Originally not aired on ??/??/????
They say don’t meet your heroes, don’t they?
The reason they give: you’ll be let down. They won’t be the person you think they are. The image you have of them is just that: an image, a projection of what you want them to be. In that image, you’ve stripped them of their humanity, because here’s a secret about human beings that they don’t teach you in Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, GCSE or A-level: they have flaws. Humans are selfish and spiteful and egotistical. They’re insecure. They’re malicious. They hurt others for no reason other than to make themselves feel more powerful and well endowed.
And I know you’re thinking, “But Eric, I did learn about this in GCSE, probably even in Key Stage 3. Like we learn how flawed people are in books in English Literature and also History, thinking about it.” But this is just another example of what I’m talking about, your ego coming into play, trying to undermine me, trying to make this unrecorded podcast all about you. People are absolute shitmunchers.
What I’m saying is: your heroes are flawed too. And when you meet them, you’ll see this, and it’ll be awkward and you’ll have to make up an excuse and leave.
But what if you knew your hero before they became your hero? What if they became your hero because of the way you admire how they carry themselves in the real world, how they never complain, how they keep their integrity in a world that’s gone absolutely flipping MAD? What if you’ve seen what they’re like as a person and that’s exactly what inspires you?
At this point, most people reading this will be like, “Oooh, I know what you mean, Eric. My Mum’s my hero too.” Fuck that shit. I’m not talking about my Mum.
My hero is a man and a Brummie and a comedian called James Cook. Luckily, he’s also today’s guest on the unrecorded podcast, Comedians In Edinburgh Getting Chai Lattes. An absolute VETERAN of stand-up comedy, in James’s 20+ years of performing he’s gone so under the radar that his career is now being looked at closely by intelligence agencies.
“They want to know how it’s possible to go so unnoticed,” he explained. “They think it could potentially help them in future stealth attacks against foreign dictators.”
“Fascinating stuff,” I replied.
In terms of profile in comedy, James is a household name, but unfortunately for my hero, only when followed by the surname Acaster. In fact, the only time you’ll hear the words “James” and “Cook” expressed together in a household environment is when his wife resentfully demands that he turns the oven on and makes himself useful.
“When we first met 20 years ago, I promised her I was gonna be a star,” he told me. “Now the only thing keeping her from going is the fact I can make a mean lasagne.”
“But the thing is, Eric, you’ve got to adapt, learn new things. That’s what I’ve done. Sure, I’m not a star, but I couldn’t cook for shit when I was younger, and look at me now.”
I’m not quite sure why James isn’t more appreciated by the industry. In my eyes, he’s an absolute master of the form. He’s a complete natural. The best comics don’t spoon feed you their jokes, they disguise them, and James is such a pro that he dresses his up as confused, incoherent rants with no discernible punchlines. It’s brilliant to watch and I feel like I learn something every time I see him perform.
“What keeps you going, James?” I asked, admiringly. “Why don’t you just give up, call it quits, chuck in the towel, admit to yourself that it’s not gonna happen?”
“Well,” he said, “I love the circuit, Eric. And as long as I can contribute to it, I will. Trust me, I’ve tried being bitter. I’ve tried being resentful and mad at the world for not giving me the big breaks. Maybe it’s an age thing, but now I’ve come to realise that life is about just being a good person. Doing what you can do, helping where you can. I spend every day trying to be a better person, and it’s much more fun than the alternative.”
This is the main reason I love James: he’s a wise-ass motherfucker. And when I think about the Birmingham circuit, where James and I are both based: everyone loves James. I’ve never heard anyone have anything but respect and admiration for him. He’s always got time for anyone, whether they’re a big-time pro comedian or someone who’s just started. If you’re worried about something, he’ll give you advice and maybe even a few sweets. He even runs comedy courses for new comedians in Birmingham, and the acts that come through his courses help keep the local scene alive.
When I think about my own life and career and aspirations, I look at James and think: man, it would be cool to be like him.
See you next time! X