It’s a little known fact that comedian Chris Ramsey owes his first big break in telly to fellow comic Russell Kane’s loud taste in clothes.
The Wearside comic, who now stars in BBC2 sitcom Hebburn, with Vic Reeves, got his first ever TV booking, a slot on Russell Howard’s Good News, thanks to the fact that flamboyant Essex boy Kane had worn too bright an outfit.
He laughs: “I was only doing the stand in bit - apparently something technical had went wrong with someone’s stand up clip so they were like, ‘Right, we need someone to do a contingency one.’ So I was literally only doing the contingency one.
“Then someone else’s went wrong. It was Russell Kane - a camera issue. He’d worn something that had strobed on camera.
“I wasn’t even expecting to be on but then Russell phoned us up and said, ‘What happened with yours, how much exposure did it get you?’ And I said, ‘It hasn’t been on, mine only goes on if someone else messes up.” And he said, ‘It’ll be going on tonight then....’”
But Kane was gracious about it. Ramsey says: “Russell Kane had been helping me from the start, he got me signed to (top comedy agency) Avalon and he got me on support slots with him so he was actually over the moon. He was like, ‘I’m so happy it’s you!’”
It’s been a rollercoaster ride for Ramsey since, in 2007, he first got up at an open mic comedy night while still a student at the University of Sunderland. By the following year, he was nominated for the Chortle Student Comedian of the Year Award and it was only in 2010 that he took his first full show, Aggrophobic, about his horror of getting drawn into fights, to Edinburgh.
Since then, his comedy career has hit the stratosphere. Apart from his central role in Hebburn alongside comedy icon Reeeves, he is now a regular face on outrageous pop show, Celebrity Juice, and has also appeared on every panel show that matters, including Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Mock the Week, 8 Out of 10 Cats, Argumental and Show and Tell.
He laughs when told that his is the life of a completely jammy swine and grins: “Yeah, it’s mental isn’t it? I completely agree.”
Celebrity Juice, a programme some comedians reportedly fight shy of because of the anarchy which generally reigns, seems to gel perfectly with Ramsey.
He grins: “It’s just so crazy, even crazier than it looks on TV, it’s just mayhem and it’s so much fun to do. Sometimes I sit there and think, ‘Is this really my job?’ So bizarre.”
He’s even blase about the regular appearance of host Keith Lemon’s genitalia. He laughs: “Obviously, it’s a fake one but it’s very funny. It actually smells really nice! I had a mess around with it the other day, it smells amazing, like new shoes!
“A lot of comedians have trouble on Celebrity Juice trying to fit into the mould. It’s hard to get a word in edgeways sometimes - but I absolutely love it.”
Hebburn was written by his friend, comedian Jason Cook, but Ramsey was not originally intended as the lead. He says: “Jason is my best mate, I’m godfather to his daughter. And one day, he said, ‘I’m writing a sitcom.’ I went, ‘Brilliant.’
“He let us read a couple of draft scripts, then he said: “I’ll write you a part.” I just kept hearing updates, like “Baby Cow are involved, that BBC are involved, blah blah blah,...and it just got bigger and bigger.
“He wrote me a part called Ramsey and I auditioned and got that. But then they said, ‘Will you read for the main part as well?’ The main part is based on Jason and this Ramsey part was loosely based on me.
“And I ended up getting the Jason part and he got the Ramsey part so we play each other!”
The calls kept coming from Cook - and Ramsey says it really didn’t sink in until late in the game how big his mate’s sitcom was getting. Ramsey says: “In one, he was like, ‘We think we’re going to get Vic Reeves.’ I was like, ‘Holy crap!’
“But, the way I found it all out, it didn’t feel like a work thing. When I did Russell Howard’s Good News or anything else, I’d get a phone call off my manager or an email saying you’re doing this.
“But with Jason, it just felt like I was doing a mate a favour. The only time it finally clicked in my head that it was a big BBC2 primetime sitcom was when I was watching BBC2 and an advert for it came on - which I’d done the voiceover for!”
Working with Reeves, he says, was an honour - and less annoying than you might imagine. He says: “He’s not Vic Reeves all the time - he’s Jim Moir. If he was that character all the time, he’d be a total pain.
“Most people are just themselves most of the time but then every so often, on set, he’ll go into it.
“And there’s always a little part in your head going, God, that’s VIC REEVES!!”
There has been one casualty of his success. When Ramsey first appeared, his hairstyle was a kind of supercharged indieboy affair which, while achingly trendy, would certainly slow you up in a windtunnel.
Although his Wikipedia page still claims it won him the entirely fictitious Newcastle Hairstyle of the Year Award 2012 (added by an unknown internet wag and left there by Ramsey for fun) - the hair itself has been considerably toned down.
But he insists he’s not kowtowing to naysayers - it’s solely a maintenance issue. He says: “Can you imagine having to do that every single day? To get up every day and think, on tour, where am I going, can I wear my hat later on, will I have to do my hair? It’s just a pain - so I’ve toned it down a bit.
“People have been saying, ‘Get your hair cut,’ for years! I’ve never cared. It’s all about personal upkeep - about the time I put into it. To hell with the opinions!”
He brings his show, Feeling Lucky, to 53 Degrees this Wednesday - and it’s a trip down Memory Lane for Ramsey who, while still climbing the comedy circuit ladder, hosted the venue’s Stand and Deliver comedy club night back in 2009.
He recalls: “It was one of the first proper big gigs that I did. You had to do all these rubbish ones first to prove that you werent rubbish and then you got that big one.
“I thought it was a great venue and I know it’s a really good music venue as well. I’m really looking forward to going back there with my own show.”
Chris Ramsey - Feeling Lucky is at 53 Degrees on Wednesday May 15. Tickets are £15 on 01772 893000.