock at night, when everybody is drunk, so it’s a different way of working for me. I have to wear different hats so-to-speak.
Q. It must be hard not to get carried away if you’re used to telling certain jokes in a more adulterated manner.
A. The worst bit is when you’re in panto and you get a heckler shouting out. I have to really bite my lip sometimes, because I can’t say what I want to say.
You can’t win ’em all! Going back to this year’s Laughter Show, I just want people to forget their problems for a bit, have a laugh, and enjoy the show.
There’s plenty of visual stuff for the kids, too. Nobody’s on for too long, so nobody in the audience has chance to get bored and look at their watches.
You want something happening all the time, so when people do eventually look at their watches, they think, “My God, have they really been on an hour?”
Some say that variety is dead… but it isn’t.
Q. How do you formulate new gags? What process do you go through?
A. The internet is a brilliant help. Texting is good, too. People send me gags all the time. I like to mix and match them, and put my own stamp on things.
I can hear a gag and know it’s going to work for me. I’ve got a new one in my act, which goes, ‘I went to the chemist, and asked for something for hiccups. The chemist chucked a bucket of water straight in my face. “What did you do that for?” I said. “Well, you haven’t got hiccups now, have you?” he said. “It’s for my wife – she’s sat in the car!” I said.’ It’s daft, innit? And you can swear in it if you want… y’know, “dirty it up” in stand-up shows for adults who are drunk. They’re the kind of gags you want.
Q. Every night must be very different when you’re performing over the course of a full season in the same place. The show must evolve, right?
A. It does, it does. I mean, last year I wondered what I’d walked into, because after the opening night, crowds went down the pan. I was driving home depressed.
But, as the season went on, and word of mouth spread, business was sixty or seventy per cent up on the previous year, which is why they’ve asked me back.
It’s about setting the prices right for the show, so it’s not too expensive.
Q. Did you always want to be a comedian? If not, what else did you want to be when you grew up?
A. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, I never set out to be a comedian.
My mum, Jean, who is nearly ninety, used to have a dance school. I used to get roped into the amateur dramatics… shows like South Pacific and Oklahoma.
They were short of boys, so that’s how I got my experience. Then they forced me into tights, and I never did it again; I looked like a bag of sprouts! I went on to work as a stagehand at Leeds Grand.
In the seventies, I went to Butlins with a mate, and we did the clubs as a double act for a couple of years. I enjoyed the power of it. The lad I was working with, he got fed up, and he dumped me.
I wasn’t brave enough to go on my own at the time. Believe it or not, I’m not the most confident of people.
Eventually, I bit the bullet and went on my own. I had to just to get some money!
I went up to the northeast, where I was once booed off stage whilst walking on, which is bit of a claim to fame! It didn’t take me long to find my feet.
Slowly but surely, I turned into a comedian.
Q. You’re also partial to a dab of straight acting, having appeared in shows such as Heartbeat and The Street. Do you find that serious acting comes as naturally to you as comedy?
A. I think that to be a comic you’ve got to be an actor. I’ve never had any training.
I enjoy it because it’s a challenge. I’m performing in a comedy play this year with Frazer Hines. It’s called “Seriously Dead” and I’m actually dead in it.
I get knocked down by a Number 17 bus.
It’s funny. There’s a bit where I’m in a coffin, and I’ve asked if I can keep the coffin! The only problem with acting comes with trying to break the mould if you happen to be pigeonholed.
Most people see me as an end-of-the-pier, mullet-haired comedian, and it’s hard to get a lot of people to see me any differently here in the UK.
Q. Given that, have you ever been tempted to give things a shot in America?
A. I’ve been to America a couple of times, but not as a working comedian.
My wife and I went to Vegas last year. We went to a comedy show, and we were sat right at the front.
The comedian asked her a couple of questions, before asking me what I did for a living. I said I’m in Property!
They’ve got such a different sense of humour over there. I’ve been asked if I’d like to perform on ships. I know they’ve got great theatres on board, but I don’t know…
Q. Umm, you’d be all at sea…
A. Yeah, you can’t get off once you’re on!
l Billy is currently appearing at Scarborough Spa, performing his Laughter Show every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening until 21 September, Wednesday 14 September excepted. For more information, visit www.billypearce.com or www.scarboroughspa.co.uk.
l For more information about Steve Rudd and his writing, visit www.steverudd.co.uk or www.facebook.com/ruddontheroad.