Culture

We're still standing: comedian Jimmy Cricket heads up our comedy special!

Decades on from his big break, comedian Jimmy Cricket says his style of joke is the new alternative

There’s nothing like having a father who’s an undertaker to set you up for a career in comedy.

James Mulgrew, better known as Jimmy Cricket, was one of the biggest comedy stars of the 1970s and 1980s. Humour was instilled in him from a young age. His father would take him to see Chaplin films in the cinema and variety theatre shows in Belfast.

Cricket remembers his dad’s unique sense of humour. “He imported a Rolls-Royce over from England and had it converted into a hearse to give people a good send-off,” Cricket recalls. “He was coming back from a funeral and two American soldiers were thumbing a lift. He said, ‘Jump in the back!’ then when he was dropping them off a couple of miles later one of them complained, ‘That was a bumpy ride’. And my old man looked at them and said: ‘You’re the first one to get out of there that’s complained!’

“Sadly, he died when I was about eight but my elder brother and sister carried on bringing me to see the live shows. It instilled in me a love of live theatre.”

After leaving school at 16, Cricket, as he’d become, worked a few odd jobs before starting as a Redcoat at Butlin’s in Clacton-on-Sea and pursuing a stand-up career.

Old-fashioned one-liners and gags with a punchline are not seen as much – we’ve become the alternative

“When I was leaving, the entertainment manager said, ‘Where are you going now?’ I said, ‘I’m going to go to London to seek my fortune.’ He said, ‘You’re not Dick Whittington, get up to the north of England, it’s teeming with social clubs, cabaret clubs.’

“There was so much work up and down the country,” Cricket continues. “That gives you so much experience and confidence, it helped you develop. I was blessed to be in that area through the Seventies until I got a break in the early Eighties.”

Wearing a white tuxedo and wellie boots, Cricket appeared on LWT’s talent show Search For A Star, coming second behind magician Wayne Dobson. Another TV appearance on The Good Old Days dressed him in a tailcoat and bowler hat. On the advice of his agent, Cricket purchased the outfit from costumers Bermans & Nathans for £60.

His distinctive style, in look and delivery, made Cricket one of the most famous faces in Britain. His jokes were clean and family-friendly, informed by his Catholic faith (Cricket was awarded a papal knighthood in 2015 for his charity work) and he became part of the established comedy scene that young up-and-coming alternative comedians rebelled against. Three decades on, still performing, Cricket believes the alternative comedy movement has turned full circle.

“Observational humour is what the younger comics do as the whole goal, whereas old-fashioned one-liners and gags with a punchline are not seen as much – we’ve become the alternative,” he says.

“Obviously fashion has changed. There are no theatres on the pier so I’ve had to go where the people have gone. People don’t have to go to a show but they have to eat and sleep so they go to a hotel. I still work Blackpool but I’ve got a residency now in a hotel called the Lyndene, right on the front. If they want to come and see the cabaret, I’m there for them.”

And his popularity sees the guests returning year after year.“So I have to change the odd gag!” he laughs.

Jimmy’s Favourite Jokes

My earliest joke as a kid: They used to have a radio show at lunchtime called Workers’ Playtime. It was to cheer people up during the war but they carried on afterwards. Basically a couple of comics, a singer, and a multi-instrumentalist would go round to a factory and do a little show for the workers. It kept morale going. That’s a great idea for people who have to clock on and clock off. They should bring it back. I’d be up for going around anyway.

I remember one joke was… “A guy runs into a hardware shop and says: ‘Can I have a mousetrap please, and hurry up – I want to catch a bus.’ And the assistant says, ‘I’m sorry sir, we don’t have mousetraps as big as that.’”

I used to go into school and tell those jokes. My lunchtimes prepared me for my career much more than lessons did.

My first big laugh on stage: ‘A letter from my mammy’, always used to be good: “Dear son, I am sending you three socks because you said since you’ve gone away you’ve grown another foot.”

“You won’t recognise the house when you come home. We’ve moved.”

My go-to gag: It would be about my uncle Patrick. He was passing this lake that was frozen over and out of the corner of his eye he saw this guy take a hammer, crack open the ice, get a fishing rod and reel up the biggest fish he ever saw. So he ran over and said, “How did you do that?” The man said, “There’s a little rhyme to help you: Take a hammer to the ice and go, diggety dig, then reel up a fish that’s biggety big.”

So he buys the fishing rod, buys the hammer, has a few drinks. It’s all dark, he’s just about to hammer the ice when he hears this voice: “There are no fish there.” So he looks up and says, “Who is it?” And the voice says, “It’s the manager of the ice rink.”

Jimmy Cricket wrote and stars in No More Fiffing and Faffing at the Empire Theatre, Blackburn, on September 16. For stand-up dates, jimmycricket.co.uk

It’s gags galore in this week’s magazine, as comedians including Bernie Clifton, Su Pollard, Dave Spikey, the Chuckle Brothers, Cannon & Ball and many more share their favourite jokes and funny stories. Plus we celebrate Sooty, as the most famous glove puppet in the word turns 70!There are now just 59 surviving piers around the UK

Image: Getty

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