Chris Ramsey talks to Gabrielle Fagan about his 'brilliant' wife, why it's important we talk about miscarriage, and how comedy keeps him up at night.
South Tyneside comedian Chris Ramsey plays life for laughs and nothing escapes his attention - from the ups and downs of parenting, to the quirks and frustrations of modern life - all delivered with his quick-fire brand of irreverent perceptive humour.
In the last few years, the South Shields-born 32-year-old has enjoyed regular TV slots, hosting the likes of The Chris Ramsey Show, Chris Ramsey's Stand Up Central, I'm A Celebrity: Extra Camp, and Virtually Famous.
He's performed on the Royal Variety Performance, as well as Live At The Apollo, and been a regular on Celebrity Juice. His screen appearances haven't all been Ramsey being himself, either - there are acting credits too (from 2012-2013 he starred as Jack in critically-acclaimed BBC Two sitcom Hebburn, co-starring Vic Reeves).
But all of this almost didn't happen. Ramsey - who has a three-year-old son, Robin, with his wife Rosie - may now have 11 years on the comedy scene under his belt, but he'd originally considered becoming a college lecturer. Plans changed after he performed his first stand-up gig, however, at the Dog & Parrot pub in Newcastle.
"Instead of the normal 10 men and a dog, there were 40 people there," he recalls. "They certainly didn't come for me, some football match must have been cancelled. If I'd died on my arse, I'd have gone home, cried and given up, but it went so well, and I thought: 'I'll bloody give this a go'."
Here, Ramsey tells us what makes him tick and gives him sleepless nights, and why he spoke out about the pain of his wife's miscarriage...
What does comedy mean to you?
"Comedy and stand-up is what I am and what I do. I don't think I could define myself outside of that now. I never lose that kind of hunger for more of it because it's such an enjoyable job, such a privilege to do, that sometimes you genuinely feel you're stealing a living.
"After 11 years in this business, getting a standing ovation from 6,500 people a tNewcastle's Metro Radio Arena on The Just Happy To Get Out Of The House tour last year, filmed for Comedy Central, was so amazing it made me cry.
"A self belief that you're funny is essential, but it's not as high as the level of self doubt. You're always thinking, 'Is this the last tour I've got in me, is this the last joke I'll ever write?' - which drives you mad but also drives you on. I grew up idolising Billy Connolly, he's my inspiration, the way he can just hold an audience."
How do you approach work?
"In this business, you've got to stay humble. The moment you've got that swagger and think, 'I'm brilliant', then you're not funny any more, you're just a prick! It's not like music or sport, you can't practise it because a routine can't stay the same for live shows. It has to be fresh.
"I'm always adding stuff - things I've just seen or heard or experienced - and dropping bits, so it's like quality control constantly happening in my head. It has to evolve all the time to respond to the audience reaction as well. Something will take the roof off for a couple of shows, and then for no apparent reason get no reaction. It's crazy, challenging, and totally addictive."
Why did you choose to reveal your feelings about your wife's miscarriage last year?
"That was a very tough time for both of us, but we wanted to be open about it and share the experience, which happens to so many people. It's affected me massively. Some days, you find yourself down - you'll be watching TV and someone's pregnant, or you see a friend on Facebook has had a baby and you just get a little twinge of what you haven't got.
It'll be hard in March when the baby was due, but we'll get through it.
"Rosie and I support each other, love each other very much, and something like that happening puts all your little worries into perspective. We have one healthy, thriving little boy, and what doesn't pull you apart makes you even closer, so we'll be all right.
"If and when we get pregnant again, we're going to announce it from the first pregnancy test. Of course, it's down to personal choice, but to me it seems a really antiquated approach that you can't say anything about being pregnant until about 12 weeks, just in case it goes tits up.
"Then if it does, you just have to brush it under the carpet and carry on. I don't think it's healthy to bottle it up, and why should you have to go through that on your own?"
Do you and Rosie share a love of humour?
"Definitely. We met at school, got together in 2012, and married in 2014, and even in my stupidest, most childish moments where most people would find me annoying, she jumps on board with the humour.
"She's brilliant, talented, and very funny in her own right. While I was away touring last year, she was bored so she started on Instagram talking about her life and parenting and it's gone crazy. I love the fact her massive, loyal following will soon outdo mine.
"I'd much rather work with her than anyone else on the planet, and this year we're doing a podcast together."
Has being a parent changed your life and your comedy?
"My son's improved my life tenfold and keeps me grounded. I can get an invite to a TV show or premier, but the next minute he's shouting, 'Daddy, I need a wee', which is guaranteed to bring you back to reality. As I was away touring for 200 days last year, I'm taking a break this year to spend more time with him.
"He does come into my comedy, of course. I'm a total panicky parent. I genuinely worry about everything that could befall him, 24/7. The other day, I watched a TV show about someone's broken romance, and started worrying, 'What if Robin gets his heart broken one day?' Rosie thinks I'm mad. I still can't believe I'm someone's parent, because I don't feel grown up yet.
"Robin and I are bonding on a love of Lego. I have 30 sets of Star Wars Lego, which I build up and he smashes to bits. Recently, he demanded, 'Daddy, build your Lego', while he sat watching The Lego Movie. How could I refuse? I built the entire Statue of Liberty and realised: Finally, he's babysitting me! Which makes me think I've cracked fatherhood. All I need to do is teach him is to fetch a can of beer from the fridge."
What's your approach to wellbeing?
"I try to be an upbeat person, but sometimes its hard because I live inside my own head too much. It's because the job is a full-on way of life. You're always searching for new material and ideas and you can't switch off.
"I'll wake up in the middle of the night with ideas, and then can't sleep because I'm buzzing. But observing and analysing constantly makes me prone to over-analysing and over-thinking, which can make me really panicky and things can get on top of me. It's just the way my brain is wired.
"Meditating helped compartmentalise my thoughts, but stupidly I haven't kept it up. You can also throw in my 'grass is always greener' symptoms . On tour, I dream of being at home, but when I'm at home I'm thinking, 'It'd be great to be touring'. When I'm with Robin, I think it would be good to have some time on my own - but when he's not there, I miss him like crazy. I constantly want the thing I'm not doing. It's infuriating, weird, and must be a syndrome."
How do you look after your health?
"I definitely don't look after my health as much as I should, apart from eating vegetables and drinking lots of water. Course, I've that little voice in my head telling us to do the right thing but, hands up, I'm not a vegan, I'm not a monk, and my lifestyle when I'm touring is living in hotels, eating take-aways and having service station snacks.
"Luckily, I've got an amazingly good metabolism and never put on weight, but I suspect my inside may not look as good as the outside. It frustrates my wife that I don't pile on the pounds or take more care. When my metabolism slows down, I'll have to go to the gym and stop eating chips, but for now I'm going to enjoy it."
Chris Ramsey Live 2018: The Just Happy To Get Out Of The House Tour airs on Comedy Central on Saturday, February 2 at 10pm.