Part of the Humourology series
Season 2, Episode 1 Part One
Ainsley Harriott – Cooking Up Comedy
Award-Winning Chef and TV personality Ainsley Harriott joins The Humourology Podcast to chop it up with his childhood chum, Paul Boross. The pair pal around about school, their career in comedy, Ainsley’s status as an A-lister, and the power of a punchline to please people.
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Award-Winning celebrity chef and TV personality Ainsley Harriott joins Paul Boross for a conversation about cooking up comedy, Calypso Twins and connections. Ainsley discusses the importance of listening and feeling the energy of a room to connect with others across cultures.
Ainsley and Paul recollect on a childhood full of comedy and the importance of making their classmates laugh. In a community full of different cultures, a quality chuckle is all it takes to connect.
“If you have that ability to kind of mix with people and make people at ease, then I think it’s one of the absolute keys to life”
Ainsley shares how his ability to make people feel at ease has brought him success throughout his career. Whether being a global chef or playing one on tv, Ainsley knows that a smile can transcend language and cook up a connection between cultures.
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Ainsley Harriott Cooking with Comedy – Part One
– I don’t remember ever going to school on any one day where there was never laughter. There was always a giggle. There was always something going on. You know considering what we’ve gone through in a pandemic sort of 2020, the kids, you know, to deprive children of that, it was enormous. You think every day we went to school, there was a laugh. You find a way don’t you, you find a way to just make people feel relaxed and easy. And 99% of the time it’d be through humour, through happiness, through joy, bringing a bit of a smile into their life.
– Welcome to the Humourology Podcast with me Paul Boross and my glittering lineup of guests from the worlds of business, sport and entertainment who are going to share their wisdom and their use of humour with you. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business and your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals, increases the value of your laughing stock and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like, subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. My guest on this edition of the Humourology Podcast is a multi award-winning chef, entertainer and fabulously fun force of nature. After almost three decades as one of the country’s favourite TV chefs, he’s become something of a national institution.
– In 2020, he was awarded an MBE by the Queen for his services to broadcasting and the culinary arts. He is mononymous, meaning that like Britney, Beyonceé and Bjork, he is one of that rare breed of stars who is identifiable by one name only. Probably still best known for his 21 series of Ready Steady Cook, and with many solo primetime cooking series under his belt, he’s become a master of the fresh, fun, accessible cuisine. If it’s charisma and warmth you’re after with a little bit of laughter, he’s the one that you want on your speed dial. Ainsley Harriott welcome to the Humourology Podcast mate.
– I love that, Britney and Bjork. I know, isn’t it amazing that you are, you can actually you know, be identified with one name. You know what I mean? Just Ainsley, I never really thought about it much but people do say Ainsley and they kind of think it’s me. So yeah good, good. I’ve been looking forward to doing this with you actually because you know, I’ve known you’ve done loads of other people before.
– You’ve been seeing other people behind me?
– No, you have. All these other people doing it hey. What am I, 29th?
– No, no you’re a special edition.
– I know, I know.
– You’re the special edition because we’re actually face-to-face,
– Yeah, yeah.
– Which you’re the first person on the Humourology Podcast to face-to-face. And the reason for that is we went to school together.
– I know, not that long ago.
– No, it was what, it’s got to be 15 years.
– At least, yeah.
– And and we went to school together and that was, we went to a good school didn’t we?
– Yeah yeah yeah.
– Ladies and gentlemen we had to, you had to be sent there by a judge.
– How many times have I heard that gag. Isn’t it lovely, and I love it still, do you know. It’s just that certain things that you want to hear time and time again. It’s like a good bit of music that every time you hear it and you know all the words it’s just, it just makes you feel doesn’t it?
– Yeah it does, well before our listeners, we went to a big comprehensive school, 2000 boys.
– With a planetarium.
– With a planetarium which we weren’t allowed in very much because it was for other schools, but we did have a planetarium, but 2000 boys. And it was, as was described by a mutual friends of ours, a zoo basically, wasn’t it?
– Yeah, yeah.
– I mean, and it was 12 classes in each year streamed, and it was fairly crazy. Was having a sense of humour important to survive?
– It wasn’t important, it was imperative. It was one of those that, you know, when you’ve got that large mix of people, as we all know, I mean across all boundaries, doesn’t matter, you know different classes of people. Some of them could quite easily have gone to Eton. Some of them could quite easily have gone to borstal. There was that diversity there, it was unbelievable. But what a mix, what an education. Do you know, people talk about “What do you go to school for?” And you’re just not mixing with just one type of person. You’re mixing with everybody. And you know, there was a real integration of cultures and people, and that was reflected in teachers too. It was fantastic. You think of Darr and you know you think of Cotebond and Bacchus.
– These were our teachers.
– These were our teachers and how diverse were they in personalities. And that very much reflected on the kids too. And how brilliant where they. Do remember the guy, I don’t even know if I were to mention Watson, who was just, did nothing but kind of ingrained himself in working things out and was always brilliant at exams. And I remember once he got one of those little, what’s those things that you put your pencil in and you twirl.
– A compass, a protractor?
– A compass, yeah like a compass thing that you draw. And he’d take the pointy bit of the compass and he’d grabbed a bit of chalk and he gradually bore out very gently, the top of the chalk. And then he’d get a Swan match and put it inside the chalk like that and put the chalk perfectly. The teacher would come in, “All right boys, sit down, sit down.” Does it matter whether, you know female or male teacher, and they’d pick up the chalk and they started on the board and the fire would shoot out this chalk. And we’d all have to sit there trying to keep… keeping straight faces like this, thinking– Genius, absolute genius that you’d be able to do things like that. And, you know, he went on. He’s hugely successful in life. Hugely successful.
– Yeah, but he was in one of the lower streams and actually–
– He was in my class, Paul, what are you saying?
– It was, it was very, well but it was streamed. And actually, but actually it was not indicative of how successful people were going to be because–
– Because, I mean laughter was the bonding tool, wasn’t it at school?
– Yeah, I mean, you know, you had that laughter and there was just a warmth, you know there was, I don’t remember ever going to school on any one day where there was never laughter. There was always a giggle. There was always something going on. And I think it’s, considering what we’ve gone through in a pandemic sort of 2020, the kids, you know to deprive children of that, it was enormous. You think every day we went to school there was a laugh. I mean there was a bit of fear too, when some of those Dixon boys or something like that came after you with a little toffee hammer, you just run like mad, you know but, but the characters again, and you think about I got on with all of them. I was able to chat with all of them. You find a way don’t you, you find a way to just make people feel relaxed and easy. And 99% of the time with me it’s through humour. It’s through happiness, through joy bringing a bit of smile into their lives.
– Did you know that at school? Did you know that you were doing it or was it just instinctive? And it was, I mean we talk about survival and I mean, people will always ask us you know, it can’t have been as bad as you said it was but it was. I mean, a guy was stabbed to death when you were in the third year, I was in the second year.
– It was fairly, well not fairly violent, it was violent.
– Well, people talk about knife crime and stuff like that you know, or just carrying knives, and people did it in those days. And as you say, 15, well it wasn’t reality it was 50 years ago plus, and you know which is extraordinary that we’re talking such a long time ago in that the people would carry on like that. Yeah but 2000 boys from such mixed backgrounds, inevitably when you put them all together and you shake up that cocktail, there’s going to be sometimes things that just don’t work out. It’s not going to come out the way you expect it to come out. And, but we were the lucky ones. We were the ones that were able to communicate with, didn’t matter where you came from.
– Do you think that you’ve taken that into life? Because I mean, I remember you first at school, we first met doing the school play, which was Oliver actually.
– Yeah yeah, I loved that.
– And I remember you were vibrant. Were you doing, was that just natural? Did you always have that or do you think it developed through having to sort of mix with different kind of people?
– I think, you’ve known me all my life, it is a complete and utterly naturally gifted thing that I’ve picked up. I’ve got from my mum or dad, call it what you want, package it way you want. It was, I was really lucky. I had those, all of those different things that you’re talking about and I was able to take them into, well I’ve enjoyed them throughout my life. Just being able to speak to people and make people feel sort of quite relaxed. And I do remember we had a teacher at Wandsworth Boys School John Clegg, do you remember Clegg?
– Oh gosh yes.
– And oh, fascinating. He had this beautiful sort of streaks of blonde hair, music department too. Remember Burgess.
– Great singer.
– And let’s not forget, you know, Wandsworth Boys School was compared to the Vienna Boys Choir.
– It had the second best choir in the world. And it was the reason it was famous because these angels with dirty faces, they were called weren’t they.
– Because these really rough boys sang like–
– Angelic voices. ♪ Ah ah ♪ I didn’t want to go there, but it was beautiful. I loved it, I loved, love the idea of the choir, love the idea of Burgess and Benjamin Britten used to come to our school.
– That’s right.
– Regularly used to come.
– Sir Peter Pears used to come and sing with us.
– Wow, yeah yeah yeah. So it was, it was really quite something. And I think that Cleggy as they called him. Clegg Clegg with a wooden leg leg. He didn’t have a wooden leg by the way. But terrible the things you said at school. And he always used to say, god he said, “You will be successful in life, Harriott.” He said, “Look at you. “You always make me smile. “I could be so angry and,” he said, “I look at you and I smile.” And the first day he started at Wandsworth Boys School was our first day at school too so he took us in Alpha and you know, built up a fantastic relationship with him. And many years later, I had a few pints with him down at the Gardeners.
– Oh, the Gardeners Arms.
– A very famous place.
– Yeah, the teachers teachers. Having a pint with teachers.
– Teachers used to buy us pints.
– I know, that was extraordinary wasn’t it. You mentioned your influences. Your mum and dad, Chester and Peppy. They were extraordinary people. Your dad was in show business. Do you think some of that sort of, you know, vavavoom that bon–
– Oh definitely definitely. You know we are a product of our people aren’t we, our parents, you know, they bring us into the world. My mother being a absolute superb cook and wonderful entertainer in her own way as far as her family were concerned. And not just immediate family. When she got together with her brothers and sisters and stuff, it was just that, there was just laughter, there was energy in the house. My Uncle Tim while walking the dog he said, “Peppy, that smell sweet girl.” And she’d been cooking, you know. And she just, “Shut up your mouth,” She’d say. Tell him to shut up. And there was this lovely kind of banter. And that’s what you grew up with. You grew up with that energy and it revolved around food. And I think my father probably had the same thing. You know, he was, even though my parents divorced and moved on many years later, at those early days he was around and he’d loved it. And I used to sit in that front room, underneath the table, there was a big Blüthner grand piano in the corner there. And I’d sit under there and I’d observe and I’d just look up and look at all of his friends and people that were coming. Some of them famous names like Bob Monkhouse and stuff like that would come and sit there. But they were all in show business together. No one was above their station. They all did gigs, that was your career. And they’d all come and they’d hang around there in the different, some of them that hadn’t made it big on TV. And my mum would come in with bits of food on the tray. “Oh, Pep, that’s lovely.” And little bits that it, a little bit of, a little drink going there. She’d make a little punch or a little bit lemonade or around about Christmas time there’s a bit eggnog or something like that. Just lovely stuff you know. And that, all of that combined together is part of my makeup. The laughter, the joy, the cooking and everything, and the exuberance. Your personality’s your personality. My sister and brother are different to me. Doesn’t matter, the same family, same roots. But we are different. That’s why we get on!
– Yeah but we’re twins so it’s easy.
– Yeah, exactly, didn’t you know.
– But you mentioned banter, which I think is very important especially for people to understand that if you’re growing up with that banter, it comes easier. And that means you can fit in easier because if you can tease, you can play. I think playing is one of those things that you do best is that you play with people, you will tease, you will banter with them, you’ll cajole them.
– Oh, absolutely. But, and I’m not even aware of it. I don’t go in, it’s not like a process you think right, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that. It’s if you’ve got it, if you have that ability to kind of mix with people and make people be at ease, then I think it’s one of the absolute key, key things. Let’s not forget what the great Maya Angelou used to say. She said, “People forget what you did. “People forget what you said. “But people will never forget the way you make them feel.” And feeling is, it’s like you coming out of a fantastic, what did they say about, I dunno, you know. What did they do? They’re on the stage about, but I feel fantastic. And it’s like, for some people, they get that buzz when they go to their church, when they go to their religious kind of gathering or something like that. Some people get it from going to football or rugby. It’s why we’ve been, we’ve been deprived of that. These gatherings of people energises people. And for me to be an energizer and not even aware of it, but just to go into a room and like seeing people. I like to see people smile, Ducs. I like to see their teeth. And we’ve been deprived of that. That’s been taken away from us that covering. And that shows… ’cause you’re revealing more of yourself. All we reveal generally is through our eyes now. But can you imagine when you show them the smile, then the teeth and then ah, opening, you’re opening yourself each time you’re opening yourself up layer upon layer upon layer, freeing yourself up to talk to those people. I love that. And I miss it.
– Yeah, well actually what that’s indicative of is attitude, that you go in with a good attitude and a right attitude. And I always think that you go, and I think I’ve over the years, I’ve learned so much from you. Obviously we’ve worked on stage for many years but I’ve learnt so much about going in with an open attitude and you seem to always go in and think the best of everybody.
– Yeah, yeah. I suppose it, being brought up in a household where there obviously was energy but seeing how my mother adapted, we both come from parents who immigrated or immigrants and they’ve come to this country, how they integrate. They want to be accepted, let’s not forget that. It’s one of the reasons she came here and instantly within weeks, we were linked with St. Luke’s Church, the local church, Church of England because it just meant that you become part of a community. You get to know local people. And we weren’t the only ones. What was interesting, there was the Vincent and Dino Cellafina, Mr. and Mrs. Cellafina, the Italian family. And there was the Wongs, Auntie Jean and Uncle Reeve, the Wong family, there was the Greeks, the Scudamore family. There was, what’s his name, the Khans. I’m talking about a whole cross section of people from different parts of the world that were not necessarily associated with Church of England. They probably came from different religious backgrounds. But in order to just to be able to mix, in order to settle in.
– To assimilate.
– Yeah yeah. And this is what we did. And when your parents bring you up like that, then it is about making people feel comfortable, accepting you that you’re not a threat. And I think that’s what it is. I’m not going to threaten you. I’m, I’m smiling with you. I’m making you feel good. And you know some people do have what they’re talk about a chip on their shoulder about being aggressive and stuff. I’ve never had that. It’s not because I don’t feel tensions. And I don’t think, it’s just that I want people to feel relaxed. And then I start to feel relaxed. And then, you know what, sooner or later we’re having a cup of tea and chatting.
– It’s funny because in psychology, they say that if you want anyone to go into any state, you have to go into that state first. And I think it’s very useful for people to take that away and go look somebody who’s mastered this attitude, this state, that’s what you’re doing is you’re going into the state first and you are being relaxed, open… And the other thing is that the smile you mentioned, you know that actually a smile changes the way your circuitry in your brain goes. It makes you feel better. But what it does is it also makes the other person think you’re friendly. And so, and it was Victor Borge who said, “A smile is the shortest distance between two people.”
– Yeah, and how true is that? How true is that? And you know, and it served me worldwide, all the places that this is from the early ’90s of travelling globally, making all these programmes, meeting fascinating people that speak a completely different language, but hey the smile and the food is universal. It just brings people together. You’re sharing. It’s almost like, you know the breaking of the bread, sipping the wine, sharing the same vessel and stuff like that. All those things, that’s how people come together. That’s how you unite people. And, we found that way and it’s down to our family, down to our people. Found a way to bond people and to smile and make people feel, people feel happy, happy.
– Well, but that’s a gift, isn’t it? I mean as well, but I mean it’s nice that you actually recognise it as a gift. I’m interested in when you said about travelling ’cause you really have made television programmes all over the world.
– Yeah, oh gosh, and still doing it yeah.
– Yeah, and still doing it.
– Thank you god, thank you.
– But actually true communication happens at many different levels because people think that the communication is what you say. I don’t speak the same language. But you’ve just talked about the international language of the smile haven’t you. And of food.
– Oh god, absolutely. I remember being in South Africa and Paternoster I think it was Paternoster Beach, and these fishermen, some of them lost all their teeth. Really interesting dark sort of crimply skin some of them had, and they’d been out fishing, they brought back and I cooked this amazing tuna which most of it, they export anyway because it’s not very fashionable down there. They export it back to Japan and stuff like that. But I cooked it for them on the beach, and the language, not only have they not properly grasped the native language, but they just had their own personal language. This really interesting and I, ’cause I remember speaking with someone, they said “What are they talking about?” I said, “I’ve no idea.” They have their own kind of tribal language. And I was on the beach with these people yet we were able to sit down and enjoy each other’s company for half an hour, eating this bit of fish and dipping it. I had these kind of bits of sweet potato. I chargrilled off and seasoned them up with bits of cumin and spice and stuff. And we were just enjoying it and then really getting into it and talking to me and trying to explain things through hand, eyes and teeth. ‘Cause that says so so much, you’re absolutely right.
– So I mean, you’ve travelled everywhere and made all these programmes, have you ever had any problem, ever not been able to connect with people when you?
– Not really. I think that people are a little bit cautious because of the nature of the world that we live in. People don’t open up straight away. I think with, you know all you’ve got to do is switch on your news and see what’s happening globally. And, there’s someone because someone doesn’t dress right or they’re the wrong colour or they live on the wrong side of the street, you’re slightly a little bit cautious, but I don’t approach people in that way. I’ve been in Jordan for instance recently. I was filming down there for a series I did called Mediterranean Kitchen. And I went into the house with these women, these two women. The mother was there, slightly more covered than the daughter, but I sat down and they invite you into their house and they introduce you to their culture, their food. And we made date molasses. So we took the stone out of the date and we got piles of piles of stones down here, piles of dates that we had to separate and put them into a pile and then went into a pot. And we made this fantastic date molasses. But what blew me away is I’m chatting there with the mother and everything, and she was very reserved because of her culture, but within a minute and a half of us there, she’s smiling with me and joking with her daughter, “Who is this man?” She said. “Who’s making me smile like this?” Talking with her daughter. Her daughter spoke perfect English. And then she was saying “Afterwards, we take the stones and we dry them in the sun. “Or we bake them, and make coffee out of the date stones.” And I was just like, wow, here comes to coffee. And oh, just the special moments that, that arrive in your life where you think, not that you’ve still got it, but that it’s, the world is a safe place. The world is still a happy place in a way because people are a bit cameras, can you imagine having cameras come into your home and everything else. We’re all are a little bit like this. Someone holds your phone up to you, takes a camera. Everyone goes, “Oh, am I right now?” Even though we’re a lot more relaxed than say our parents were who were absolutely petrified of cameras. It’s a different generation we are now. And now everyone’s taking photographs of everything. They are aren’t they? And sharing of course. But to be in that room, that kitchen, with those people in the modern era, and to think that, one minute I’m going there thinking, are they going to allow me to be who I am and everything else. But you don’t even have to think about it because the smile, the communication, the energy that you give off, and the way they picked up on it, it was just so special. And it just, just kind of think yeah, we are, we’re human beings. We are human beings. Doesn’t matter what religion, where you come from, we’re human beings. We should be able to communicate with each other, feel comfortable with one another.
– Well, I think you used a really interesting word, which is energy. And the having that good energy. I mean, that translates to everyone. I mean, you and I, for our listeners who don’t know, we used to do a double act for many years called The Calypso Twins. Look it up on YouTube folks.
– Yeah, and look around us.
– See your people. ♪ Everybody dancing and got together ♪
– Look at you.
– Hmm hmm.
– You look at me. We’re both wondering what the hell are we going to do?
– I know I know I know.
– God, I’m now singing it all in my head, with all those years. ♪ No need to worry you’re ♪ ♪ Leaving a hole ♪
– Clap your hands.
– Stamp your feet. ♪ Feel your body grooving with the beat ♪ ♪ Because, hmm well here we are again oh oh ♪ ♪ We got to sing and we don’t don’t really know why ♪ ♪ Calypso time again ♪ ♪ Woo hoo ♪ It’s enough, you’ll have to play.
– Oh oh, we’ll get some PRS out of it.
– Oh right there, right there, yeah.
– Oh no, it just, it makes me smile. And it makes me tear up because of the joy. But actually you touched on it, but the energy, all the comedians we used to work, the Comedy Store, we worked in America, we worked Jongleurs all those places, and all the comedians–
– And 30,000 feet in the air.
– 30,000 feet in the air. On Virgin flights yeah. And we worked everywhere.
– Yeah. And it was all about the energy. I mean, I don’t think we had the best material in the world, and I’m being quite honest. But what we did is we had good energy. And that was led by you. You would come out and you would just see an audience change. And I talk about, and I don’t think I’ve ever said this to you properly, but because of the nature of the act, you used to go out first and I used to follow and be very still and very quiet while you went. And I used to just marvel at how the audience just used to fall in love with you.
– Hmm hmm.
– And that a gift and everything. And I think now we’re actually analysing. I know I’m a psychologist and we’re analysing it, it’s because it’s all genuine.
– And it’s coming from a heartfelt place,
– Where you’re just going I’m going to give you good energy and give it back.
– You know what, and you’re so right, because that opening sequence didn’t know what we were going to do. You know, you’d be pacing up and down in the background thinking now you’ve got to do this mate, you’ve got to do that. Well I said, “I don’t know ’til I get out there, “til I see the people.” Isn’t that interesting. You see the people, you connect with them, the eyes the feeling, the vibration and everything else. And then it happens. Up until that point you don’t know, you just don’t know. It’s a bit like Billy Connolly when he used to walk out there. You don’t know, every night it’s going to be different.
– It’s instinctive, isn’t it?
– Hmm hmm hmm.
– But actually I think it was a very special ability to turn off the conscious mind and just trust the unconscious. And it’s a trust exercise isn’t it? Where you just go, I’m going to go into this with all good intent, all good love in my heart, all good. And then I’m going to instinctively play off whatever happens. I mean, I’m not unpacking it really but I think that’s what’s happening. And I think that’s what the people who do it really well, do it. And I mean for our listeners to take away, you know it isn’t about going, when you go for a job interview, going okay, “I must do these things, say these things.”
– Look at the person that’s interviewing you, pick up the vibe, pick up the energy and you know, we’re all so, so different and, liken it to football. Every Mourinho, Wenger, Alex Ferguson for our generation, all different, all different types of people. Same thing, all aiming for the same thing, but different. So how would you, how would you approach them? How would you speak to them? You know that you walked in and you spoke with Arsene Wenger and you started talking about philosophy, you’d probably play centre forward the next day.
– What the, also what the great managers do, and you know a lot of people will be managers in their companies who are listening to this or leaders and CEOs or whatever. What the great managers do is they are great listeners aren’t they? I mean talk about listening with the eyes and going, some people need a kick up the bum. Some people need an arm round the shoulder. And that’s trusting instincts isn’t it?
– Yeah, I think it is, it’s hard. I think the, that’s why to be able to recognise that at quite a young age, to have that ability at a young age is something else. ‘Cause we all eventually get there at some point in life. But you know, often you get to a point and you reflect and you look back on, “Gah, I wish I knew what I knew. “What I know now I knew then” and all that type of stuff. We’re forever beating ourselves up about, I wish I had that experience, I wish I had that vision then. But it’s just important to trust your instincts, trust who you are, trust what you, what you’re about, as a person. I have a friend and who was in advertising many years ago and I think they had, it’s either Pepsi or Coke Cola, a big account, a real big big account. And I said, “How do you make decisions? “What do you do?” And he said, “It’s just what feels right.” He said, “It just feels right.” He said, and luckily he was able to survive 10 years in a job of making decisions based on how he felt, it felt right. And I think you have to trust yourself. Quite often we’re looking at others all the time. What do you think? What do you think? What do you think? What do you think? You can I ask 20 people, their opinions. It’s about how, what, you have to make that decision and stick by it and feel good about it because it’s your years of experience. Remember that lovely Picasso thing, that when you’ve been interviewed in America and the guy said, “Okay,” you know he’s got paintings worth millions of pounds and stuff like that. And he’s being interviewed, and he gave Picasso this pad. And he said, “Draw me something.” And handed it back to him. It took him like a minute to do it. And he said, “How much do you think I could sell this for?” And he said, “I don’t know, £40,000 £50,000 “or something like that.” He said, “What? “But it only took you less than a minute to do it.” He said, “Yes, but the 60 years experience in there.” And do you know what I mean? And it’s sometimes little things like that, that is what you’re buying into, it’s your experience of what you feel is right. And if it feels good, bang. And I kind of liked that.
– Yeah, well I do think it’s that experience of like when you’re on stage, now doing the cooking shows and live work and things, that experience really comes to play. Now all the years of working at Comedy Store and doing that comes into play. But it’s the experience of actually knowing instinctively how to connect isn’t it.
– I’ll tell you how valuable that is. I remember when I first did “Good Morning Anne and Nick” all those years ago, and one of my first live TV experiences and Anne Diamond and Nick were in the kitchen with me. They came over, they walked over, I was shaking like a leaf, I’d heated up my pans and everything else, everything was ready to go. And of course, Anne comes over, “What are you cooking here?” And grabs hold of the pan, “Ouch.” Burnt her hand. Well, I thought that was it. I thought my career was over. I couldn’t believe it. I’d burnt Anne, probably the most recognisable top presenter at the time in Britain. Everybody loved Anne Diamond. She was just like ah, and I thought that was it, my career was over. And it was only the beginning of things but I tell you what, it just taught me one or two things about how to prepare and how to get organised. I didn’t get sacked otherwise I wouldn’t be here now talking to you. But you know what, I walk into a kitchen now, don’t even blink, don’t even think about it. Walk into a studio, I should say. And, and I’m, as long as we plan, that’s there, that’s there, that’s there, yeah get on with it. And we just take it for granted. It’s one of the easiest things in the world. Yet, it’s one of the most difficult things in the world if you haven’t done it. So experience is everything. Giving yourself, being calm enough, taking a bit of stuff on board. Did you want us? Didn’t no no. Just being calm enough and stuff like that. So yeah, those things that, how you used to panic in the old days and how you do it now. And we all feel that. Everybody who is in business now, they’re just a lot, lot more comfortable. Things that I find a little bit surprising now is how we expect to, instead of looking at people instinctively and looking at what they can bring, the charm and everything else, we tend to look at their, that we tend to look at what they’ve achieved in life. And I met a guy the other day and he said “I didn’t leave school with any O levels or anything else. “I’m in charge, senior director or whatever he is, “CEO of my company. “And I won’t employ anybody now, “unless they’ve got a degree.” And it was, and I said, “Well, why is that?” And you know it was, it angered me in a way because I kept thinking, all you’re looking for is the success of your company and what these people could bring instead of looking for people and what they can bring to your company, and what they’re going to do for you. It’s so important that we identified with that. Certainly when I was in the kitchens and people would come for an interview, it wasn’t the fact that they’d worked at the best restaurants or the finest hotels. I wanted to, I was interviewing that person. I wanted to see what they could bring when they came. Of course they needed the experience. They wouldn’t be there unless they were looking for a trainee position or something like that.
– Well I think, ’cause I, as you know, I work with training big organisations out in the world and they won’t name the organisation but there was an organisation, you know a very big organisation I worked with who said that we only employ people with a first class degree from a first class university because we can get the best.
– And I’m like, well hold on, you want sales people because 60% of them were sales. And then, and they go, “Well, that’s what we bring you in for “is you can teach them that.” And I go, “Why not employ natural salespeople?” The kind of people we went to school with who had that natural nouse.
– And hunger.
– And hunger and ability with people to do it.
– Hmm hmm hmm.
– And so they would employ me to teach people with no natural instinct or ability to teach people, or to connect with people.
– Had a first class degree.
– They had a first class degree. And I said to them at one stage, and maybe you’ll like this analogy. I said, “That’s like being the Arsenal manager “and saying we’re only going to look for players “who went to Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard. “And you go, well that’s madness, isn’t it?”
– Right, I know, I know, I know, I know.
– And then to, “Oh no, but we want the best players. “We want the real thinkers, did you go.” Well it’s. And I think that’s a shame that everything, and you brought it up but a shame, and I think people in business can learn that there’s all this untapped amazing sort of talent out there if you’ll only develop a pipeline to get it.
– Probably, and probably when you start looking at stuff like, people like that, they’ve been fortuitous. They’ve probably have a little bit of money. Their parents or their parents have worked exceptionally hard to put them through private school, to put them through uni in order to have, for them to get where they’re going to. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve got the right values and stuff like that. I’m not knocking them. Many of them have, but some of them have had the silver spoon in the mouth for so long that they want it a little bit easier instead of those that are really hungry and passionate that want to learn. And that in itself is a skill, that skill that ability to interview someone, see the hunger, see the joy that of them wanting to come and work in your industry. And really passionate about it. And I used to cook me mum, I did this you know, the sort of guy hasn’t even been to catering school but some of them they just say, “Oh yeah and I’ve cooked me mates and I’ve done–” They’re interesting, they’re the interesting ones. They’re the ones that want to develop. They’re the ones that perhaps will one day open up their own business and have their own ideas of how things work and how things blend and how things come together. These are the real values that you look for in life. And it’s people like us, I suppose who are out there and can affect the next generation. Hopefully please, I don’t know. And what do you call it? Pedagogy, which is one of the funniest words I think is pedagogy. You don’t know quite know what it means but it means about, ah what’s your pedagogy? And someone said it to me one day, I thought, well what are they going on about? You know I thought it was a bit cheeky. But in fact, it’s what’s your style? What, how do you do things? What’s your pedagogy? How do, what do you bring to the table? You know, how do you, how are you going to influence me? And I just thought, wow, that is fantastic because it’s something you never forget and you then want to share even more. You want to share your passion more because someone’s addressed it, and said, this is why I’m passionate. Because sometimes whenever asked, why are we passionate?
– Well, I think the passion is the main thing. I always think it’s the first thing you should look for when you’re employing anyone. Are they passionate? Because passion sells.
– And if you won’t do that, the reason you’re successful is because you are passionate about food. You’re passionate about people. You’re passionate about life. That’s what’s selling. And also the funny thing is that the camera doesn’t lie.
– No no.
– The camera can actually feel the thing.
– You’ll go walking into people’s living rooms all the time. I mean, it’s the same as walking into somebody’s living room, but the honesty.
– The truth behind that is what’s really important.
– We often say that, we often say that about TV why people feel so comfortable quite often. Why they get excited when they meet you. They’ve invited you into their home, through the screen and they’re sitting down, they’re enjoying you in their comfort of their space. So you’re like one of them. You’re in their space with them.
– But you have to be authentic. And that’s
– Oh god yeah. They see through it.
– Of course.
– It’s like watching EastEnders and a bad actor or someone comes along. You think, can’t get them off. You can’t believe them, you know.
– Now we’ve reached the part of the show called Quickfire Questions.
– Do you like the jingle? ♪ Quick fire questions ♪
– The jingle was by Spike Edney of Queen and produced by Steve Haworth. Our old mate, good jingle, isn’t it?
– Lovely, love a bit of that thank you. Lovely, yeah yeah.
– Yeah. Quick fire questions. Who’s the funniest business person that you’ve met?
– Ah well, that’s an easy one. That’s probably my agent Jerry. And I think it’s–
– Jeremy Hicks.
– Jeremy Hicks, the most wonderful sense of humour. I sometimes get on the phone to Jeremy at six o’clock in the evening. At nine o’clock we’re still talking. It’s just unbelievable. If we’ve got the time. We certainly make the time. And I think that’s what one thing I love about the person is just that, especially in the past year it’s that you could, you feel relaxed talking. You don’t even notice the time. You have no idea how long you’re talking to someone because it just flows. But he’s just funny.
– He is funny.
– Funny yeah.
– He is, well I’ve known Jerry for 35 years as well. And he is one of those people who’s got an encyclopaedic mind for comedy hasn’t he?
– Oh wonderful, wonderful.
– And he loves the old shtick as well and lines and doing things.
– Beautiful banter, absolutely beautiful. And he’s just a really lovely man and a good friend. But humour is right up there. He’s been connected with it for a long, long time. And we’ve travelled all over the world together doing various things. And, we still find things to laugh about, and we have a history of laughter. And when you have a history of laughter you’re never hungry. It’s always there.
– Do you want to tell the the story about when you have breakfast with him?
– Oh breakfast is a, breakfast is a revelation. When you go for breakfast with Jeremy he’s just kind of, he always reminds you, it’s the only meal of the day where everything goes back to front. And I’d say, “What do you mean by that?” He said, “Well normally when you have your lunch “and your dinner, you have your starter, “your main course and your pudding.” He said, “With breakfast, you have your pudding first, “you have your cereal or yoghourt or your fruit.” And it’s so true. It’s just the only time. And then you go onto your bacon and eggs and everything else. But it’s my, the loveliest moment, the most joyous moment is when he orders his toast. Because on his phone, he has a picture of the toast exactly the way he likes it. He likes it almost black. I mean, I’m talking about, he could probably show that side of the phone actually, because he says to whoever’s doing the waitressing or waitering, he said “That’s how I want my toast?” Because you say to them, “Well done” they invariably come back with it kind of a bit brown around the edge, still white in the middle. He wants it black. And I think it’s so fun. And it works. It’s perfect. Because people know exactly what they’re dealing with. He said, “That’s how I like it.” And even though you’re bowing your head, in a way you think, “I wish I had the balls to it.”
– He is a funny man. What book makes you laugh?
– Books. Oh, “Green Eggs and Ham.”
– Wow, Dr. Seuss.
– Dr. Seuss.
– I think, and I kept it, you know, and I’ve probably got it up there in the library. And I’ve kept it there and the children have read it. And every time I read it, it just, I love the face, I love the animation, I just, everything about it. It’s yeah.
– That’s a brilliant book and a brilliant choice. What film makes you laugh Ains?
– Ooh, a bit of Charles Grodin and is it, Grodin and Robert De Niro, “Midnight Run.”
– Oh good choice.
– “Midnight Run” is an absolute classic, I love it. It’s just one of those films that every time it pops up on TV and I watch it again, I sit down. They’re just giggling like a little kid. Like I’m watching “The Incredibles” which also makes me laugh. And “Mrs. Doubtfire,” I could go on and on and on but I’m going to stick with “Midnight Run” ’cause I saw it the other night and I laughed out. I laughed for a long time anyway.
– Now taking a shift to the other side, a bit more serious is what’s not funny?
– What’s not funny? Any form of abuse, especially where children are concerned. That makes my blood boil. I can’t stand that. I can’t begin to think why anybody would, any I’m just, just that. I mean it’s, I don’t like stuff like that. I’m erm, you know, anger. I can understand screaming and shouting. I think we all get to the end of our tether and you just want to give out a little bit. But violence, and especially where children are concerned in anyway then nah.
– So would you rather be considered clever or funny?
– Bit of both I think. I’ve never been, you know academia was never my forte at school and I cannot deny that, but I’m so rich in other areas of my life and so experienced, and I’ve got so much to offer in other areas that I think the funny side of things, it’s not always there. I remember when they used to talk to Lenny Henry and everyone expects you to be laughing, him and Dawn when he was married to Dawn, to be laughing every second of the day. Well, it doesn’t happen like that. That’s not life. But the truth of the matter is that I think that if you are naturally a funny person I think that just comes across. And the cleverness is getting your timing right when you’re telling a gig, oh sorry a gag.
– The final question on the Humourology Podcast is Desert Island Gags. You can only take one gag to a desert island. What is it?
– I’ve been telling this gag for 20 years, maybe more. Maybe I heard it 20 years ago and it’s what’s been around forever. But it’s about the old boy who wants a pair of cowboy boots. He’s 80 years old and he eventually builds up his confidence to go and buy himself a pair of cowboy boots. He puts them on and says, “Oh these are absolutely great.” And you know, they look the business. And he goes home and his 78 year old wife’s there out in their kitchen. He walks in the kitchen and he says, “Ethel, he says, “do you notice anything different?” And so she turned around and she looks at him. She says, “No.” “Dammit,” He says, so he goes upstairs. He takes off all the clothes. And all he keeps on is the cowboy boots. And he goes back downstairs and he walks into the kitchen, he says, “Ethel, do you notice anything different now?” She turned around and she said, “No.” He says, “Look properly.” She goes, “Well it was hanging down yesterday, “it’s hanging down today, “and it will probably be hanging down tomorrow.” He said, “The reason it’s hanging down,” he said “It’s because it’s looking at my new cowboy boots.” And she said, “You should’ve bought a bleedin’ hat.” Oh lovely.
– Oh beautiful. Much like you, a beautiful gag beautifully delivered. It’s been a beautiful interview.
– Thanks mate.
– Ainsley Harriott, thank you so much.
– Where’s your hat? Oh let’s cook something.
– [Paul] The Humourology Podcast was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Banks. Music by Steve Haywarth, creative direction by Les Hughes and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe, like and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky Production.