Profile : Bangor Comedian Jonathan Williams
''A very funny man… my new life aim is to let the world know it.'' - Owen Jones, The Guardian
Some modern stand ups start their sets in a very formulaic and stereotypical way. They bounce onto the stage and, in the hunt for quick approval and connection, praise the audience, and then raise an ersatz cheer about something absolutely inclusive but so utterly banal ("give me a shout if you have to breathe to stay alive") that if repeated five times in a row it would count as torture under some or other UN convention.
It works, but is such an oft repeated routine that it jars with sheer familiarity.
Jonathan Williams doesn't do that.
He comes onto the stage like someone lugubriously clocking into work, and looks around like a man wondering what he is going to do today to amuse himself. He is tall, imposing, and this slow start is unsettling, your inner voice telling you: "It's alright, just because this man looks like he might lead the whole audience's otherwise secure lives suddenly off the rails doesn't mean he will."
It is unnerving, when a joke comes you half laugh out of relief.
He unhurriedly finds the range of the audience, then delivers a set of short but detailed observational stories that sometimes step near the edge, but never beyond it; turning an everyday situation over, skirting potentially cruel subjects, examining them until the humour is apparent. It is the approach of a man fascinated by comedy and how it works, not someone on a stage seeking approval. On Twitter, a very different form, he is often sharp and quick witted, and delivers at least one laugh out loud moment a week.
He is, without doubt, very funny.
I asked him to describe his style, he deadpanned, "I just talk about a lot of things, quite quickly".
From Maesgeirchen, Bangor, he always loved comedy, and by the age of fifteen he was thinking more and more about how it works and writing his own jokes. In his final year at Friars School he would go straight from school to Liverpool to watch gigs, and back on the last train home.
He had his first gig aged seventeen, by now at Coleg Menai; again on the train to Liverpool, with five minutes of material, he entered a regional heat of the national "So You Think You Are Funny" competition. This was held, with Peter Kay as MC, at the Rawhide Club, which was then housed in a cellar on Bold Street. He 'stormed it', getting onto the standby list for the national final. He came off stage and was immediately booked to play at Alexanders, Chester; his first paid gig.
He is also still grateful for the influence at that time of comedian and long term North Wales promoter Silky, who offered him progressively longer gigs, with the first at eighteen.
Williams now mixes comedy with forestry work; going away at times to focus more on his comedy career, but always being drawn back to his home. He now performs mainly in the North West and London, with North Wales shows rarer. He has also been to the Edinburgh Festival, most notably in the 'BBC Introducing' tent in Edinburgh in 2002, at which point he resolved only to go back with a show really worthy of the event. He did this for the first time last year with 'Selected Bums'.
Background sketched, we had a wide ranging conversation, including which is the best Spar in North Wales (Betws y Coed wins hands down, due to its exceptional bakery), and the dissection of Shane Meadows' This is England and The Royle Family; but outside of comedy it is music that animates him.
He discovered the Welsh language music scene, and a good many friends with it, whilst at Coleg Menai, asked to distil this down to his two favourite works he offered The Super Furry Animal's Mwng ("it just is the best") and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci Llanfwrog EP. We then diverted to discussing John Lawrence's solo career and production talents, before nailing down his three favourite albums of all time, a well honed list: The Smith's The Queen is Dead, The Stone Roses debut, and PJ Harvey's Let England Shake ("I have played it for four years and it is still fresh").
Somehow in all this an intended hour turned to two, and there was just time to talk about Focus Wales, where he was appearing for the third time. He enthused, "It is a great event, I am looking forward most to seeing The Joy Formidable live. I will also make sure I see Houdini Dax, I have seen them before in the Focus Wales tent at Wakestock, they are just brilliant. More than anything it's a great event for looking for new bands that I have not heard of before."
A last burst of enthusiasm about music and the interview is over; it is hard not to agree with Owen Jones, and his mission.