Jasper Carrott thought he was finished with comedy, but after going back to his roots he’s enjoying stand-up more than ever before.
The 74-year-old Brummie became disillusioned with the business and took a long sabbatical after a tour of South Africa in 2000.
It was only when his childhood friend, Bev Bevan of Electric Light Orchestra, suggested they do some shows together that Jasper rediscovered his love of performing.
“As I was coming home from South Africa I realised I hadn’t enjoyed it as much as I should have and I took a break, which became a long break, and I didn’t miss it all,” said Jasper, who began his career in folk clubs in 1969.
“Bev and I met at grammar school and we’re best friends. We’ve known each other for 60 years and were each other’s best man at our weddings, but we had never worked together.
“We put together some shows, where I do a half hour of comedy, then there is a half hour of music, then the same again with me joining in on the music at the end.
“It was a revelation for me and I remembered why I used to do this. I got all of the excitement back.
“I’m no longer doing arenas, I’m performing to around 1,200 and it took me back to when it was really thrilling, eyeball to eyeball with the audience.
“I’ve never enjoyed performing as much as I do now, and I don’t think I’ve ever performed better.
“I’m not doing it for the money, because I’m in the lucky position where I don’t need to. I’m doing it because it’s so enjoyable.”
Jasper was a fixture on TV throughout the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s in ratings winners like Carrott’s Commercial Breakdown, Canned Carrott, The Detectives and game show Golden Balls.
He was also part-owner of production company Celador, makers of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, and in 2006 Jasper and wife Hazel sold their shares for £10 million.
While he’s financially well-off for life, he had a health scare just over 18 months ago when he underwent heart bypass surgery.
“It did make me think how long I have left,” he admitted. “I thought I would go on forever, but something like that makes you confront mortality. I felt pretty well before I was told I required the surgery. What I believed was indigestion was actually angina.
“The cardiologist said my heart was fine, and if I had the operation I would live for years and years, so I took him at his word.
“Hopefully, in 20 years’ time, I’ll still be performing and will have taken over from Ken Dodd.”
Jasper was one of the first comedians to play arenas, something much more commonplace these days as stand-up has become a multi-million pound business.
“I saw the revolution coming, but I didn’t know how it was going to manifest itself,” Jasper continued. “The technology wasn’t there in the ’80s – we didn’t have the necessary sound equipment or screens, and we looked like ants on stage.
“People had paid £15 to watch me on a TV, so I lost that little bit of contact with the audience.
“I remember doing the Royal Albert Hall, which holds about 6,000, and thinking ‘blimey’. It was fine but I felt it lacked something and now I know, having gone back to the smaller theatres, that it was harder to connect with people.”
The last time he was in Glasgow was in 1998, so Jasper is looking forward to this evening’s show as part of the Glasgow International Comedy Festival.
“When the festival approached me, I asked if they reckoned I could pull in a crowd. I’ve always been worried about my pulling power.
“I grew up in a time when English comedians in Glasgow weren’t so well received. It’s tough for comedians there, because in Glasgow everyone is a comedian!
“I’ve never died in Glasgow, and hopefully that’s the case this time.”
He added: “I know I’m not the most gifted comedian but I can make it work if I put enough into it.
“I see comedians with more funny bones but they don’t work at it and then ask why they are not as successful.
“Comedy is so easy for them that they don’t have to think about it, so in a way I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had to work at it.”
Jasper Carrot, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, tonight