Gunners Town owner and author Dave Seager (Geordie Armstrong On The Wing) has spent the last 7 months interviewing a slew of celebrity Gooner comics for his new book Supporting Arsenal Is A Funny Old Game. In this interview, Dave’s GT partner Paul (@invinciblog) gets a bit of the backstory…
What was the inspiration behind doing this book?
Well, after my first book on Geordie Armstrong, the publisher, Dave Lane, who has become a good friend, was asking if I had another one in mind. In truth there was one other project (that is on the back burner) and I was devoid of ideas. Primarily because I am well aware of my limitations as a writer, and I think the conversational style I use works well. Accepting that meant that any book needed to combine Arsenal subject matter and interviews – and the answer was sat next to me, literally.
Alex Brooker, from The Last Leg, has sat next to me at the Emirates for two seasons now and we have become good friends. It was something he told me last autumn that sowed the seed of the idea. In short – he was approached about his autobiography but the publisher, when presented with his ideas, thought there were too many Arsenal-related stories. His project is on hold but it gave rise to mine.
It’s a pretty star-studded ‘cast’ you assembled. Tell us about the process of identifying and approaching these celebrities.
In essence the thing we all love about football is the banter and the humour, and most folk love a bit of celebrity don’t they? So I figured – starting with Alex, who was quickly supportive and I knew had the stories – what if I could speak to as may Arsenal-supporting guys from the world of comedy about their support and their journey into ‘Goonerdom’? I also knew Ian Stone from the Tuesday Club, a fabulous stand up, as he is in the next block to us and I asked him. I figured that if Stoney was onside he could ask his peers. And Alex the same. In December I had spoken at length to Ian and Alex as well as Gary Marshall who is huge (literally) on the football after dinner circuit and all there thought the idea had potential. Once I had those three with me (and their verbal commitments to approach friends) I was confident enough to pitch it to Dave at Legends Publishing – along with the added thought that, given the interview subjects, we might link to Comic Relief.
With the publisher excited, I began researching all the comedians I wanted to approach and fixed dates for the interviews with Alex and Stoney for early January. The interview with Ian went well and was so much fun that Ian texted Milton Jones and Romesh Ranganathan there and then, suggesting they do it, and he has already roped in fellow Tuesday Club stalwart Alan Davies. Others – such as Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, writers of the New Statesman and Birds of a Feather – I had approached via their website, and Clive Anderson through his agent. So – by mid-January I had done 3 interviews and had 4 other comics on board.
How hard was it logistically to get all the interviews? I can imagine that rounding up comedians is a bit like herding cats..?
I was combining the day job with meeting the comedians for the interviews and occasionally taking days off where I had to travel to meet them. It was not like herding cats to get the agreement to be involved, but pinning down times and dates was challenging because these guys are so busy. Particularly those actually actively on tour such as Romesh – who I met before his show backstage in Southampton. Alan Davies I met for lunch before the Chelsea game last season – in February – and he had put me onto a young up-and-coming stand up called Chris Martin, who is also in the book.
Others, such as Matt Lucas, agreed early on but scheduled dates way down the line, due to work commitments. (Matt at Bergkamp Wonderland Pod had given me his PA’s number and she passed on my request.)
There were of course a few prime targets that I failed to pin down, namely Jack Whitehall and Rob Beckett. Both were too busy. But in the end, I have 10 of the 12 I had on the original list, and many others who presented themselves or emerged as the project gathered momentum. Some were tip-offs from Arsenal pals – such as Will Sparks telling me that Jim Campbell, from the Football Ramble Podcast, was a Gooner – and Lucy Grattan asking if I had spoken to Hugh Dennis… Who knew?! In fact, Hugh was incredible and happy to meet me – after a text from the ever-supportive Stoney.
Did you meet them all personally, or did you do the interviews by email/phone?
Unlike with the Geordie book, most of the interviews were face-to-face in the flesh, or ‘face-to-face’ on Skype in 2 cases. The only interviews conducted by email were with Clive Anderson (as agreed with his agent) and – weirdly – Milton Jones. I say weirdly because Milton was happy to meet for a coffee but a funny thing occurred.
With every interview I was researching heavily before to ensure a personalised set of questions. There are 2 reasons for this approach. Firstly, to ensure that when I met the individual they would have had a chance to think about answers and anecdotes ahead of time; and secondly to ensure every chapter was different and not formulaic.
Well – as most will know – Milton is the King of the one-liner, and within a day he had returned my completed questionnaire saying he was happy to meet but had had a bash at the questions… When I read the answers they were so funny I decided to leave it pretty much as it was and present it like an old Shoot magazine footballer-style interview.
Everyone else I met in a pub, restaurant or coffee shop, barring Matt Lucas and Paul Kaye. Matt was prearranged on Skype as he now resides primarily in Hollywood and we literally chatted for nearly 2 hours. In our chat, Paul Kaye came up as a friend of Matt’s (as they had been to a Cup Final together) and, since I had failed to get Paul through emailing his agent, Matt kindly forwarded an email from me to Paul, who in turned called me. Pretty wacky to be at home on a Sunday, clearing dishes after a roast, and to get a call on your mobile from a number you don’t know – Hello? Oh, hi… is that Dave Seager? Yes. Who is this? Oh, great! Dave, it’s Paul Kaye here and I gather you want to talk to me about my love of the Arsenal. Bonkers! From Denis Pennis onwards, this guy is a hero of mine. Due to time constraints I did Paul via Skype – but we talk or text all the time now and I will be meeting up with him pre matches this season. Legend!
Why do you think so many comics are Gooners?
To be honest, many are from North London originally – as you will read – but it is a mystery truly. I have 15 in the book, four I missed out on (if you include Rory McGrath and Bradley Walsh) and others who have suggested themselves or been pointed out to me after the deadline. As Dara O’Briain said: there is no logic – because you generally choose your football team at about 7 or 8 perhaps, but would not decide that you fancied a career in comedy until much later…
Alan Davies suggested it would be fun to have a Spurs comedian to do an anti-Arsenal rant in the book. I thought it was a good idea too, but when I asked him who, he could only think of two: Carl Donnelly and Phil Cornwell. I could add Bobby Davro, but calling him a top comedian is like calling Spurs a top club really! ☺
Carl sportingly did agree to be in the book and is the 16th chapter; his section is in the middle and is called the Chapter in the ‘Middle’sex!
Most of us only know these comedians as faces on TV or voices on the radio – what were they like in real life?
I can honestly say every single one I met was wonderful – they were all just down-to-earth, lovely people. The secret, although obvious really – and why I think this book (if I have got it right) will work – is that they are all just Gooners like you and I.
When I researched each and every one of them you simply cannot find interviews where they are being asked about Arsenal. This is why they all enjoyed doing this book; because it is different to be asked about the new tour, new sitcom or new panel show. Of course they enjoy what they do, and being interviewed about their work is not a chore… but it is work. However, just getting to sit and chat about their love and support of Arsenal was just plain fun for them. In some cases certain of them were quite moved by their own memories…
Any particular anecdotes that you’d care to share with us?
Obviously I would rather people buy the book as I don’t want to spoil it. Suffice to say, the tag line I have used for the book ‘Seriously Funny, yet Funnily Serious’ is a fair summation. Most of the guys knew I wanted them to be funny – and they wanted to oblige when they could, of course – but at the same time, supporting your team can be a serious business and that comes across too. The love of the game, the passion for the Gunners, as well as frustrations and raw emotions are all present in equal measure.
What I can say with 100% certainty is that virtually all have revealed information no one will have read before. And you will laugh out loud. Often.
Who did the illustrations?
I approached Jamie Fulker on Twitter (@JFdoodles). He is a cartoonist/artist I have admired for ages and often chatted to about potential projects. I wanted caricatures of a few of the most well-known subjects for the cover and Jamie jumped at the chance. The results are amazing (as you have seen) and I hope this exposure will raise Jamie’s profile as well. I think he has a new website due soon.
Rob Beckett was due to be in the book but had to change his mind because of other commitments – which is a shame, as Jamie’s ‘Beckett’ was quite sensational…
How did the Comic Relief association come about. That’s pretty huge…
As I said earlier: I thought not only was it appropriate, but that it would greatly assist the profile of the book. I also felt (if I am honest) that the link would encourage the comedians to get involved and perhaps do so for free. As it happened, all of them gave of their time voluntarily and not one person asked about a fee for their time.
The publisher wrote to Comic Relief with my proposal and they came back with lots of questions – as you would expect – which we were able to satisfy. Legends Publishing have now signed a contract telling them what elements of the proceeds will go to the charity. I could not be more delighted that my idea became a reality. The charity will get at least £2 for every book we sell now on pre-order and at the launch events we have planned. When you think about the tiny percentages that go from, say, charity Christmas cards – I think that is pretty cool.
Is Arsenal Inc. getting involved in helping to promote the book?
Yes. I have chatted to Mark Gonnella about club support via the shops and website, and will be meeting Andy Exley in the next week or so for a feature in the Matchday Programme (I hope).
Do you have any book signings planned? For your Geordie book you had a few contemporaries appear at signings…
Yes. The book can pre-ordered now, but once published – in late October or early November – there will be events before every home game after that until Christmas, I suspect. This time of course, rather than Geordie’s peers there will be comedians from the book there with me to sign copies. We are hoping for ‘Boro on the 24th October as the first [signing], but, failing that – it will be the NLD on the first weekend in November. The venues will be various pubs etc., but I would imagine we will kick off at The Tollington, who have been hugely supportive.
What’s next for you – got any ideas?
Yes – I have a fairly strong idea of what is next but it is very dependent on the success (or otherwise) of this project so I will keep my counsel for now if that’s okay?
How/where can we get the book?
You can pre-order special editions now – all signed by me – or spend more and get comedian-signed books. Or even ones with a limited number with Jamie’s signed artwork as a print. This is done via a crowd funding site and ordering now gives more to Comic Relief and also funds the publisher printing the first batch. Just click the banner below!
Once published it will be at the launch event, from the Legends site, and from Amazon, Waterstones, WH Smiths etc. all in time for Chrimbo! ☺
Thanks, Dave. Really looking forward to getting my free signed copy. 😉
Wishing you all the best for this book – I’m sure it’ll be a hit.
Paul Hepker (aka invinciblog/batmandela) recently returned to South Africa after a 16-year stint in Hollywood, where he plied his trade as a film and TV composer. He adopted Arsenal in the mid-80′s, and if it doesn’t start behaving soon he’s going to send it to boarding school.
As an ardent Gunner propagandist – he has contributed a number of tongue-in-cheeky images to the Goonerverse – one of which is bound to get him into trouble at some point.