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JAN
30

INTERVIEW: Tom Allen - 1 Feb 2021

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I’M so used to seeing Tom Allen in a smart suit and tie — on Bake Off: The Professionals, Extra Slice etc. — that I stupidly imagined he’d dress that way for this Zoom call.
Or not so stupidly, as it turns out. Because, yep, up he pops on my screen, dapper as ever, even when he’s just sat at home on his laptop.
Me? I look like I’ve raided one of those bags you see dumped outside the Oxfam shop.
“I’m sorry, Tom, I feel I’ve let the side down,” I sigh, ashamed of my shabby attire. “But then compared to you, doesn’t everyone?”
Tom chuckles. “That’s what I like people to think! But actually, between you and me, I’ve taken to sometimes wearing joggers around the house.
“Maybe that’s your headline right there, Mike.”
We’re actually not here to talk about Tom’s dress sense but about a new show starting on Monday, Mend It For Money, which Tom narrates.
It’s a restoration show with a twist. The clue is in the title. Whenever an item is brought in, two experts compete for the work. The owner hires the one who’s likely to make them the most profit, once the item is sold and the expert has taken their cut.
“It’s got that heartwarming, feelgood factor,” he says, “but with the added fun that comes from cold, hard capitalism!
“When someone finds out their item has fetched loads of dough, well, they’re thrilled. It means they can go on a Viking river cruise!”
Tom also likes the way the show celebrates specialist skills. Its experts will fix anything from a vintage bathtub to a bicycle, from a rocking horse to a record player.
“We get quite a lot of electrical items brought in,” he tells me. “Those can be particularly fiddly. But the experts always find a way.
“If it were me, I’d probably end up handing the owners back a bag of dismantled junk, and going, ‘Sorry, I haven’t mended it. And now it’s broken...’”
So, OK, it’s safe to say Tom’s talents lie elsewhere. But let’s not underestimate their value, especially right now. His performances on Bake Off: An Extra Slice, I tell him, were a lockdown comedy highlight — fantastically rude to the amateur cake-makers, shoving his 2-metre egg-whisk microphone in their faces, but always with a glint in his eye.
That glint is key. Because, keep it yourself, Tom Allen is actually a really nice guy.
“I seem like I’m being very caustic to people,” he says, “but I always want them to laugh with me.”

* Mend It For Money starts Monday Feb 1 at 5pm on Channel 4 and continues daily.
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NOV
11

INTERVIEW: Geoff Norcott 3 Aug 2020

ON Saturday July 4, the day England’s pubs reopened, comedian Geoff Norcott walked straight into his local and ordered himself a pint.
“Mike, it tasted unbelievable,” he assures me. “You know when you build up something in your mind and you’re worried it won’t deliver? Well, believe me, this did.
“It tasted better than I could have dreamt of.”
Posting a picture of it on Twitter, mind you, did earn him a bit of a ribbing. “People gave me stick because it was a Peroni! But hey, just because I’m a Brexiteer doesn’t mean I can’t reach out to other continental nations!”
Covid and its fallout have made this a tough time to be a stand-up comic, with venues forced to shut their doors and some unlikely to reopen.
But Geoff has been rising to the challenge on several fronts. He’s still doing his topical weekly podcast, What Most People Think, where his right-of-centre (but not mad or ranty) take on life has won him tens of thousands of fans. To this he’s now added another level, with extra material for fans who follow him on subscription service Patreon.
And now, would you believe, he’s about to perform his Edinburgh set.
Not at Edinburgh, obviously, but with a three-date online tour at the end of this week. Geoff Norcott's Front Room Fringe, he promises, will be “as much like the Edinburgh experience as possible.
“You know, drink whisky, eat loads of carbs, have an Irn-Bru.”
It’s been driven, Geoff tells me, by the success of his new material gigs. “I’ve been surprised how many people have wanted to talk about what’s been going on,” he tells me.
Geoff’s own views on what’s been going are not as clear-cut as some might expect. While he has no time for people talking about the Government “as though they’re this axe-wielding bunch of murderers,” he won’t let Boris’s bunch entirely off the hook. “They’ve done some things really well,” he says, “and some really badly.”
Still, for a comic it’s probably better that way. Take Geoff’s official take on face masks.
“It seems to me that if you’re happy wearing face masks you’re considered ‘a good person’ — and if you’re not then you’re like Thanos and you want to wipe out half of humanity.
“Personally, I think they’re a massive pain in the a**e. But I’m doing the British thing. I’m wearing one and then moaning and bitching about it the whole time.”
So does Geoff feel his comedy is helping us stay sane in this weird old time?
“Well, I’m very wary of comedians claiming to serve a greater purpose,” he says. “But I do think people appreciate hearing from one who’s more in the line with the majority of the population than most comedians are.
“Not only that, but doing this also helps my own sanity. It’s like therapy.”

 

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