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Stewart Francis, Outstanding In His Field, Grand Opera House, York, May 25
STEWART Francis is in a field of his own. Pictured in his publicity picture in a very English, very yellow canvas of rape seed, he is a Canadian wit who lives on this side of the Pond and his popularity is on the rise like this season’s crop.
“I’m 29 shows into a 90-show tour. Not that I’m counting,” says Stewart, who plays the Grand Opera House in York tonight.
“We’re now adding some more dates in the autumn because it’s been going well in the spring, which is daunting – but strike while the iron is hot, I say.”
On his last tour, Stewart sold 38,000 tickets for 75 shows and already he has surpassed those sales for his 2012 travels. “It’s down to profile,” says the Canadian one-liner specialist, whose regular appearances on BBC2’s Mock The Week have put on the British map.
“The word’s getting out there, and social networking helps. People seem to be enjoying this tour even more.”
His comedic perspective may come from being the fish out of water, but Stewart nevertheless insists he has a British sense of humour. “I have British parents, and though I was born and raised in Canada, I have spent time in Manchester and Scotland,” he says.
“I have a British passport and a British wife with parents from Hull, though she’s from Scotland.”
As ever, his latest touring show will be rooted in the potency of the one-liner. “I’m not self-indulgent enough to occupy people with a story,” he reasons. “It’s just too indulgent to do a two-or three-minute build-up to maybe a punchline…or not. It might just be some pontification, and you think, ‘Oh, that was three minutes of my life I won’t get back’.
“In that time I could give you five or six great gags. My motto is ‘more bangs for your buck’.”
Making people laugh and laugh regularly is “what comedians stand for,” says Stewart. “But I don’t just do one-liners, there are cadences and funny faces in my show.”
Rhythm and changes of pace are important.
“The comedy threshold is 20 minutes to catch an audience,” says Stewart. “But I have to do an hour so I come on doing my ‘gangbusters’ [his one-liners] and on the 30 to 40-minute mark there’s a move to a slower style, as you can see people shifting in their seats – which is just a human thing we all do.”
Stewart returns to his “gangbusters” at the finale, his one-liners ending the night on a rata-tat-tat high. “Everyone leaves a happier person, and if I’ve done my job well, I’ll be happy too.”
Unlike some comedians, he is not morose away from the microphone. “My wife says I’m funnier off stage,” he says.
“There are comedians who need to make people laugh and those who like to make people laugh and I’m in the latter camp, though probably 80 per cent of comedians have a need to make people laugh.”
If Stewart could have chosen his ideal career it would have been as a cartoonist and he still harbours those ambitions. “I love the set-up and the punch of a comic strip,” says the self-confessed Gary Larson enthusiast.
“I got six rejections from six publishers for my cartoons, but I’m still hoping to publish them some time. That would be my ultimate dream gig, but not this year, when my ‘product’ will be a DVD from the tour.
“I’m going to record Hammersmith Apollo, September 20, the biggest solo show of my life, so it will be a magical night for me. It’ll be the largest crowd I’ve performed to on my own… but I usually rise to the occasion.”
Stewart has aspirations for another outlet for his gifts as a performer. “I’d love to get into acting,” he says. “I did a sitcom, An American In Canada, in 2002-2003, which aired in 2002-2003 on CBC and won the equivalent of a BAFTA for best comedy – and I’ve always had stars in my eyes. Television raised me.
“I was a latch-key kid who would come home to watch TV if I wasn’t playing sports.”
He had envisaged his Canadian sitcom debut would have led to more opportunities. “I thought when I got that sitcom I would more or less shut down my wonderful chapter on stand-up comedy, but sadly the sitcom dried up and I had to go back to what got me there in the first place,” he says.
Stewart would consider “anything” for his next acting role. “I’ve never done a play but I would love to. My whole life I’ve found that things have come to me: you do a good job and things will do that – and every day now I say to my agent, ‘I really want to do a play’.”
First, however, he is on the road for plenty more shows on his Outstanding In His Field tour. Not that you should read too much into that title.
“The poster has me out standing in a field. See what I’ve done there? It’s visually pleasing and there’s a pun in it, but there’s no theme to the show whatsoever,” he says. “It is what it is and the poster is cute and eye-catching and hopefully will help get bums on seats.”
The joke, not the joker, is the thing with Stewart Francis.
“There are things that I put across where I have strong feelings, but for the most part you have no idea who I am. I’m not there to reveal myself or pontificate. What I try to do is make people laugh, not say ‘Here is what you should think’. It’s just a couple of giggles and then we both get on with our lives,” he says.
“Though hopefully the impression I make is ‘I like him, if he comes back, I’ll see him again’.”
• Stewart Francis, Outstanding In His Field, Grand Opera House, York, tonight, 7.30pm. Tickets update: still available on 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york