Sean Lock promo_0With his latest live tour, Purple Van Man, currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray, comedian Sean Lock discussed his new show with us, while also declaring his desire to return to the sitcom – a decade since he created, and then starred in, 15 Storeys High.

Lock – who remains on tour, playing the very final dates of the sold-out, critically acclaimed show that is now available to purchase, spoke to us about drunk horses, dead frogs, and why he believes he’s always getting better with age. He also confirms his desire to return to sitcoms, why he avoids broadsheet reviews – and argues why The Producers is the greatest comedy film ever made.

I’ll start by asking about the title… Why Purple Van Man?
You always try to think of some title which doesn’t bind you too heavily to a subject or sound too deliberately kooky. I just thought the idea of a ‘white van man’ was absurd, the idea that anyone who does a manual job, drives a van, uses tools, thinks exactly the same as every other man who drives a van and uses tools. So I always found that ridiculous, and then I thought, well if anyone gathered up all my thoughts, opinions and ideas, maybe they’d think I drove a purple van. That was really the idea behind it. But there’s no connection to it, or reference in any way, it’s just a title. You have to think up the title long before you’ve written the show these days.

The press release says you’re crossing the country in your purple van… Is that just a play on words, or are you genuinely driving around Britain in a purple vehicle?
No, I’m genuinely not. But for the sake of mythology and publicity, I’m quite happy for that to be believed. Who gets harmed in that?

The press release also says that the show will make you ‘laugh like a drunk horse’. Have you ever met a drunk horse?
No, but I quite like that too. I imagine it’s loud. But no I haven’t, I steer away from animals and alcohol. It’s one of the rules I’ve learnt from life.

The tour is still ongoing – a lot of people imagine comedians sit around all day in their underwear writing jokes, but these tours must be incredibly hard work, and tiring?
Well the tiring thing is that you don’t really get to sleep properly. You do a show and you’re up and quite excited and charged up and it’s hard to get to sleep. You can’t get to sleep until three. I can’t anyway, so I’ll down a pint and try and watch a film or read a book or something, but I’m still wide awake. Then you get woken up at half eight, nine by someone. You only get five or six hours a night and that’s the hard bit, especially as you have to travel the next day. So yeah, they’re hard in a way.

What’s been the best audience you’ve had on tour so far?
Well there’s not one… There have been some great shows. I really liked playing Manchester, but I really like playing the big cities. Leeds was great too, Bristol I did recently… The big cities are always a pleasure to perform in, and they’re usually in old theatres as well. I don’t think there is any one particular show I would like to nail down, because once the tour gets going and it’s polished and it works, I have very, very few gigs that I would come away from thinking, that didn’t work. But I love playing the big cities.

Not to say that other nights require less work, but when you know you’re recording for the DVD do you just give it that tiny bit extra, because you know this show is going to be the one immortalised forever?
You get used to handling pressure, so you try not to think about it, you just try to do your show and they’ll record it and it’ll be fine. There were a few hecklers in that night, but on a Saturday night people are always a bit lively, but on the whole it went very well.

So what can your fans expect to see from this live show, that might be slightly different or new from you?
It’s very hard to describe stand up. There’s a great expression, which is, you know, talking about stand up is very difficult, it’s like when you dissect a frog at school, nobody learns anything and all you’ve got in the end, in your hands, is a dead frog.

510-hIkw73LPurple Van Man is your third stand up DVD – do you find that you’re always improving? The longer you’ve lived, the more there is to talk about, I guess.
Yeah I think you change as well. Some would say that your best stuff is the stuff you started with, but I actually think you get better as doing it. It’s one of those jobs you do get better as when you get older. I think you also grow in confidence, or you think you can do anything you want, you don’t have to do jokes in a certain style or this way or that way, it’s whatever I choose to do really. That’s what I really like about this job, I can talk about anything I want, however I want and the only rule is that it has to be funny. That’s what I really like about stand up. There will be people who come and see the show and expect it to be like the previous show and may be a bit surprised. I’m not saying it’s like when Bob Dylan went electric [laughs], but you can mess around and play around with what you’re doing because it’s about you. I’ve always liked the idea I’m not an act you can pigeonhole. ‘He’s the miserable guy’, or ‘he’s the guy who just talks about his family life’, I’m quite hard to pigeonhole, which I like, it gives me a lot of freedom.

When you first started out, was it considerably harder to break into the business and gain exposure? Because these days with all of the panel shows, and the comedy roadshows and channels like Dave… Comedy seems to have become a bit broader and accessible for upcoming comics.
Yeah it’s very different. I remember when the first people from my circuit started to get on television, it was amazing. Someone like Jack Dee and it was lie, wow – they’ve put you on television! It was very much an underground thing when I started, in late 88. I did it a hobby for two or three years, and it was good fun so I started making a living from it in 1991. It was still for me just an escape from the workplace. I remember being in the Comedy Store dressing room and Lee Evans turning up, who always used to storm it, and it was the first time he did the Bohemian Rhapsody thing, and he said, ‘I’ve got this new thing I wanna do’ and we were just laughing, thinking, ‘music?’ and he looked to us and he said, ‘well you don’t want to be here forever do you?’ and at that point it had never crossed my mind that there was a higher echelon than the Comedy Store. I used to walk there thinking, wow, I’m playing the Comedy Store and it’s in the heart of London – this is amazing. So it took a few years for it to chime with me really, and then eventually the penny sunk that yeah, you should move on. There weren’t any opportunities around like there are now, but in another way, it’s hard now for young comics because so many of them want to do it. I always count myself very lucky that I discovered it when I discovered it really. But it took a long time before I got noticed, and I think you get noticed a lot quicker now – but people still have to work for nothing before they get a gig so it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.

So what do you reckon you might have done had comedy not worked out so well for you? Did you have a back-up option?
No I didn’t, and I genuinely do count myself to be incredibly lucky that I discovered. I had no idea what I would have been doing before. I’m very independently minded, I’m quite sociable but not necessarily cooperative, I’ve got no qualifications, very few skills – apart from being a smart arse. [Laughs] I don’t know how employable I would have been! I can’t think. Maybe I’d have run a pub and then died of liver disease at 42.

15 Storeys High was a great sitcom – do you ever have any plans on getting back into that discipline anytime soon?
Yeah I mean I should do, and I will do, but the reason I haven’t done it for so long, 10 years nearly, is that I had three kids and sitcoms are so consuming. I was tossed into the bin by the BBC virtually, as one of our episodes went out after the local election results. Can you imagine anyone who is interested in the local election results? A national election, yes, you can see why – but local election results…. So I didn’t have a very huge appetite for going through that process again so I thought, right, I’m going to go into light entertainment, and it suits bringing up a family because you’re not as consumed. 12 hours a day, seven days a week you work on a sitcom, if you want to make a good one. Even if you want to make a shit one it’s a lot of work, and there are plenty of those around. There are loads of shit sitcoms, and of course the people didn’t want them to be shit, they wanted them to be brilliant. I’m not necessarily saying it’s just the hours you put in, but even if something is crap it still takes a lot of work. People who go to see a crap film and say, ‘this is crap, one star’ don’t have any idea how much work went into making that shit film [laughs] I always think of that when I see the one star reviews. Because I made something that was really good and was a lot of work, and it got treated like it was a piece of shit. So yeah I will go back to it, but when my kids have grown up a bit more. In the next few years I will definitely return to it, because I like it as an art-form, the half hour narrative sitcom is something that I enjoy.

Fair point on the film criticism, because when you see just how much work, and how many people put absolutely anything they’ve got into making something, you’ve got to be cautious about writing it off.
Yeah well that’s true. Nobody sets out to make something shit. I mean, I read a review yesterday about a new Danny Dyer film and they’re always kicking Danny Dyer, and there’s so much snobbery around it as well. His films are aimed at a particular market, they’re almost like genre films. But they always provoke snotty, broadsheet reviews. I don’t really read the broadsheet reviews at all because I find them almost repulsive, particularly The Observer and The Guardian and a few others. I find that level of snobbery, it’s like you have to have a post-graduate degree in film studies, or in literature to appreciate things, yet they don’t see the other possibilities or how they may be enjoyed.

The day your DVD came out, was the same as a host of other successful comedians, is there some friendly competition amongst you all this time of year?
To be honest, because you’re working on tours you don’t really see the other comics that much, but I’m sure there is. I generally don’t look at the chart until after Christmas, because it’s a thing you can’t control, and it’s just out there and if it sells, it sells. There’s nothing you can do about it now. But I imagine if you look at it, you’ll think ‘Oh he’s selling more than me!’ or ‘Why is he selling so much?’ and naturally would descend into that. But we don’t phone each other up and go, ‘HA, how many units have you sold?’ but hopefully I’ll be alright.

So finally, as we’re a film site predominantly, what’s your favourite comedy movie, and why?
I think one of the greatest pieces of comedy ever made is The Producers, I think it’s one of the greatest works of art ever and the greatest comedy ever done, it’s just perfect at every level. It’s slapstick, it’s character full, there are very funny liners, it’s multilayered, it’s ironic about society, it’s satirical, it’s shocking… and then the performances are just phenomenal. I love my comedy, but for me that’s the greatest comedy ever. I wouldn’t have an argument with someone about it, that’s just how I feel. Or Catch 22. I just remembered, which is possibly the greatest ever… Either of those two. Or both of them, preferably. Can I have both of them?

Yeah, go on then.
Thank you.

Sean Lock’s Purple Van Man is available on DVD and Blu-ray now. Read more about the ‘ultimate week of comedy’ here.