Che Burnley wanted to be a physio for Oldham Athletic. So far, so predictable. But, when he followed in his uncle’s footsteps and moved to Liverpool in the nineties to study, his aspirations changed.
He became Ents Manager at JMU and fell for our city’s charms. “The sports science course I was doing was one of the best in the UK,” he tells us. “So was the night life – Cream, Buzz, The Penny Farthing. It was also close enough to home if it all went tits up…” Larger than life Che quickly became a face around town and could be tuned into on the radio, listened to on a podcast or heard of in and around the Liverpool Comedy Festival. It was only natural, then, that the northern soul should make his move into stand-up sooner rather than later. Let’s find out more about why he’s made the leap of faith…
How did a podcaster (and the rest) make the move to stand-up?
By realising I was hilariously funny, humble and able to list things in threes – the main prerequisites for being a comedian. I was a comedy geek in senior school (not high, we’re not American), reading Fry & Laurie scripts and writing sketches with my mate, Paul. After I got the job at JMU, I put on comedy nights so I could watch for free and then started doing stuff for Radio City, interviewing comedians.
I bet that was fun?
I once wiped an entire half hour recording with Al Murray, the pub landlord! But, I was around comedy so much by then, I just decided to give it a go myself.
What was your first gig like?
It was at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (might as well start big)… to an audience of four, who left after the first two acts. I was third on. I ended up doing my set to the other comics, my girlfriend Lisa and my cousin (see, I can’t help but list things in threes). Halfway through my set a family of four walked in with teenage kids, just as I started doing a load of rude stuff about Lisa. It was like when a sex scene comes on TV and you’re sat with your parents… everyone was squirming, apart from me, I couldn’t stop laughing.
Did you have one of those standard ‘bad’ jokes that all comedians keep in the locker?
I had a real old groaner!
Go on, it might just be the way you tell it…
I went to see the doctor. I got a bit concerned when he started to rub the underside of my balls and started going ‘coochy coochy coo’, so I said: “What are you doing down there?” He looked up: “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s only a test tickle…” To be fair, it fit in with a whole bit I did about health… but mainly it was daft and rude.
We’ve heard worse! Ish. Tell us about your favourite comedians…
Les Dawson and Victoria Wood sound similar to me and were/are funny. Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle are black and funny; Joan Rivers, Reg D. Hunter, Brendon Burns and Frankie Boyle are controversial and funny. To be honest, I like anything with a different perspective from the ‘norm’, when you know the effort of thought behind it. God, that sounds wanky… funny is funny.
Agreed. People seem to think your latest show, ‘Elvis Was Racist?’, is funny, too. It’s going well, then?
It’s going great: people are laughing, the reviews are good and the best thing is chatting with people afterwards about what gets thrown up in the show.
Which is what, exactly?
In 1957, Elvis Presley apparently said: “The only thing Negroes can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes.” Off the back of this, to this day, a lot of black Americans believe he was racist. With what a lot of our celebrities get away with now, I decided to look at if he was and go deeper: how much do we crave dirt on public figures and how much are we willing to let our heroes get away with.
Without giving too much of your show away, how much do you think Elvis got away with at the time?
That depends. If you’re black and living in the deep south of America then, yes, he was racist. However, if you’re Betty Jean Scoggins, president of the Blue Moon of Kentucky Elvis Fan Club (it’s real), probably less so… the truth is a bit more complicated. “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy,” as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote.
You’ve written the comedy too, though…
Well, it’s easy to get a laugh, but harder to control interpretation. I think we all unconsciously rank each other (like ‘Top Trumps’!) and not just on class. We rank each other on race, gender, age, power etc. It’s been said that you should punch up in comedy (attack the perpetrator, not the victim), but now everyone feels they are the victim. Maybe it’s not the status we should punch against, it’s how much of a dick you’re being – don’t be a dick! It’s not the jokes that are difficult… it’s the audiences. Hey, I bet there’s an article in that!
Sounds good. Consider it commissioned. Have you got aspirations for further development of the show?
I’m back up in Edinburgh in August and we’ll be previewing it in Liverpool, at the Unity Theatre, in July. I also think there’s scope to do more than just an hour of stand-up, too, maybe shorts or a full documentary. I’m hoping to get interviews with people like Chuck D, who was one of the catalysts for the show (his lyrics alluding to the fact Elvis was racist), and I think I’ve got a good chance to have a pint with him anyway… I just missed out when they played in Liverpool last December.
Yes – but I stood backstage, near Flavor Flav, so you know…
Pity Elvis isn’t around for a bevvy and a chat.
I don’t know if he’d want to sit with ‘my type’. Though, it would provide the perfect Edinburgh finale to the show if it happened… I could make a fortune selling my story.
‘Elvis Was Racist?’
July 21st 2016, The Unity Theatre, Hope Place
August 6th-27th 2016, Cowgate Head, Venue 32, Edinburgh
Pic courtesy TheCheBurnley.com