I’ll be honest. I went to meet Bobby Mair expecting not to like him. Watching clips from shows like Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Russell Howard’s Good News, I found his brand of brash, somewhat naive black humour got my back up.
His TV sitcom, Bobby and Harriet Get Married, which he created alongside his now-wife and fellow comedian Harriet Kelmsley, follows a dysfunctional relationship: ‘It’s so unfair. Bobby’s had sex with so many people and I’m the one who gets chlamydia!’ gives you some idea of the set-up.
But in the flesh, Mair has got something about him. And it’s not an ability to make me think jokes about cheating on his girlfriend with prostitutes are suddenly funny. He’s still awkward and unpolished, but charming, too. Scruffy as hell, sure (that beard needs some serious love), but when he fixed me with his piercing blue eyes, watching to see how the jokes will land, I found myself warming to him.
But enough of that. We’re here to talk about his first nationwide show, Loudly Insecure, which comes to London next month. It’s a ‘mixture of the best of the stuff I’ve written and also the story of me finding my biological family,’ he tells me.
Mair, now 32, was adopted as a baby, and grew up in a strained family environment. He always knew he was adopted, and after the death of his adoptive mother, he jumped on a plane in his native Canada and headed to London where he slept on a friend’s couch for five years, all while battling drug addiction and mental health issues. In 2013, he embarked on a quest to find his birth mother, which ended three years later when he found her on Facebook. But he didn’t get in touch straight away – and then she died before he’d made contact.
But that wasn’t where the story ended. Going through his mother’s papers after she died, his biological family discovered his story and got in touch. Turns out they only lived half an hour from where he grew up and that he’s related – albeit distantly – to Justin Bieber.
And so here we have the fuel for Mair’s comedy. It’s only funny because it’s true, and all that. On stage, he’s made his name sharing his innermost feelings, playing his past, his insecurities and the tragic narrative of his adoption story for laughs. ‘I’d say I’m probably better at finding comedy in the tragedy than most people. It’s just easier to laugh.’
He finds that talking about his biological mother in his show creates a two-way dynamic with the audience. ‘People tend to heckle: “my mum’s dead too!”, or “I was adopted!”,’ he says. ‘Somehow me being this honest just opens them up and allows them to share. It’s really interesting how you can create a vibe of openness in a room.’
Is that what drives him? To be a psychiatrist’s couch for fellow screw-ups? Not really. ‘I really like when people do socially-conscious comedy, and I do sometimes, but it’s not the reason I do comedy. I do talk about social issues and personal problems. But the goal is just to be really good.’
In fact, Mair’s pretty certain about the limits of his craft.‘You can’t really affect people with comedy,’ he says firmly. ‘You’re just making them laugh. I think comedy has its limitations – you can’t change anything with comedy. I don’t think satire has ever started a revolution.’
You wonder if the danger for Mair is that if he’s not trying to reach out to audiences or get a message across, he’ll run out of material now he’s happily married, off the drugs and looking after his mental health. Today’s most successful comedians, the newer generation who like Russell Howard or Nish Kumar go on to front shows, step well beyond the personal and use comedy to make a wider social point, to satirise.
He’s not overly concerned. ‘If I became a really happy dad, I’ll let my comedy suffer for some solace. That’ll be nice. What else is there? I’ll happily get fat and have some kids. I don’t care.’
But he’s being disingenuous. He is trying to challenge the status quo – just in his own way. His next project is a disabled road trip-cum-slasher movie, with two comedians with cerebral palsy. ‘I always find when you watch movies, it’s an alternate universe where everyone in the world is a hot white person,’ he explains. ‘Why can’t there be some ugly, weird, not-white people in a movie, who don’t have use of every limb? Can’t we just mix it up a bit?’ He pauses and reflects: ‘It’s not easy to make change happen but it’s nice to make something where you don’t feel like you’re part of the problem.’
Loudly Insecure is touring nationwide, and comes to London’s Soho Theatre on 5, 6, 7 April. For more information, visit bobbymair.net