The Laughter Factory is coming to Dubai this week, and Time Out Dubai caught up with Scottish comedian Stephen Carlin ahead of the shows.
After months of uncertainty and cancelled gigs, comedian Stephen Carlin is looking forward to his trip to Dubai – not least because it signals a return to doing what he knows best.
“It’s been weird for me – comedy is like free therapy, so this has been like someone has come along removed your job, social life and therapy all in one,” he says, in his dry Scottish tones.
“I’ve always worked at night and weekends, so these past few months I suppose it’s been like a ‘normal’ routine for me for the first time. I’ve enjoyed the experience of being like a regular person – maybe like a method actor for real life – but I’m ready to go back now. My body is trained for comedy, so at around 9pm every night I get that adrenaline surge ready to go on stage.”
The Laughter Factory returns to Dubai for five dates this month (at various locations from September 17 to 25) and Carlin will be joined by comedians Pierre Hollins and Sally-Anne Hayward on the line-up.
And after what’s been the longest break in his comedy career, Carlin admits its a bit “nerve-wracking and exciting” to be planning his time on stage.
“It will be strange seeing people together in a room – I’ve not been in a room with more than six people in ages,” he says. “I’ve bought some denim masks for Dubai – so they are blue and fitting the Scottish theme – but maybe I should have got tartan. Should I wear tartan trousers? Maybe that’s too much. But at least that would be vibrant, life’s been a bit dull recently after all,” he says.
During social isolation people around the world found many ways to keep entertained, from baking banana bread to at-home fitness routines. So, what did the Scottish funnyman find to do to fill his spare time? Quite a lot, it seems, although he’s suitably low-key about his lockdown activities.
“It was a bit like a school holiday that went on too long,” he explains. “I did some drawing, then some street art-inspired pieces on my roof terrace, I wrote a brand-new comedy routine, I’m a third of the way through a novel, I’ve completed Netflix. But this was my time to, I don’t know, learn to play piano or speak Russian, so I kind of failed at that.”
This will be Carlin’s first time performing in Dubai – although, like many, he’s passed through the city on flights in the past.
“I’ve looked out at the shiny skyscrapers many times from the plane,” he says. “I’m expecting bright lights, modernity. A city rising from the desert. What should I go and see? I hear brunches are good.”
They are indeed, but it’s unlikely there’ll be time for brunches with five shows over two weekends. So what can we expect to see?
“Good question – I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he (we suspect faux) ponders. “Usually I play on people’s moods – but I don’t really know where society is at the moment in terms of getting a sense of things. So it will be a bit about the situation but more on life – people need escapism right now, I think.”
Best-known for his sell-out Edinburgh tour Pickwickian, Carlin has also opened for Stewart Lee and Stephen Merchant and written for BBC shows including the Now Show and Newsquiz. But what was it that got him into comedy, and the thrill of stand-up?
“Not enough attention as a child? Incapable of working in a team? Can’t get out of bed before 2pm? Five second attention span? All the things that would be negative in any other job, basically. Maybe it comes down to that I can’t do anything else… I’ve always really loved it and it was my thing,” he says.
And what makes Carlin laugh? “Silly stuff. Slapstick. I mean if someone fell over on the pavement that might be all I need... But if I go into social company, of course it depends on the people, but sometimes people can get a bit competitive, like they think I’m going to take them down so they try to get the revenge in early with a joke. Sometimes I just lie and say I do another job. Like a plumber. But then I don’t know enough about it and get caught out. I need a whole backstory. An alter ego. Maybe a uniform and a van… Maybe that’s what I could have spent lockdown doing.”
Having done TV and writing, most of all Carlin loves stand-up, because of its immediacy. And he, says, some routines are like your children – you can have a favourite but you can’t tell anyone.
“With stand-up you can write it in the morning and perform it immediately. How long does it take? You can work on material from anything from one minute to 16 years. Some stuff takes years of tweaking, some comes out fully formed. Is that vague enough?”
And, he says, the element of the unknown adds an extra appeal – with live shows, things can happen in the moment to keep it interesting – for both performer and audience.
“A microphone doesn’t work, there’s a power cut and all the lights go out... It’s fun, go with it. I mean, I hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s not good to be too comfortable, and you never want to play it too safe,” he says, adding that he doesn’t have a pre-show ritual.
“Maybe I should freak the other comedians out by doing some warm up stretches or something,” he says. “But you can’t tell what an audience is going to be like from sight. You just have to sense it, feel the energy and trust your instincts. That all sounds a bit Luke Skywalker doesn’t it? Feel the force.”
With a city full of comedy-lovers in Dubai, the force looks strong for this one.
Dhs160. Thu Sep 17-Friday Sep 18 Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach; Sat Sept 19 Zabeel House by Jumeirah in the Greens; Thu Sep 24 Grand Millennium Barsha Heights; Fri Sep 25 Hilton Dubai Jumeirah. 8.30pm. www.thelaughterfactory.com (050 878 6728).