"I COULD HAVE STABBED SOMEONE"

Thankfully, for comedian Darren Harriott, gigs got the better of gangs – and now the TV star is headlining at Hockley Social Club

If Darren Harriott was American, Disney would have snapped up his life story a long time ago. The boy from the Black Country ran with gangs in his teenage years and – as he admits in this candid chat – life could have turned out very differently. The 34-year-old then juggled security work with stand-up comedy, often finishing a gig only to start a night shift. A big break came thanks to BBC staple Live At The Apollo, with Darren performing at the iconic Hammersmith venue where he’d previously worked as a bouncer, to make for that delicious Hollywood moment. Darren is now a huge TV star, fronting, co-hosting or captaining the likes of Love Island AftersunGuessableBritain's Top Takeaways and much more. He headlines Close-Up Comedy at Hockley Social Club on September 29 in what will prove both a homecoming and – as he reveals – another stepping stone to permanently returning to the Second City…

Straight off the bat – why is there not more live comedy in Birmingham?
It always bugs me! Birmingham is so big – more than a million people. There’s a comedy festival, but barely anyone hears about it. Brummies need to come together a bit more. Look at Leicester: it’s smaller than Birmingham, but look how well respected and well-funded their festival is. There’s also not as many gigs in Birmingham as there should be. It could all change quite easily – imagine if Joe Lycett promoted a comedy festival in Birmingham. Even that would make a massive difference.

It's odd, especially when so many Birmingham comedians spring to mind: Joe, yourself, Frank Skinner, Jasper Carrott…
What often happens with comedians is that they have to leave Birmingham in order to make it in comedy, which is sad. Given Birmingham’s location – in the centre – it should be perfect. Really, you have to move to London or Manchester. If you want to make it, you have to leave and then come back. Joe Lycett went to Manchester, then London and is now back in Birmingham. I want to go back to Birmingham now because I feel I can do the two. Let alone Birmingham, the Midlands scene isn’t good enough.

If this new Hockley gig can become a success, at least that’s a welcome addition?
The room looks great and is in a very fun and upbeat area of Birmingham; Hockley is really on the way up. It could be a really fun gig. Comedians will gig anywhere. Show me a room with an interesting stage? I am there! We’re easy people. I’m really looking forward to it and the line-up is great.

You’re now the face of Birmingham thanks to various campaigns – what is that like?
I’ve done a lot of stuff for Birmingham this year. I did the Peaky Blinders videos for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, I’ve done voiceovers for Birmingham and other campaigns, which is great. People then think I hate Birmingham – I love Birmingham! Everything that has ever meant anything to me all started in Birmingham. My first job, comedy gig and my first pals – all in Birmingham. I’m glad that more filming is now happening there, although it’s also quite sad; the only reason they’re doing it is because it’s cheaper than London. I’m excited to move back and become a better entertainer and a comedian – I’ll have a garden! It takes you away from things and feels like home. London never felt like home.

You escaped gangs and have become such a success – do you get asked to give talks at schools in Birmingham?
We did arrange a talk at a school and they cancelled twice. But I definitely would. I feel I could talk to kids, especially at ‘rough’ schools where there are gangs. I wouldn’t even tell kids that school is everything; it can put so much pressure on them. You need to be more prepared for life outside school. I got my results and thought: “What am I going to do?!” And then that feeling becomes a distant memory. I could have gone down a very bad route; I could have been stabbed, I could have stabbed someone, I could have been killed, I could have been in prison. There’s a lot of kids from all over who are teetering on that. Sometimes it’s just down to who you’re hanging out with.

Is it true that you worked as a bouncer at the Hammersmith Apollo, and then did Live At The Apollo?
Yes! It was pretty crazy. I knew with the money from the Apollo that I could go full-time as a comedian. So I left working as a bouncer there, and left another company where I worked nights (as a security guard). I’d always kept it quiet that I did comedy. I never wanted to tell anyone I was part-time, or else I’d lose work. I remember turning up to record Live At The Apollo and I knew everyone who worked there. I actually ended up saying that on stage, but hadn’t planned to. To do that show was amazing and I’ll never forget it. I also used to work at the Roundhouse (in Camden) and then returned there to make Backstage With Katherine Ryan for Amazon. I also remember auditioning for Stand Up Central with Russell Howard, and I was wearing my security uniform because I was then going on to do a shift. A while later, I was doing a shift at a university and Comedy Central came on the TV. My Stand Up Central set was about to come on and I had to quickly turn the TV off. The last thing I needed was a bunch of students seeing that and saying: “What on earth is going on?!” I didn’t need that in my life.

You must have had an offer for your life story from TV?
We’ve had a few chats and I’m writing something for the BBC at the moment. It’s early days. It’s set in Birmingham and the Black Country. I want to bring something that feels true to me and the people of the area.

Is the move back to Birmingham signed, sealed and delivered?
I’m filming a big show through the winter and then once I’m finished doing that – and Love Island – the plan is to move summer or autumn next year. It’s definitely on the cards. I’ll get a house, drive and garden and rep Birmingham from there. It’ll be nice to have a garden – and quiet neighbours. 
 
Darren plays Hockley Social Club on September 29. Tickets

MORE BRUM GOODNESS