Strictly Come Joking in Norwich with comedy legend Barry Cryer
PUBLISHED: 15:34 31 August 2017 | UPDATED: 15:34 31 August 2017
Barry Cryer has written jokes for a who's who of comedy greats but he is also a performer. This weekend he is back at Norwich Playhouse with partner at the piano Colin Sell.
He has written for some of the biggest names in showbusiness – Morecambe and Wise, Tommy Cooper, Bruce Forsyth, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett amongst them.
The list reads like a who’s who of comedy greats. From acts at the end of music hall to cutting edge comics that broke the mould like Richard Prior to Billy Connelly, it is likely that at least one of your favourite comedian’s jokes were written by 82-year-old funny man.
Yet Barry Cryer is also known as a performer in his own right. Despite being best known as a writer Barry started out as a stand-up himself and is rarely off the stage.
This weekend sees him return to his roots in the region once again, alongside his close friend, and pianist, Colin Sell at Norwich Playhouse.
“I was a stand-up and I was an actor, and given the choice I don’t like to work alone,” says Barry. “My life has gone full circle. I started as a performer and as my writing for shows faded away my whole performing life came back. I don’t write for anybody now, haven’t done for several years, I get ideas for myself.”
Colin Sell also works with on the BBC Radio 4 programme I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue and the apir have toured together regularly in a double-act of sorts.
“Colin is marvellous, we’ve been together so long – it’s like telepathy. He’s not just a pianist he’s a partner. We know each others thinking,” explains Barry.
While he may be best known for his carefully crafted sharp one-liners and witty punch-lines, this new show Strictly Come Joking will be a completely unique experience for audiences as the whole show is performed off the cuff.
“We’ve got a new format, it won’t be like the last one or the next one,” says Barry excitedly. “Colin has a pack of 26 cards, A to Z, and on them is different names and topics so I don’t know what he is going to give me.
“We both love doing this because we are not in a set pattern, sometimes a card will say Colin sings and I can sit back down!
“In the second half is a thing called ‘Barry’s Bucket’. When the audience come into the show they can write anything they want and put it into a bucket for me to talk about. The first half is Colin getting me at it and the second half is the audience getting me at it.”
After years of being “a back room boy” Barry is more than happy to be back in the limelight of the stage and has recently been performing with his band Cryer and Golden and doesn’t plan on slowing down.
“I do a show with Colin on the piano and a rock and roll show with Ronnie Golden – we just played a show in Bristol, there were 2,000 people, we are very happy about it.
“At my age now it is great to be working, I relax when I go on to stage it’s fantastic, it’s like a chat with the audience. It gets your adrenaline going. We don’t know what bits we are going to do.”
Thanks to his longevity in show business Barry has seen many changes within the industry and among audiences – one of the best being the opening of the national comedy circuit.
“There used to be quite a division where the northern comedians wouldn’t play the south as much, but people from all over are working all over now.
“There used to be a time when Welsh comedians would only play in Wales. The only variant now is local things going on.”
Ask Barry where he gets his inspiration for his material and he says: “Just walk about, looking and listening, scouring papers and magazines.
“I was a David Frost writer years ago and you learn to absorb the news – radio, television, papers, everything, so there is always something. Life gives you the ideas.
However Barry believes other aspects of comedy, especially stand-up, are not as enjoyable as they once were.
“Jimmy James and Denis Norden were two great writers. Dennis said a marvellous thing about the generations of comedy, he said ‘it’s as funny as it ever was, but it’s not as much fun’. The warm feeling isn’t there as much.”
Barry points towards Bill Bailey and Ross Noble as modern day comedians who exude warmth and also praised the originality of today’s comics.
“I spent my working life with comedians, the best ones were original. A lot of writers don’t perform; a lot of my contemporaries especially.
“You’re like a tailor with a suit; you have to design it with the person in mind.
“The stand-ups now write their own material. We wrote for everybody, there was a whole gang of people, I never wrote on my own.”
• Strictly Come Joking is at Norwich Playhouse on September 1, 7.30pm, returns only, 01603 598598, norwichplayhouse.co.uk