Living it Large: Jack Whitehall is Belfast-bound

Jack Whitehall has announced his first ever arena date in Belfast next year. David Roy caught up with the well-spoken comedy star to discuss new material, his acting career and why he likes to ask permission before making fun of friends and family

Jack Whitehall will be At Large in Belfast next February

FANS asked for it, and now they're going to get it: England's second poshest comedian behind Michael McIntrye has finally bowed to the endless "when u playin in Belfast m8?" comments on Twitter by confirming a date at the SSE Arena for next year.

Jack Whitehall's brand new stand-up show At Large will see the star of Bad Education, Fresh Meat and sports quiz A League of Their Own performing in some of the largest venues around with his biggest ever arena comedy tour.

Audiences are advised to expect "high-intensity silliness" from the British Comedy Awards' thrice-crowned King of Comedy's first live dates since 2014's Jack Whitehall Gets Around tour, which found the London funnyman performing 'in the round'.

"I haven't been on tour for about three years so I'm feeling pretty rusty at the moment," admits Whitehall (28), who recently had a small role alongside Julia Roberts in romcom movie bomb Mother's Day.

"It's one of those things where you have to keep doing your gigs and dipping in and out of it because, if you stop, you get bad so quickly.

"That's why even when I'm doing other stuff, I try to go off and do a couple of gigs to keep myself 'gig fit'. It's amazing how quickly you forget everything."

There's also the small matter of getting time to hone new material: thus, when he spoke to us, the comedian was in the midst of a run of 'work-in-progress' dates at smaller venues like the Top Secret Comedy Club in Barnet, north London.

"It's exciting, you never know what's going to work or which bits are going to fly," he says of these un-billed 'special guest' appearances', at which unsuspecting audiences have been privy to a preview of some gags that may or may not make it into the At Large set next year.

"It reminds you of why stand-up is so exciting – because you genuinely don't know how people will react."

Obviously, while every comedian is hoping to generate laughs with each new 'bit' they come up with, it's crucial that they get a genuine reaction at this delicate stage in the development of any new show: any charitable guffawing taken at face value could well result in a tumbleweed moment when the same material is unleashed upon the more demanding "I paid £30 for these seats" crowd on the tour proper.

"That's the worst – when you go to some club and they're too up for it and you know you're not getting an honest reaction.

"But I think on a Tuesday night in Barnet, they might be quite honest. Possibly too honest."

As for the nature of the new material he's currently trying out on unsuspecting audiences, it seems that one member of the Whitehall clan – which includes his TV producer father Michael, co-host of the pair's irreverent BBC3 talk show Backchat – may find their ears burning.

"There's one new bit about a family member which is hopefully gonna work," the comic reveals, admitting that if the laughs don't come then said relative will remain none the wiser.

"I've learned the hard way that you only ask permission to do a joke about someone once you've made sure it's actually funny," he tells me.

"If you ask them beforehand and then end up dropping it, you've opened a whole can of worms unnecessarily."

Still, at least he asks permission – which presumably mean that Whitehall's girlfriend Gemma Chan (star of Channel 4 hit Humans) must have 'okayed' his gags about their sex life and domestic arrangements for his recent performance on top-rated US TV programme The Tonight Show featuring Jimmy Fallon.

"It must be a nightmare being a friend or relative of a comedian," he admits.

"My friends will have these moments of social embarrassment or awkwardness – and then there's that moment right after when they realise that I'm also going to write it down.

"But that's why you have to remember to be a human being as well as a stand-up. You don't want to end up using something onstage without first thinking about the consequences."

The Tonight Show spot was part of Jack Whitehall's effort to keep one foot in the stand-up world while filming A League Of Their Own's recent US Road Trip special, in which host James Corden dispatched him and his fellow regulars Freddie Flintoff and Jamie Redknapp on a 1,000 mile long sporting challenges and 'banter' punctuated trek between LA and Las Vegas.

While both his hit sitcoms Fresh Meat and Bad Education have now finished (he and Bad Education writing partner Freddy Syborn are currently working on a brand new TV idea), Whitehall has managed to keep his acting career alive of late.

As well as his role in Mother's Day, the Londoner was the perhaps ill-judged choice to voice Gallic cartoon hero Asterix in this summer's animated release Asterix and Obelix: Mansions of The Gods, while fans will soon see him starring in an upcoming BBC Two adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's novel Decline & Fall.

"We were filming for three months," Whitehall tells me of the new three-part period comedy drama, set for broadcast later this year.

"It was quite fun and really exciting but really 'proper'. You know, it was a classic novel and very faithful to the script, so that was a very different thing from what I'm used to.

"By the end I was kind of desperate to get back out onstage and do loads of really obscene jokes, just to vent all the smut that I was not able to do in my nice proper BBC drama."

Consider yourself forewarned, Belfast.

:: Jack Whitehall At Large, February 20, SSE Arena, Belfast. Tickets on sale now via Ticketmaster outlets

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