Interview: Les Dennis, comedian, actor

Les Dennis as Jigsy

Les Dennis as Jigsy

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‘Jigsy is a Liverpool comic. He’s old school, working class, and a local hero. His humour is steeped in the culture that surrounds him.”

Popular funnyman Les Dennis is describing Jigsy, the jobbing comic he plays at the Assembly Rooms for the next three weeks.

Over the last 30 years, Jigsy has worked with them all - and he’ll tell you the stories to prove it.

Jigsy, the play, receives its premiere this Fringe, but Dennis reveals it is a project he has been involved with for some eight years, since playwright Tony Staveacre first sent him the script.

“I was intrigued by his knowledge of Liverpool working class culture - he’s a Bristolian,” says Dennis. “But it turned out he had interviewed Jackie Hamilton, 
a Liverpool comic, on numerous occasions. The detail was so convincing that I decided I had to do it.”

Over the years Dennis reckons he has met many ‘Jigsys’, but it was Hamilton he kept in mind when creating the character.

“Every city has comedians who tap into local culture and have success but don’t travel well,” he explains. “Jackie Hamilton was certainly the template for Jigsy, but it celebrates all these funny, local heroes.”

Old school comics such as Hamilton - and Edinburgh’s Happy Howden - are fast disappearing these days. Many say that’s a good thing, but Dennis has a more philosophical approach to the question.

“The old school comic is a rare breed now but does still exist. The clubs they worked in are dying out, so that sense of local community is harder to portray to their audiences.

“There is a perception that they were all racist and sexist. Some were, some like Jigsy most definitely weren’t.

“I feel sad that some brilliant comics have been forgotten. Google Eddie Flanagan and you’ll see what I mean.”

Jigsy marks Dennis’ third Fringe appearance and it was thanks to previous experiences here that he was determined to get the play to Edinburgh.

“I want Jigsy to have a long life and the Fringe remains one of the best platforms for new work.

“You are playing alongside creative people at the top of their game. It can only encourage you to raise yours,” he says.

And he has another good reason to remember his last trip north.

“I love coming to Edinburgh and last time I was here, Claire and I found out we were expecting our daughter Eleanor, so it’s a place dear to my heart.”

Dennis also presented the first ever Evening News Drama Award at the Fringe, back in 2007, and is delighted to be presenting another this year.

“I had such a good time at the last Award Ceremony and am excited to see who the winners are. Thank you for asking me back.”

Jigsy, Assembly Rooms, George Street, until August 26, August 14-15, www.edfringe.com