Standing up for children’s comedy

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Popular children’s stand-up comedian, James Campbell, talks about his new live tour, performing at the Queen’s birthday party and life as a young parent.

A budding young writer since the age of seven with even earlier aspirations of becoming a ‘duck’, James’ weird and wonderful storytelling show has made him a big success.

Creating comic material for children is no easy feat, but James excels at his quirky craft.

“I was reading lots of stories as a kid,” James recounted, “and any normal child would say ‘this is brilliant, I love stories’, but I’d say ‘I need to control this’, so I started making my own stories and haven’t really stopped.”

In fact, James’ humour is adaptable for all ages, with many of his tales deriving from his own life.

“A lot of the show is about my experiences, but also a lot of it is surreal. At the moment I talk about lollypop ladies turning evil and biting children, which hasn’t happened in my experience – but you never know.

“I just like to point out the absurd nature of life as a child.”

Here, there and everywhere, James has performed internationally, including New York’s Broadway, the West End, all the major festivals like Adelaide, Melbourne and Edinburgh. Impressively, he was the only children’s comedian to perform at the Montreal ‘Just For Laughs Festival’.

“At the time I was the only one in Montreal doing something for kids.

“I figure if you’re going to write some joke material, why exclude children from it?”

Finding that much of today’s comedy is teetering on the mainstream, James tries to keep his material original.

“Some comedians talk about electrical appliances, like ‘I hate my toaster’ – yeah, we all hate our toasters.

“But I don’t push boundaries too much, I just want everybody to have a lovely funny time.”

Now with a six-year-old of his own, James maybe a fun-loving dad, but he remains uncertain that his little boy understands what his unusual career entails.

“He’s still getting his head round it, so I don’t normally let him in to see the act – I don’t know what he’d do [laughs].

“Sometimes when I’m touring he comes along and helps me with the sound check, then I’ll give him to a nanny to take him to the park for an hour.

“He’d probably try and get up on the stage if he was there. Maybe he’ll be ready for it next year.”

James knows how to deal with kids, particularly the unruly ones, but where most comedians fear the dreaded heckler, James embraces it.

He spoke in jest. “Unfortunately, in this country only middle class children tend to go to the theatre and they don’t heckle.

“There’s good heckles and bad heckles – so if I start talking about cats, I’ll ask if anybody has a cat, then I want people to shout out that they have a cat and it’s called Ninja.

“I want that – I need the heckling.

“I think it should happen more, because sometimes it’s just not good enough [laughs].”

One of James’ huge achievements in his career was performing for the Queen’s birthday party.

“We did a big thing in the gardens at Buckingham Palace.

“There was an audience of 2,000 people there and my job was to look after them until the television cameras went on – so I handed over to Jonathan Ross just as it went live and then I went home [laughs], it was an odd gig.”

Bringing his tour to the Cranleigh Arts Centre this month, James promises each gig to be different from the last.

“I don’t have a fixed show. I wait and see who’s in the audience. You can’t expect the same show twice, otherwise I’d get very bored.”

With an audio CD available now on Amazon and having achieved a book deal with Hodder, James’ prosperous future in comedy is no joke.

Catch him live at Cranleigh Arts Centre on Friday, February 22, at 2pm. The performance is suitable for children over the age of six.

Tickets cost £7. Call the box office on 01483 278000 or book tickets online at www.cranleighartscentre.org.

Visit James’ website at www.thejamescampbell.com.