Published on May 15th, 2014 | by Alastair Gilmour


Jason Cook: Cook up a storm

Comedy writer and stand-up Jason Cook draws on a wealth of personal situations to make audiences laugh. But he tells Alastair Gilmour there is no better place than the pub for gathering material

Tyneside writer and stand-up comedian Jason Cook is moving house – but only after he and his girlfriend Claire achieved their prime search condition. It had to have a decent pub nearby.

Pubs are important to the creator of BBC2 hit series Hebburn, from socialising in to developing situations around and perfecting lines. And the pub’s television role is crucial for viewers to gauge relationships between various characters and a quick route into them reacting with one another.

“I still see the pub as a hub for the community really,” says Jason. “It’s where we go to meet and drink and laugh and commiserate.”

Jason Cook is back on his old Newcastle stand-up circuit next month, starring in his own show at Jesterval, the week-long North East Comedy Festival at Baltic Square on Gateshead Quays, alongside such comedy talents as Gavin Webster, The Suggestibles, Sara Pascoe, Jason Manford, Mike Milligan, Marcus Brigstocke and Simon Munnery.

With two series of Hebburn behind him, plus a run of Jason Cook’s School of Hard Knocks on Radio 4, award-winning gigs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and a world tour that included sell-out shows in Australia and New Zealand, he’s come a long way from compering at Newcastle’s Hyena Club in 2007.

“There is no better place to hone comedic talent than in front of 300 baying punters, many of whom look capable of eating their own young,” he says. “Stand-up is very odd in that you don’t really get paid for the first couple of years, so you have to throw yourself into it and not everyone makes it to a professional level.

“I think the first time I got paid for a gig, I quickly did the sums in my head and realised if I worked hard enough then it could be financially viable – if I can keep doing this night after night, I could make a fortune. Then I went out and spent the money on getting lashed.

“The Stand Comedy Club on High Bridge in Newcastle is my usual haunt these days, but I’ve always liked the Head of Steam and BrewDog is a new favourite – and at one point I virtually lived in the Telegraph.

“We are at our most unguarded when we’re sitting having a beer with our mates, at our most relaxed. Usually, when people aren’t worrying about what they say is when they will come out with the funniest stuff. I often write in a pub, the background chatter seems to help for some reason.

“We tend to find a nice quiet pub for our creative meetings and sit down and pull ideas apart looking for some gold. It’s the perfect place really, as when you give in, a pint is just a short walk away.”

In the Hard Knocks radio series where he weaved comedic situations around the likes of job interviews, office politics, in-laws, first dates and dumping with guest comedians and audience participation, Jason had to negotiate real-life situations and come to terms with them in an amusing way. The disappointment of the BBC not commissioning a third series of Hebburn, the South Tyneside-based sitcom which starred Vic Reeves and Gina McKee was real life coming knocking – despite the show being recognised with a Royal Television Society award for drama.

“It was just time to tell another story,” he says philosophically. “You can only be grateful to be given the chance to do it in the first place. The hardest thing was telling the fans when the news went public, but it shows how many people really loved the show, I suppose.

“But I’m really looking forward to playing in the North East again; I love it. I can talk at my normal speed and chuck in a load of jokes only Geordies will get.

“The Newcastle Comedy Festival – Jesterval – is something we’ve needed for so long in the city, a chance to pull together the best stand-ups in the country. Once that happens, the whole vibe of the show changes; people are more in a ‘comedy’ mood than they are at a single night’s gig.”

Having mentioned Gina McKee, we recall her in Our Friends In The North, the mid-1990s television series that also starred Christopher Ecclestone, Mark Strong, Malcolm McDowell and Daniel Craig. So really, Jason Cook is but a couple of steps away from James Bond himself. Would he fancy that particular job?

“Only if they would let him eat Greggs,” he says.

*Jesterval, the 2014 Newcastle Comedy Festival, is at Baltic Square, Gateshead Quays, between June 6-14. Tickets and details: www.jesterval.co.uk

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Alastair Gilmour

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