Interview: Stewart Francis
The Canadian comedian discusses Bill Hicks, Ricky Gervais and the other Stu Francis
When he first arrived in the UK, there was a recurring subject that would crop up around any discussion of Canadian comic Stewart Francis: was he aware of the iconic 80s kids show presenter who shared that name and boasted a catchphrase about his ability to physically overwhelm soft fruit? Fairly swiftly, the funnyman from Ontario must have found such chat pretty tedious but now that he has pinned his own personality firmly upon the British cultural map, it must be water off a disinterested duck’s back.
‘Wouldn’t it be something for him to plan a comeback just as I hit the scene, as if I’ve stolen his thunder?’ muses young man Francis. ‘I should probably YouTube him: there must be a clip of him crushing a grape somewhere. But bless him wherever he is, with people probably saying, “Do you know about the other Stewart Francis?” “Of course I do; now do you want fries with that or what?” There’s another Stewart Francis who played American football in Canada, but don’t worry, I’m not going to do a Dave Gorman thing on it.’
Such a task would be very un-Stewart Francis, given that his forte is punching out joke after joke with no objective other than to make his audience laugh themselves into a frenzy. Not for him the comedians who structure shows around a concept or go off on some tale-twisting adventure. ‘I’m distracted by storytellers. I’d heard about the legend that was Bill Hicks and went in with high expectations. But it’s just him pontificating and telling me how it is. I think I’m hired to entertain rather than educate; I’ll let the people who are important to me know how I feel about things.’
The rise of Stewart Francis has been down to different factors. Being very funny is clearly a positive, but he has also arrived in the UK at a time when the stand-up scene is going through a boom period. Comedy clubs and theatre tours are doing serious business, and shows like Mock the Week, 8 out of 10 Cats and Live at the Apollo have brought acts to the attention of millions who might otherwise have ultimately died not knowing such people ever existed. Francis is one such grateful beneficiary. ‘It’s been a wonderful three or four years for me and it’s down to some TV appearances that have really put me on a lot of people’s radar. I followed that up with what some people would deem to be good comedy. I guess it’s a case of right place right time and being able to parlay 21 years of accumulated material and give that to the people.’
Being invited to support Ricky Gervais on tour couldn’t have been a hindrance either. ‘It was interesting to travel around for the better part of a year in that elite world which he lives in, something I wouldn’t really want to partake in. He’s done incredibly well to have withstood that constant scrutiny. At times, he’s playful as a kitten but there’s also a serious side to the man which goes with being a hi-falutin businessman. I’m a huge fan of The Office so it was nice to be in the presence of genius. His words, not mine.’
The Stand, Edinburgh, Thu 8–Sat 10 Mar, Tue 27 Mar; King’s Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 28 Mar.