Henry Paker is not just a stand-up comedian. No, he has three strings to his bow: stand-up, writing and illustration. For years he has focused on them individually – he drew as a child, went into stand-up as an adult, and from there, was promptly propelled into the comedy writing circuit.
Having written for the likes of Michael McIntyre’s Big Show and Mock The Week , Paker realised that if he combined his three gifts, he’d have one creative, innovative and pretty hilarious show. Enter his debut solo tour: Man Alive. Throughout the show, Paker draws cartoons alongside the stand-up. The skill of the artist is subjective to the individual, but the symbiotic relationship between illustration and comedy cannot be denied. Just as you’re beginning to tire of the drawings, Paker immediately returns with funny gags on well-worn themes – marriage, middle-class struggles, so on and so forth. He’s not going to change the world, but you’re guaranteed to chuckle and think: “I do that too!” The gig opens with him sketching a cartoon on his MacBook, linked to a big screen, along to The Beatles’ Nowhere Man. “It’s quite tense, very tense actually. There are shortcuts [on Photoshop] like alt-5 to open the pen and sometimes I just completely forget the shortcut… I haven’t buggered it up yet though.” This anxiety is certainly not seeping into his performance; the Edinburgh Fringe shows were a sell-out and Paker is so pleased that he is planning on developing the format for future shows.
His current focus then is on his solo writing. “Strangely enough though, writing for someone else is easier…
“When you look at someone else, you know who they are. You can see them and hear them, and who they are to you makes coherent sense, and therefore who they are in terms of writing makes coherent sense. But who am I? What’s the writing I need? I don’t know how I sound and look… It’s easy to get lost in huge, existential identity crisis when writing for yourself.”
How, then, does he pull himself out of the black hole that is self-exploration and find his voice? His six previous Fringe shows have supplied the foundation blocks, but it’s inferred that his wife, a writer in her own right, has really helped cement the uniqueness of his stand-up. Not only does she supply some of the comedic material – there’s a gag about how much he loves her, but also how much he loves having the house to himself when she is gone – but she also helped direct the show. For a man who would consider himself to have solitary tendencies, having part of his creative team living in-house is a blessing and has clearly helped refine his writing. He assures me that, even though she has heard all the gags at her expense on countless occasions, they are still happily married. Probably due to all the time she spends out of the house. Will Paker ever fully return to the comedy writing circuit?
When we speak, he is on his way to continue work on a Radio 4 program, but he tells me that he would love to create an animated series, such as Rick and Morty. There is a cartoon narrative in Man Alive about love and loneliness, and it seems that, in his future projects, Paker would like to develop his knack for story-telling. Who knows, maybe he has a couple of other talents up his sleeve that even he doesn’t know about yet. I have a sneaking suspicion that there’s more to this cynical, introverted comic than meets the eye.