After a long, quiet summer, Abu Dhabi is finally emerging from its slumber. The roads are gridlocked again, the office hours are back to normal and stepping outside no longer carries a serious threat of on-the-spot evaporation. Best of all, though, the city’s entertainment calendar is slowly filling up, with a night of comedy at Heroes on September 13 kicking off what’s set to be another knock-out season of after-hours fun. Performing alongside Paul Tonkinson and Michael Smiley on the night, Junior Simpson tells us what we can expect from this week’s show, his comedy heroes and why Edinburgh isn’t everything.
So you’ve gigged here a few times before. Do you have any insights into UAE life?
It’s weird, I never thought it was possible to take a correspondence course in driving. I remember once we drove from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, and I was amazed to see a really, really nice Jaguar reversing on the motorway – he must have missed the exit. There were cars swerving to avoid it and the driver was shouting at everyone as if it was everyone else’s fault. I think Stevie Wonder would have done a better job. There’s this weird thing with the air-conditioning as well, where it’s so hot outside and so cold inside. So when doors open sometimes you get this sort of dry ice effect, like you’re on Stars in Your Eyes or something. ‘Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be... boiling!’
I assume you’re not at Edinburgh this year – is a new show on the cards for next year?
I don’t really enjoy Edinburgh. I know it’s weird for a comedian to say that, because everyone expects it’s the one staple in every comic’s diary. But unless I’ve got something that I really need to say, or I’ve written a show that I can’t do on the circuit, that needs a wider platform, then I think I’ll avoid Edinburgh. But I’m saying that now – you could come back in a year and see that Junior Simpson’s Dancing Gigolo show is getting rave reviews in Edinburgh. Thinking about it, that’s not a bad idea.
So what’s the general angle of your comedy? Is there any kind of serious underlying sentiment?
It’s basically about communication. I think if people communicated more, not only globally and politically, but within their own homes and their own relationships, I think we’d have a much better world. I’ve recently gone through a divorce and we both came to the conclusion that if we’d spoken a bit more and not kept so much back, then we might not have actually got to the point that we did. But, I mean, I don’t get to the end of my show and go, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, basically you need to talk to each other more.’ It’s not going to be like a closing speech or like Bill Cosby talking to Theo [on The Cosby Show] about something. But hopefully people will glean that underlying thought.
Who do you look up to in comedy?
Even before getting into stand-up, I’ve always admired Richard Pryor. He was probably the first person who I really admired. Nowadays probably Chris Rock. There’s also a guy called Louis CK. He’s a very controversial character, but no matter what he’s talking about I can’t disagree with him. There’s also a good friend of mine called Russell Peters – I like his tenacity and his way of spinning something. I’ve known him for about 16 years now, so I knew him before all the fame and he’s exactly the same guy as when I met him. I was hanging out with him in LA, and it’s weird because paparazzi have no idea who he is at all. But valet parkers, waiters, cab drivers, basically all the blue-collar workers were chasing him down left, right and centre. It was very strange to watch. Chris Rock calls him the most famous comedian that nobody’s ever heard of.
What’s the one gag you’ve heard that you wish you’d written?
Obviously the iconic material that Chris Rock has done, on the difference between blacks and n***ers – that’s a routine that a lot of us have thought about, but never been able to verbalise. And also the majority of what Louis CK says – you listen to it and you agree with it. And as soon as you agree with it, you realise you must have thought of it yourself. So you think: Well, why the hell didn’t I put that down on paper? Why didn’t I write that?’ I don’t think I’ve got the balls to go on stage and say half the stuff that Louis CK does, but I can’t disagree with anything that he says, at all.
You like to joke a lot about your Jamaican heritage. Ever been to any comedy clubs in the West Indies? What’s the sense of humour like out there?
I’ve not performed in Jamaica, I’ve done gigs on cruise ship around the Caribbean, but never actually on Jamaican soil. The humour out in the West Indies is very much family orientated, there’s a lot about the family structure, the role of the father and the mother and the place of the children, so they’ll find the humour in that dynamic, between everybody.