Mick Ferry is renowned as a fine purveyor of lugubrious surrealism and has quickly established himself as one of the most sought after comics on the British and International comedy circuit. One of the finest comperes around, Mick Ferry performs regularly at The Comedy Store in London and Manchester as well as headlining at comedy venues nationwide. He is also a regular member of the prestigious topical Cutting Edge Team at the Comedy Store.
On our TV screens, Mick has recently starred in BBC One`s Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow as well as Comedy Blue and The Comedy Store for Comedy Central. He made his big screen debut in 2009 in Ken Loach’s Looking For Eric – a hit feature film at the Cannes film festival where it was nominated for the prestigious Palm D’Or. A prolific writer, Mick was a writer on John Bishop’s Britain for BBC One and has also previously written for BBC3`s Smalltime.
Mick made his debut at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival in 2009 performing The Comedy Final at the Gilded Balloon. He returned in 2010 with a brand new show The Missing Chippendale (Body Issues) to great critical acclaim.
With lockdown sort of having been and gone, and now with it being on the horizon again, how have you been coping? Have you started learning Mandarin or begun baking?
There was a plan like a lot people to learn another language. I download the app and did fuck all of with it. I kept myself busy, doing little sketches. Writing material. The usual things you are supposed to do. As for the mood during lockdown, I was like, everybody else, one day, you’re okay, and the day after you sort of glad you’ve not got access to a shotgun because not sure whether you’d use it on yourself, or actually strangers. So, those kinds of moods.
Have you done any of that type of writing before? Have you explored writing sketches et cetera?
Yeah. I’ve done that before – I’ve done that loads of times. I have written for other people. It was something to concentrate myself and basically, you know, stop myself going insane. My job, the industry I work in (stand-up), has gone. It just disappeared and looks like it’s disappearing again. So, I think just to remain creative was important.
It looked like you had the family involved too, were they all happily on board?
They are sort of used to my idiosyncrasies anyway. They know what I am like. They know that I’m a bit of a loon.
You mention that you have been writing material, is much of it COVID related or have you tried to put some distance between yourself and that?
Of course, you would be a loon not to mention COVID. You don’t want to talk about it too much, but I would be quite worried if I met someone in the street now and we had an hour’s conversation, and they did not mention once, the things that have gone on this year. I would worry about that. I would worry about their mental health. I would actually be quite jealous that they have forgotten about it that easily. You have got to mention it. You have got to mention the circumstances you are in, and create your unique perspective for all of us, all of mankind really. Let’s be honest. It is something we have never been through before. And it is something we have all suffered at the same time, and are suffering!
Because it is in our collective conscience…?
Yeah. Exactly. Of everybody you ask around the world, nobody has been sleeping properly, have they? Experiencing weird nightmares, and all that bullshit. I imagine that’s all anxiety driven.
Quite possibly. Just being out of routine and not being as active has hurt people. You are right to document it. Although, as much as much as you can write about it now, your opportunities to deliver that material are limited
Have you anything that you would explicitly want to say to Johnson and those handling the situation?
Yeah, but you know what? What is the point? The man is a tool. The people behind the government are tools. Look, they have spent £12 billion on a track and trace system that does not work. That tells you everything you need to know! They have an advisor who broke the rules that he explicitly helped to lay down – he drove to Barnard Castle. So, anything that Johnson has got to say, I have no interest in whatsoever. He is just a haunted landscape! An ex-Eton schoolboy. Somebody better than me pointed out that PM’s that go to Eton, don’t make good leaders. It has been proven time and time again. They have no grasp on reality. He has ignored every piece of advice he has been given. At the start of it he suggested herd mentality and he went around shaking everybody’s hands and he got the disease – the daft sod. So, I have nothing to say to them. He is not a man I would talk to personally. Johnson has history – he despises the working classes – we’re treated, as usual by the elite as cannon fodder. As Andy Burnham said, when it comes to economics, the North of England has always been used as an economic canary, we are always the ones that suffer first. So, there is a disconnect and I am hoping the only thing that comes out of this is that we end up with a North West assembly. The idea was piloted in the 1990s. Anthony H. Wilson – God rest his soul – was well behind the idea but it didn’t happen. But I have a feeling that when we come out of this, if somebody mentions the North West assembly again and a bit of autonomy for our own region. Then we will go for it.
It is an interesting concept. I mean, there is a lot of bad blood between certain places in the North West – Liverpool and Manchester notably. But this type of thing draws people together. As much as it pushes others away – that is to say, as much as you do not want to speak to Johnson or anybody down in London, you are willing, to openly embrace those closest to you and work with them.
Of course, it’s the only way. We’ve got to realise that we’re the potential to be an economic powerbase ourselves, driven by Manchester and Liverpool. People have got to understand that. We have got a good economy ourselves, but we are totally controlled by the South. Why? That should not be happening. Let’s put borders up! I seriously would, we need autonomy. We need to be looking after our own affairs up here now. Andy Burnham was describing that, and the Mayor of Liverpool, who seems a good lad as well. I think it will happen, and I don’t think we’ll be the only region.
My wife is Cornish and they have been speaking about independence down there for an awful long time.
I think the Welsh will go for full independence after Scotland too. I can see a breakup happening. It’s because of constant cases of the bumbling of our economic affairs. It gives you a bit of a complex, you wonder am I being correct here? But if you look at history, it’s the North that gets a kicking before anywhere else. After we come through this, I think there will be changes, massive changes!
If you were to retrain as suggested, what could you see yourself doing?
I used to be an upholsterer. But I couldn’t go back to that. I am not physically fit enough to do that now. I mean, I am 52. I would have to get myself in shape before I could do that again. Retrain? I don’t know if there is anything I could retrain as. I have been doing this for 20 years now – I don’t know what I’d do, or what I’d be capable of doing.
You have such a natural demeanour onstage; I am surprised to hear that you ever did anything else!
The trick is making it look like you are not doing it – making it look easy. I think that is a skill in any performance art; to make it look like it comes naturally. It takes time for you to be able to do that. I don’t know what I’d retrain as, because let’s be honest, what industry is going to be left after this?
I would like to go back to point about autonomy in the North, because prior to COVID, the creative industry was flourishing. So, there is certainly scope there, for cities like Liverpool and Manchester and beyond to create something for themselves.
Definitely. It is a big, creative area. I have met people from all over the world, who have moved to Manchester because they want to make it in the music business. You do not have to be in London anymore. You come to the North West if you want to make it in the music business. That is something that has changed. You have only got to look at the success of both cities when it comes to music.
Indeed, we have BIMM in Manchester and LIPA in Liverpool that are well-established now.
Exactly and there’s well-established comedy clubs and a well-established comedy scene which is actually full of new comics. There is an established open-mic circuit in the North West too. It’s all there, for everybody. Even the BBC is in Manchester for fuck’s sake. We should make the most of that. We’ll have autonomy and we’ll hijack BBC! Get them to make unbiased TV shows, that would be quite nice.
Why not? Changing direction, I am interested in the discourse of stand-up comedy. What people are allowed to say on stage and whether they feel restrained by themselves, by society, by what country they are performing in even? How might comics change their shows accordingly?
Yeah. You do. I mean, performing overseas or in certain countries there are certain rules when it comes to libel, slander, and things dictated by religion and so on. So, you would be a fool not to break them. You would lose your work; you would lose your income. You are not dumbing it down. You are not sacrificing your integrity doing that. People talk about freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is still there. When people say, ‘you can’t say anything anymore’ – you can. But you have got to be prepared for the consequences. That is something we have always been responsible for. If you want to say something, you should have a think, ‘will this really upset somebody?’ – like a marginalized section of a society, you have to ask yourself why you are saying it, even if you really want to say it. Do not be saying ‘I can’t say what I want to say.’ – you just said it and before are angry with what you said. So, you either own it and accept that, or you filter yourself.
Would you agree that stand-up is a pure art form?
Yes. Of course, it is.
I am glad you’ve said that. You have been doing this twenty years now, is that purity important to you, beyond it just being a job that pays the bills?
Listen, things can be said off the cuff and, in the moment, there is something unique about doing it live, that you cannot get when you see recordings back. Things can happen in a room that a live audience then gets. It could be a bit of teasing of somebody, and because of something that’s gone on before, everybody knows exactly why I have said what I have said. But that can be taken out of context then. Somebody could just record that moment and show it, ‘Look at this guy, he’s a right fucking dick!’ Live performance, that’s where the artform is. TV does not come across as an art form. We (us comics) know we’re still not officially recognized as artists, but let me tell you something… Say a theatre is beginning to struggle and needs to raise money fast, the first night they put on is a comedy night. Why? Because it always sells out. But they can fuck off, them wankers. You either recognise it as an art form, or you don’t! I quite like the idea of being an underground art movement. Why not? Let’s be part of that, let’s be part of something. Getting back to the question though, stand-up is a skill, it requires ability. You get found out quickly if you can’t do it! It takes time and it takes practice, like all art forms. It takes commitment to reach that sort of competent level, you know. Just like acting – just like singing. It is performance! It’s much more than repeating lines.
I am sort of loathed to ask you about this, but maybe folk will expect it? What is your best/worst gig experience?
Well, I have had plenty of good gigs. But I will tell you this, the adrenaline rush gets shorter and shorter. A good gig does not live that long, and you just need to get back onstage again. As bad gigs go… This sums up the new world we are living in. During lockdown, there has been a few gigs I’ve done online as streams to an audience. For some of these gigs, people pay extra to be front row, so you can see them on your screen. Anyway, this happened to me during one of these gigs. You know doing live stand-up, I have been sworn at; I’ve been threatened on stage; I’ve had a gang of men wait for me to finish once, wanting to fight me; I’ve had an ashtray thrown at me at a gig in Plymouth. I have had all sorts – everything you can contend with, but it’s water of a duck’s back now. But, nothing prepares you for doing a gig that’s being streamed when you’re in your own living room, and you can see your front row, for watching a woman, get up in the middle of your routine to go make herself a cup of tea, because she’s clearly not interested in what you’ve got to say. That was devastating!
That is some heckle! I wonder, what do you miss most about performance? Is it that adrenaline rush? You say they are getting shorter and shorter, or is it just the interaction and being out and about with people?
It’s the interaction! It is being out and about. It is a social thing, stand-up. You are with people, and you are also with other comics in the dressing room. There is a camaraderie. If you take that away – well… Sure, it can be lonely travelling around, but you have always got that group of people in front of you, your audience for however long you are onstage. They are your mates. That is who you are with. So, that is what you miss – that social aspect.
It is only reasonable that you would miss that when it has been taken away from you.
What do you do on a night off?
I watch a lot of stand-up! I am a fan of it, massively. You’ll often find me on a night off in a comedy club. That is what I do!
What is the purpose of that? Are you wanting to be entertained or are you wanting to improve your craft?
Yeah. It is the different styles that we all have. A lot of comics are very different to each other. I have several comedian mates that that have always made me laugh that I’ll always go along and watch when they’re in town and I’m not working, and of course there are new people that are breaking through all the time.
I read recently that you had been compared you to Les Dawson. Do you think that is fair?
I got described once as being lugubrious. It’s because of my grumpy looking face. I am nothing like Les Dawson. I am not as good as he was either. He was a fucking genius. I think that it was just a physical description, and nothing to do with material.
You don’t even play piano, Mick?
No, I don’t even play piano. It can be annoying with all forms of entertainment. When people want to say what a band sounds like, and people do it with stand-ups as well. I think.
I know that you are reticent to be labelled, but for people who may be unfamiliar with your work, who might YOU compare your style with? Are you more than an observational comic?
Oh man. I don’t know. I can’t really answer that question. Describe what I do? I think I’m funny. I know I am funny! I know it works. I know that sounds arrogant, but to be a stand-up there has to be a bit of arrogance there. It is not just observational stuff I do. There is all sorts going on in my shows. I will do one-liners, surreal stuff, observational stuff, family stuff, anything really. If I am emceeing, I probably won’t use any material, I will just be working with the audience or improvising. I’m not sure I’m comfortable answering that to be honest, the only thing I can say is come and see me!
My apologies. I suppose, really, it is for other people to draw their own conclusions.
The only thing I would say is that people should come and see me and form their own opinion. I get laziness from people who say, ‘You’re like Peter Kay.’ And it is just because of the accent because I’m nothing like Peter Kay. My act is nothing like his. You know what I mean? That is just what people do. So yeah. I don’t know how I would describe myself. Come and watch me!
What was the last book you read or record you bought?
The last record I bought was on vinyl, a Northern Soul collection. Musically, I think I have quite an eclectic taste. The last book I read? You know, I don’t remember. I go through spurts of reading, but it has been probably a couple of years since I last read a book. I know that sounds ridiculous. But then, next year I might read fucking hundreds. Oh, I did read this book about The Smiths. Yeah, a book about the meaning of all The Smiths’ songs or something. I think that was the last thing I read.
I think maybe we will end with something a bit silly… when I interviewed Paul Foot, I asked him where he bought his ties. So, in that vein, I would like to know, where do you buy your shoes?
There is an online company called Delicious Junction. The guy who owns that used to be the chief shoe designer for a shoe company called Icon.
I had Icon school shoes!
Yeah? He is making his own shoes, they’re really good! Or, if you have got a bit of cash to spare, Loakes, they may brilliant loafers and brogues. I buy too many shoes, or I did do! cannot afford them now!
Mick, what’s next for you?
I’m lucky enough to be a part of a new Radio4 series called, The Likely Dads, hosted by Tim Vincent. Myself and Russell Kane are the regular guests and each week we are joined by other dads to discuss ‘being a dad’. Quite a few celebrity dads make an appearance. The show is irreverent and informative at the same time. The first show went out at 23.00 on Thursday, 29th October. There are eight weekly episodes.