Interviewing Comedian Justin Moorhouse

Justin Moorhouse muses on his own position as a middle-aged white man, catholic yoga and raising teenagers.

Justin Moorhouse’s new comedy show is called Stretch and Think, named after his daughter’s school yoga lessons: “Because that’s the world we live in now”. But she is at a strict catholic school, so they don’t call it yoga (because of the Buddhist affirmations), instead, they called it stretch and think… 

The name of the show also comes, in part, from Justin’s existentialism about reaching middle age. He says he used the time during the lockdowns to reassess and accept a few things about himself and has accepted his demise after realising he has reached his ‘best before date’. He doesn’t want the show to be a pandemic show; it is not about the pandemic but about the opportunity it gave him to think about his life. He tells me, “Sometimes I think the biggest thing for me that came out of the last couple of years is that we decided what was important and people made massive decisions about their lifestyles and things like that”. 

Essentially the show is about Justin. It is him working some things out; “I am a middle aged, white, straight man with all the privilege that comes with that.” Cue; stretch and think. He is aware it is difficult to talk about privilege because it is easy to say the wrong thing and be misquoted. Using himself as the butt of his own jokes is essentially fine because it gives him licence to talk about himself in a disparaging way. He muses “But occasionally you do problem push against people who are less advantaged than you in life. So, you have to accept that you’re doing that from a point of privilege. It doesn’t mean you can’t make jokes about it, but you have to be aware.”

Justin pauses for a moment and announces, “You could say that the overarching theme of the show is the Patriarchy”. As he is a middle-aged man and active member of the patriarchy, I’m somewhat amazed when he elaborates; “Take a look at the state of it. The patriarchy is awful. I mean, it’s so bad. Look at what’s going on in the world. Right now, our prime minister is the worst example of a middle-aged man. Putin is a terrible middle-aged man…why do men suddenly think that when they get to this point in life, just at the point where they go off the boil, when they become less than desirable, they actually think themselves more so?” I am now especially intrigued because it is rare to hear a man talking about privilege or the patriarchy with such candidness. Without hesitation he continues, “You can only really be a middle-aged man. And once you’ve accepted that, we, middle aged men, are entirely pointless.” 

According to Justin, for a very brief moment men have purpose in their part of the continuation of the species, and when they have delivered this end of the bargain their purpose ceases. He thinks we are no longer hunter gatherers; at best we are click and collectors. To Justin we are all like little kings.. “living in our houses, which are like the Palace of Versailles, asking people to bring us things. And it’s exactly the same way as that kind of bloated French aristocracy.” 

At the time of writing, he is blaming mums (take this with a pinch of salt). In particular, mums who treat their little boys like princes. He uses his children to hammer home the point. His son is 25 and his daughter is 17. With seven years difference between them he thought at first it was a reflection on the way society had changed in between them growing up. But he realises now that it is simply that girls mature faster than boys. It almost as if Justin didn’t know much about girls until he had one. He grew up with three brothers and a much younger sister who they babied.  

He wouldn’t call his mother a feminist; she is an angry northern working-class woman who isn’t into gender politics. Using the term on himself, he is also a little wary. Will a small amount of trepidation he does say he thinks of himself as a feminist because for him feminism means equality and quality of choice and chance and realises that at the moment there isn’t an equality of opportunity. His daughter, who is co-host of Justin’s Podcast “About 30 minutes, no more than 45” has taught him a lot and he holds a huge amount of respect for her. He admires her feistiness and funniness, as she will not accept some of the things that his peers or women his age have had to accept. Smiling, he tells me that his daughter has taught him more than anything. In particular that the kind of ironic humour, about race or gender, when it’s in the same space with friends, “isn’t great, especially as it numbs the effect when you hear it in the ‘real world’”. 

Reflecting on his position, not just as a parent but as a middle-aged man, has provided him with fuel for his new show alongside a more intimate reflection on his own life. Working out why he wants to make people laugh through therapy has given him more insight into his own life as well. This self-acceptance appears to have led to a wider evaluation of the position of those like him in society. The awareness of his own positionality and the privilege that comes with that is rare, especially amongst those who are positioned at the top of society through their gender, ethnicity or age. 

It seems that his insight into the challenges of the patriarchy have come through the women closest to him. Having a teenage daughter has given him unparalleled insight into the difficulties and challenges of being a teenage girl today, and how she is set back a step compared to her older brother despite being more emotionally mature than him. I ask him what the differences are between girls and boys: “You look at little boys and little girls in on the whole, you know, generally, boys are dumb, little dummies, where we are emotionally and physically more immature than girls are. The same ages, we developed slowly. And I think once we get to equality we’ve spent so far being behind I think we think we gotta be in charge.”

Obviously Justin is a comedian not a sociologist, but his use of comedy to highlight the violence on women and the dominance of men in positions of power is significant. His clever and poignant unravelling of the patriarchy is both illuminating and unusual, offering an unusual perspective.  

Take for example his joke about the menopause. For many women the menopause is a painful and difficult time taken up with fraught battles with doctors and work. A woman talking about the menopause will probably linger on details like the side affects on their physical and mental health, and the lack of medical care or research. Comparably we see the other side through Justin’s sketch, which depicts the side-lined husband going into old age without a list of ailments which produce sympathy from doctors and colleagues. He is left with crushing existential doubt and uptakes cycling and running (or buying a soft-top) to compensate for his declining masculinity. 

Justin says, “I genuinely think that men are jealous of women having them and they go ‘What can I be? What can I have? Well, what about me?.” He says it would have been very easy to write a show about those guys, the ones that get left behind in the hierarchy of suffering. But he finds those people, the ones complaining, “quite upsetting”. 

I ask him if he ever gets worried about how his sketches will go down, especially considering the demographic in this one. Unsurprisingly, he says no. His creative process involves taking the nucleus of an idea and giving birth to it onstage. It is a clumsy process, and he often gets it entirely wrong. He writes his new material whilst on stage, forming it as he goes and every few shows gets it transcribed. In one of these recent shows, he was trying to make a new joke work. He tells me the nucleus of this idea involved people coming to this country seeking refuge for a better life and being treated badly by authorities and people. It involves him exploring power and role reversal through a sketch about a car wash. He explains, “Now, when I go to have my car washed. And one of these people are often washing the car, and they’re telling me drive forward, drive back, stop, I forget how to drive the car.” Unsurprisingly, it didn’t go down too well when he tried it out on a new material night in Leeds recently. A woman took umbrage with him about it. He tried to explain he was coming from a place of good intention and as he was getting more and more exasperated as he tried to joke along, he finally said ‘look, I’m just trying to write jokes to feed my family’ to which she replied, ‘and I’m sure the man is just washing cars to feed his.’

Justin’s new autumn 2022 tour Stretch and Think visits Komedia, Brighton on Wednesday 12th October. 

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