After starting out on the Brit comedy scene in 1998, Alex Boardman may look deceptively serious but he knows a thing or two about making people laugh. As well as being a successful stand-up comic, he’s worked as a breakfast show presenter and has written extensively for UK comedy shows. We caught up with him in the lead-up to the Punchline Comedy Club gig at the Hilton Doha, which will feature Boardman and two fellow acclaimed Brit comedians, Johnny Awsum and Phil Butler.
Welcome to Doha! Is this your first time in the Middle East?
No, a couple of years back I played gigs in Oman and Bahrain, which was awesome. My best memory of that time was of the wonderful food (the best I've eaten anywhere in the world) and waking up at 6am one morning and walking on the beach with about a million crabs.
Some comedians say they’ve encountered some tricky moments here – jokes that go down well in the UK may fail to register with a Middle Eastern audience. Have you experienced that lost in translation feeling before? How do you deal with it?
Ha! I certainly have. I was in Hong Kong a couple of months ago and one table of locals were not at all laughing. I tried to address it and after a while a translator ascertained that the table did not understand a word of English and were in the wrong room. They were too polite to leave! Any time you are dying on stage, you just have to address it and break the tension.
We saw Russell Brand brilliantly put down a heckler recently. Do you have a heckler handling strategy?
If you come to the show and someone heckles, then you will see my strategy! I try and avoid the well-trodden lines that have been around for years, though. Where is the fun in saying what someone else has already said?
You’ve worked extensively with top British comedian John Bishop. When you get together outside of work, is it a laugh a minute or are you actually quite serious?
Sadly, I have only seen John once in the past year. He doesn’t live too near to me anymore and we haven't worked together in a while. Like most friends, any time you meet up it’s just a laugh. In fact, I'm amazed when we worked together that we actually got anything done.
What’s the corniest joke you’ve ever been told?
In a Christmas cracker, we had: ‘What's E.T. short for? Because he only has little legs.’ I used to love that joke but the kids were baffled by it, they didn't know who E.T. was.
What are your favourite subjects for material?
I wish I could give a better answer but I'd have to say, love, relationships, marriage. These are subjects we can all relate to. If you take a look at the music charts since time began, pretty much every song is about love and relationships, it's universal.
Is there any topics you consider a no-go zone?
I would tell a joke about anything as long as it was funny enough.
What are your plans for 2014?
I am currently doing a bit of writing for a celebrity chef who is doing a cooking tour of the UK. It looks like I will be going on tour with him to do a spot of stand up during the show. That will be nerve-wracking as his audience and mine are definitely not the same demographic. I don't know if I am allowed to mention who it is but I am pretty sure he will be baking quite a lot. [The Great British Bake Off star Paul Hollywood perhaps?!]
Alex will be performing at Urban Events’ Punchline Comedy Club at the Hilton Doha on Tuesday 14 January. Tickets are QR150, available from www.urbanevents.ae and www.timeouttickets.com. For more info, visit www.facebook.com/punchlinemiddleeast