Lee Mack: “Like most of the nation, I’m a bit addicted to drinking”

Comedian Lee Mack talks class, late fatherhood - and what happened the first time he kissed a girl

At 16 I was being thrown out of college. I left school at 15 after failing my O-Levels. Everyone I knew went off to the local A-Level college, so I went to resit my O-Levels. It was really about having one more year of being a child. I was still a kid; that’s how I felt. But I only lasted eight weeks before they suggested I leave because I was messing about as if I was still at school. I was a late developer in every aspect. I was the last kid in my year to start shaving, way after I left school. I was the little skinny kid. I would tell my younger self not to worry, you will grow taller. Eventually.

I decided to be a professional jockey. After being thrown out of college, I got home, turned on the TV and horse racing was on. Five minutes later I rang up my local yard and asked to be a stable boy. That is how I led my life for the first 30 years. I have quite an obsessive personality. So I worked for a year with Ginger McCain, and the first horse I sat on was Red Rum. But I was scared of horses.

I would tell my younger self not to feel he is missing out by doing all these non-showbiz jobs – one day he will look back at it as one of the happiest times of his life. I went to Australia, and back when I was 21 I spent a year on the dole convincing myself I could be a professional darts player, worked in a bingo hall and as a Blue Coat at Pontins. I am glad I did all that. I could have got caught up in the showbiz world without experiencing normal things.

I spent a year on the dole convincing myself I could be a professional darts player

The first time I kissed a girl was playing spin the bottle. It was nerve-wracking. Everyone was looking at me, and in the process I accidentally bit her. It was gentle but enough to make her shout: “He’s just bitten me!” So I’d tell my younger self to practise and maybe not have his first kiss in the public arena.

The alternative comedy scene of the 1980s was my version of punk. At school the big thing was The Young Ones and Friday Night Live with Ben Elton. My parents loved it because they were quite rebellious but on the whole that generation hated it, which was part of the appeal. My generation of comics grew up when liking this type of comedy was anarchic.

I would tell my younger self not to assume comedy is for a special type of person. I wanted to do it from the age of 13 but spent the next 13 years thinking that people who did comedy were very special – gurus with the secrets to life. I assumed you couldn’t get on stage unless you were very special, very clever, very worldly wise and had zero insecurities. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Bad things are part of the making of you. I don’t think it is a coincidence that a disproportionate amount of comedians are from broken homes. I went to live with my mum and my brother lived with my dad, so it was a proper carving of the family. You can read my school reports – this kid was top of the class, a proper swot, and then they split up, I moved towns, and started messing about. I would tell my younger self that if he wants to be a professional comedian, then carry on covering your emotions up by cracking jokes. But it might not be the healthiest option.

I would tell 18-year-old Lee that a perm is not a good idea. My dad had one and told me that if I was going to start acting like a real man, I’d need a perm. You don’t get that advice these days.

Like most of the nation, I am a bit addicted to drinking. I grew up in a pub, so it was a big part of our culture. When you start going to pubs, it is brilliant because you are surrounded by adults, you meet girls, you might join the pool club. But it is a big con. We are told that because we are pissed, we are having a great time. It is the other way around: we are having a great time, we just happen to be pissed. I would tell my younger self not to make the mistake of thinking alcohol is a great tool of liberation. Do not assume these great times you are having are because you are drunk.

I was always skint, living day to day. Owning a house is something I would never have dreamt of as a teenager or in my 20s. I was one of life’s eternal renters, so that would blow my mind.
I don’t mind the word ‘mainstream’. The words used to describe my comedy are ‘traditional’, ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘mainstream’, which have negative connotations. I look at the criticism of Mrs Brown’s Boys being old-fashioned or mainstream. You might not like it but it is condescending to the British public to say, ‘It is so bad, most people in this country would like it.’

The words used to describe my comedy are ‘traditional’, ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘mainstream’, which have negative connotations

We are class-obsessed in this country. If you think of Michael McIntyre and Miranda Hart or John Bishop and Peter Kay – they have got very class-specific accents. They are either very middle class or very working class. That is not a coincidence. The big names rarely have a neutral class definition.

As you get older with kids you get more political without realising it. The oldest cliché in the world is that as you get older you get more right-wing. I find that odd because as you get older, you worry about your kids and you want them to be in a fairer, nicer, safer world. If you can make the world fairer, your children will be more safe. And you associate more caring politics with a left-of-centre stance.

I waited fairly late to have kids. I am 46 and my eldest is 10. Nowadays, 36 isn’t massively late but I would probably have kids earlier because it has been so great. I now have a three-year-old – and I have more time but less energy.

Ten years ago I was working on the pilot for my sitcom Not Going Out – today I’m working on a Christmas special. If you are on a council estate in Blackpool, where I grew up, you aren’t told you can be on TV. Spreading the TV industry to studios in Salford, Glasgow and Cardiff has been great. There should be school trips to the local television station, to show jobs in the media are for anyone.