With an extended tour set in the diary, the costumes re-sequined and all the single audience members washed and sent to the stage, Julian talks about his show Position Vacant. Book your tickets now if you like glamour, nonsense and vulgarity.
You are invited to a wedding. Please bring your own confetti.
Yes, that’s right, Julian Clary is back. In his hilarious new show, “Position Vacant, Apply Within”, which is touring the UK this spring, comedian Julian Clary is looking for love, and he’s determined not to depart empty-handed. He promises to leave no straight unturned.
As he scours the land in search of love, Julian announces that, “Because I’m still considered quite a catch and because your town is noted for its heterosexuals on the cusp, there’s bound to be stiff competition. Therefore, I will be hosting a ruthless elimination games. We can be sure of one thing: By the end of the evening we’ll all be celebrating my new partnership.” Can’t wait!
“Position Vacant, Apply Within” underscores Julian’s status as perhaps our finest off-the-cuff comedian. When it comes to spontaneous interaction with the audience, there is simply no finer stand-up around. The critics agree. The Birmingham Mail, for instance, declares that, “Julian Clary is pure genius.”
What distinguishes Julian’s act is the sheer warmth that he generates onstage. When we meet at his north London home in the run-up to the tour, our conversation is studded with laughter; he is a marvellous mixture of the funny and the frank. In person, he exudes that same compelling mixture of glamour and humour which captivates audiences in the theatre.
Julian’s standing has only been enhanced by his victory in Celebrity Big Brother last year, when his natural acerbic wit won over millions of viewers. He reflects on the experience now. “There was a phenomenal opportunity for comedy with that bizarre collection of people – thank God we were able to have a laugh!
The comedian, who has also developed a second career as a bestselling novelist, is an effortless showman. He explains his love of performing. “It is an addictive thing. Getting a laugh is very good for my soul and for my ego. I genuinely look forward to it after nine months at home writing a book. I could never just write books. I need to go out and feel the love.”
Julian goes on to articulate the thrill he feels whenever he steps on stage. “Is it possible to put the feeling into words? I love the fact that it’s my material and my world. I often think how difficult an actor’s life must be – you sit around waiting for someone to invite you to say someone else’s words. But stand-up is your own universe.
“My good friend Paul Merton once said to me, ‘you might as well go on tour because you would be doing exactly the same thing if you were just sitting at home.’ Stand-up is just being yourself in an exaggerated form. You’re making yourself feel good, as well as everyone else – it’s a win-win situation.”
Julian, who gave a delightful performance on Strictly Come Dancing eight years ago, carries on that, “I expect someone has done a study of the effects of laughter and the sociology of why we love it. If one defines entertainment as a means of escape, then laughter is the ultimate means of escape because it’s so transporting. Comedy is about stepping outside the conventional. It’s such an exhilarating experience that it’s very hard to give it up.”
The comic goes on to outline why he was drawn to the tremendous idea behind “Position Vacant, Apply Within”, which is coming to a theatre near you very soon.
“When I first dreamt up the idea for the show, my partner had gone to LA and I didn’t think he was coming back. Initially he went for six months, but he ended up staying 18 months. So I thought, ‘I’ll show you!’ He’s back now, of course, but the idea of looking for love remains.
“The show is like an open audition. We get a lot of people up on stage – up to eight. No man is safe, even though they don’t all have to be men. Like Sticky Moments, there is a series of elimination rounds. I have a cattle pen with a white picket fence and a prod so I can herd them into it. The eventual winner has a gay marriage with me, conducted by a ‘bishop’.”
“They really have to earn the right to marry me. The winner is hoiked backstage to spend time with me at the end of the show.”
The comedian has been touring “Position Vacant, Apply Within” since the autumn. It has just been extended, due to popular demand. Julian says that, “I made the decision a third of the way through the autumn tour to extend it into the spring because there were so many places I hadn’t been to and I was enjoying it so much.”
He says that the conceit of competing to marry him “Never fails. It is ever such a good comic device. I needn’t have worried about controlling eight people on stage. Only twice in 50 shows have I had to get people off the stage – and they were both on drugs. People totally get it – it’s greeted with absolute howls of laughter. It’s pretty riotous and anarchic. It may be a load of old nonsense, but it’s great fun. Also, having a wedding ceremony with confetti makes it quite touching.”
Given the recent headlines about gay marriage, the show is also very topical. “That has given it an extra boost,” Julian confirms. “We also finish with a song, ‘Cool To Be Queer’ which you can see now on YouTube. It’s a serious song about gay marriage and persecution around the world. Is it political? “Everything is political. I dared myself to do it, and I’m very glad I did it. It’s nice getting a different reaction. People told me they find it very moving. It’s given them something different to think about on the way home.”
The very favourable audience reaction leads Julian to think that “Position Vacant, Apply Within” is, “The best show I’ve done for many years. I seem to have found a new place with it. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Julian clearly revels in audience participation. He observes that, “Although it requires a lot of plate-spinning, it wakes everyone up. Everyone knows it’s dangerous and improvised and anything can happen.
“It’s about swapping worlds around so the ordinary becomes extraordinary. In my world onstage, the rules are different. That comic device has served me very well over the years, and people seem to love it.”
“Position Vacant, Apply Within” is also, of course, a really funny parody of conventional game shows. Julian says that, “The audience laugh at both the questions and the answers. This format also allows me to be in control of everything. I can decide who goes through. Bear in mind that one in five of the general public are mad and two in five of the general public are drunk! So you have to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff.”
Julian has a wonderful rapport with his fans, many of whom have been following him for the last 30 years. The comedian, who was also made memorable appearances on shows such as Who Do You Think You Are?, Have I Got News For You and QI, muses that, “My fans and I have evolved together.
“It’s rather sweet that the people who saw me when they were students are now coming to my shows with their grown-up children. There is a real history there. People know what they’re buying the ticket for: glamour, nonsense and vulgarity.”
Julian has built his career on the brilliant use of camp comedy and he considers why we Brits love it so much. “Camp comedy is a way of trivialising life – and I’m all for that. It has also always worked really well for me. Does Shirley Bassey ever get fed up with singing Diamonds Are Forever? Of course not. It’s who she is. She’s not suddenly going to become a folk singer with a beard and a finger in her ear.
“There’s a great British tradition of innuendo. The English language lends itself to playing with words and double entendre. That’s specific to English. However, Julian adds, “Innuendo can sometimes be a problem. If I call BT because my phone is not working, they expect innuendo from me when I’m actually in quite a bad mood. The other day an operator said to me, ‘I can’t say, ‘I’m putting you on hold’ without thinking of innuendo.’ But it’s a way of life for me now. Even on my gravestone there’ll be innuendo: ‘At last, a hole that fits!'”
As you can see, Julian is a comedian at the very top of his game. He is uniquely well suited to his role as a dazzling, improvisational stand-up. Could he ever have imagined doing any other job? “I’m quite good at solving people’s problems,” he replies, “so in another life I might have been a counsellor. I’m always doing that in my spare time anyway.”
“I’m very grateful that I’m allowed to do all these things. Lord knows, I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes if I’d had to grow up and do something sensible.”
Details about Julian’s nationwide tour, “Position Vacant: Apply Within”, are available on www.julianclary.co.uk
By James Rampton