Justin Moorhouse - comic with a Northern soul heads to Yorkshire

Justin Moorhouse is at the Square Chapel in Halifax on Saturday night.
Justin Moorhouse is at the Square Chapel in Halifax on Saturday night.
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Comedian Justin Moorhouse is embracing his northerness in his new show. Ahead of his Yorkshire gigs he spoke to Nick Ahad.

Comedian Justin Moorhouse wants you to know that he doesn’t mind talking about the TV show for which he is perhaps best known.

Moorhouse, a highly regarded stand up on the circuit, came to wider prominence when he was cast as Young Kenny in Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights.

Memorably Young Kenny spent every episode from episode eight wearing tiger facepaint. A mix-up meant non-washable paint was used and he subsequently spent the rest of the series with a tiger face.

As with many who are known for one particular role, despite having plenty of other credits on his CV, you wonder if Moorhouse might be a little sore to be asked about painting his face as a tiger? Is he fed up of it?

“I honestly don’t get fed up talking about it,” says Moorhouse.

“You sometimes hear actors who have been in Corrie or Brookside and now they’re doing a regional tour of a production of an Agatha Christie play or whatever and you hear them say that they don’t want to talk about their time on the soaps. No one cares that you’re in ABC Murders at the Doncaster rep. They want to hear you talk about your time in the Rovers Return, that’s what gets you through the door.”

Truth is, I had heard Moorhouse being interviewed a couple of weeks before our chat and he was a little spiky when the subject of Young Kenny was raised. Perhaps I caught him in a different mood.

“I’d watched and enjoyed That Peter Kay Thing that Peter had made and everyone on the circuit knew that he was making another show and everyone was asking him for a part,” he says. “One night I was doing a gig with Peter and he was really nice and I just asked how I would go about getting an audition. He told me that I was the only person who he knew on the circuit who had asked for an audition, not just asked him to put them in the show, so because of that I was invited along for an audition.”

At the audition Moorhouse, like the vast majority of people who would go on to be cast in Phoenix Nights, fully realised just how lacking he was in experience.

“In the room he gave me some lines to read and then said ‘great can you do it like this?’ and ‘that was good can you do it like that?’. Afterwards I realised that what he was doing was checking we could take direction. We were all comics so they knew we were funny, but none of us were trained actors, so they didn’t know if we could actually listen and take direction.”

He could and the rest is a tiger face-painted history. When people use the phrase ‘hardest working person in showbiz’ it transpires they ought really to speak to Moorhouse and check his diary. When he started out Moorhouse went at stand up like a man possessed. Racking up 250 gigs in his first year is a phenomenal amount. “I had a family to support and a mortgage to pay,” he says.

It is still a ridiculous number, especially given that he gave it a go at a famous Manchester comedy club called the Frog and Bucket, almost on a whim. The whim paid off and now Moorhouse is currently touring the country with his latest show, called Northern Joker.

It turns out Moorhouse has serious reasons for calling a comedy show Northern Joker.

“Every review I have ever had, good bad or indifferent, has referred to the fact that I’m Northern. I am a middle aged, middle class white man. Life has dealt me a pretty good hand, life is pretty good. I don’t have anything to complain about. But, the only prejudice I have ever come across is when people review my shows and call me ‘a Northern comedian’. Often I get reviews that will say ‘despite the fact that he has no racist, sexist or homophobic material, he is very much a northern, working class comedian.

“It made me quite grumpy. I’d get frustrated that all these reviews always referred to the fact that I’m a Northern comic. But then I realised through just becoming more stoic about it, that you control the controllables. So I decided this show would embrace that Northern thing and in this show I talk a lot about being a Northerner.”

When Moorhouse brings his show to the Square Chapel Halifax tomorrow night it continues an impressive run of form for the newly refurbished venue. Last month I was asked to host an event with stand up Norman Lovett, better known to millions as Holly from Red Dwarf. The event involved a screening of an episode of the sitcom and a half hour set of comedy from Lovett and it was a slightly unexpected sell out.

Later this month Mark Thomas will be bringing his Check Up Our NHS @ 70 show to the venue and the autumn visit to Square Chapel of Arthur Smith, one of the godfathers of British comedy, has been announced.

Justin Moorhouse Northern Joker – Justin realises he has little in common with his daughter as his references are mainly from the Beano and Dandy. It makes him wonder about when he was younger he was scared of Russians, the White House was run by someone he saw as a madman and he’d never been to Europe. He begins to think that he may have more in common with a teenager of today than he first thought.

February 9, Square Chapel, Halifax. February 28, The Wardrobe, Leeds. March 23, The Civic, Barnsley. May 5, Harrogate Theatre Studio.

Full details for all shows at www.justinmoorhouse.com