Comedian Micky Flanagan is taking French leave in new TV show

Popular comedian Micky Flanagan tells Ed Power why he made a detour from the stage to the outdoors

MICKY Flanagan wonders about men his age. “I’m 52 and part of a generation that has had to find its way into middle age,” says the popular English comedian.

“We are the generation that extended our adolescence. We took it as far as we could: at 45, we were acting and dressing much like we had at 25 or 35. You meet middle aged men now and it’s almost like the only thing that has changed about them since they were young men is that they bought a house and had children.”

The maturing process was on the mind of Flanagan, one of the most popular stand-ups in the business, when he sat down with Sky to trash out plans for a TV travelogue. He wanted to create a series that was amusing, but also true to life and, if it doesn’t seem too grandiose, thoughtprovoking. The result is Detour De France, a chuckle-filled, heart-string tugging show debuting next week.

The premise the comedian and broadcaster arrived at was, at first inspection, perfectly cliched: together with friend of 15 years Noel Lynch, Flanagan would circumnavigate France by bike, a camera crew in tow. There was the obvious comedic value of watching two stout 50-somethings squeezed into lycra pegging it from Normandy to Marseilles. However, it is Flanagan’s hope that Detour De France has a profound message too and that, above all, it does not take its audience for idiots.

“We get into some pretty deep areas,” he says. “Obviously there’s the issue that we are getting older. We also talk about spirituality— nothing forced, it just comes out, as happens between mates I suppose. There’s one scene where the two of us are sitting there and chatting and we start to discuss life and what it’s all about. We didn’t script those things. It was very natural.”

Flanagan is one of comedy’s highest grossing performers and, last year, packed Dublin’s O2 (now 3Arena) on a sell-out arena tour of Ireland and the UK.

He’s proud of his achievements and makes no secret of the long slog it required: 15 years during which he graduated from smoke-filled rooms over pubs to pokey clubs and, from there, to theatre and megadomes. But life as a top-rank comic isn’t easy and when the opportunity came from Sky to work in a different medium he was only too glad to accept.

“When you are doing comedy at a high level, it becomes a discipline,” he says. “You are playing to maybe 15,000 people every night. The aim is to give people the same commitment a month in that you gave to the audience you performed to on the very first evening. The way you do that is by conserving your energy and eating well. Your whole life becomes about that hour and a half on stage every night. If you can’t maintain that discipline you can’t go on tour.

“If you start walking out on stage half cut, in front of 10,000 people or more… well, they’re not going to go ‘don’t worry— did you have a late night? That’s alright, we only paid 35 quid to come and see you. We’ll go to the bar while you sort yourself out’. It’s not like that — unless you are playing rooms above pubs. In that case you can go out drinking until five, six in the morning.”

VARIED CAREER

Flanagan was born in 1962 and grew up in a council estate in rough and ready Bethnal Green in East London. Upon leaving school, he worked a variety of jobs, including dishwashing, window-cleaning and furniture making.

At the relatively advanced age of 35, he got it into his head that he might like to become a comedian and signed up for a stand-up course. In 2007, he was named ‘best newcomer’ at Edinburgh and suddenly was off to the races.

In person, Flanagan emanates the same mateyness that is in evidence on stage. That might be considered a surprise. Comedians in person can be tremendously dour— far more serious about their ‘art’ that many actors and musicians. Having interviewed a few, this writer can attest that, on the whole, they rarely smile, do not give away jokes for free and never, ever laugh at your gags. There are exceptions — the perpetually baffled Bill Bailey for one, and also Flanagan, who chuckles heartily throughout our conversation.

SERIOUS BUSINESS

For all the bonhomie it is clear he regards being funny as a serious business. “What people don’t see when they come to one of those big shows is all the hard work that went on beforehand,” he says.

“Touring on a big scale is the tip of a massive iceberg. It took me 15 years to get to the stage where I could do these major tours. Every weekend for the past decade and a half, except for holidays, I’ve been putting on a show. When it ends, you think ‘OK, I really am entitled to a break here — for everyone’s sake, for my sanity, for my wife’s sanity, so that my little daughter can know who I am’.”

He promises Detour De France will contain none of the heavy-handed faux drama that is a feature of shows such as Top Gear, or The Long Way Round in which Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, astride $75K BMW bikes,were required to endure terrible ‘hardship’.

“There isn’t going to be any ‘testing’ going on here,” says Flanagan. “There are no ‘head in your hands’ moments — except for when we’re hungover and wish we’d gone to bed at 11, instead of staying up until two in the morning.

“It’s not one of those shows where you have the presenter rushing to catch a train with the threat that, if they miss it, they’ll end up sleeping on the floor somewhere. Audiences see through that — they know it isn’t real.

“We wanted to make something that was a bit of fun: two friends cycling around France, having a laugh, talking a bit, enjoying the sights. What’s wrong with that?”

Detour De France airs in Sky 1 on Monday at 9pm.


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