DISTINCTIVE. Everything about Andrew Lawrence is distinctive; his voice, which he pitches to suit the story; his build, wiry and nervous; his look, ginger misfit, with piercing eyes.
The fast-talking 35-year-old, whose TV stints include Stand Up For The Week, Live at the Apollo and Michael MacIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, returns to the Capital on Sunday, to appear at The Stand Comedy Club.
Already a circuit veteran with 11 years of touring to his credit, Lawrence’s act has been described variously as ‘dark’, ‘misanthropic’ and ‘miserablist’.
The Croydon-born comic is, therefore, suitably thoughtful when asked if these are words to which he relates.
“I don’t see myself as that when I am coming up with stuff. I just come up with stuff I think is funny. Stuff I’m interested in and that I think will make an audience laugh,” he says. “But then, when you read that about yourself, you start to see yourself in those terms. You can’t help but be affected by that because it gives you an identity that prints itself on you. But it’s also important to struggle against that, in order not to resort to formula.”
Consequently, Lawrence is one of the most unique acts around - not that it is always easy to retain his edgy demeanour, especially when television, which can make or break your career, demands safe comedy.
“I try to be careful. In the first ten years of your career you do a lot of club gigs with other comedians. Every night you are watching each other. You pick up techniques from each other.
“That’s the dangerous thing about the club circuit; acts can become very homogenous, very similar. They just spend so much time together.
“You have to do what is unique to you. I try to look outside of stand-up comedy for inspiration. I have no direct sources, I just live my life, constantly aware that I am looking for ideas in whatever I happen to be doing.
“It’s important to operate on instinct, rather than trying to be what you think the industry or TV wants you to be.”
It’s an ethos that has served Lawrence well since winning the BBC New Act of the Year Competition in 2004, especially on radio where he has carved a lucrative niche for himself through Radio 4 shows such as How Did We End Up Like This?, What To Do If You’re Not Like Everybody Else and Act Your Age.
“I’ve been really lucky because people at BBC Radio have shown a lot of faith in me and been really trusting and supportive, particularly the head of comedy Jane Bertoud,” he acknowledges.
“Stand-up can work particularly well on radio, although you can be slightly restricted in terms of the language.
“I work in quite fluid ways. I don’t turn over a new two-hour show all in one go. I try out little bits at every gig, so it is evolving all the time. I do one show at the Fringe in August, and by the time it gets around to the next August, it’s a completely different show.”
That organic approach that can be too much for TV, he admits.
“Television just looks for stand-up comedians who are very vanilla, very safe and bland. That’s not necessarily what I do, although in the past I have shifted a little bit to accommodate that, mainly so I could build a tour following of people who were aware of me from the TV.
“In terms of longevity, however, you have to be unique and do your own thing. TV is very fickle, but if you are on the circuit and you are funny, people will keep booking you and keep coming back to see you.
“It’s about staying true to yourself and giving an honest account of yourself on stage.”
It was here in the Capital that Lawrence first discovered his love of stand-up. Studying English at St Andrews University at the time, he took a trip to the Fringe one summer break.
“Like most young people, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was just hoping I’d find something I like. I’d always wanted to try stand-up. To stand on a stage and see what it was like. But I never thought it might be something I could do for a living - it wasn’t an obvious career for anyone back then.
“Then I came down to the Fringe. It was amazing. Being able to get to do that when I was young, to see what it was all about, was so important.”
Back at university Lawrence set about making his dream a reality.
“There was a big drama scene in St Andrews, so I actually started out doing a lot of acting. Then I did a double act and then organised a couple of stand-up comedy nights.
“Out of that I managed to get enough material to enter the Gilded Balloon’s So You Think You’re Funny? the summer I left university. I ended up doing well enough in that to get a manager.”
That was in 2003. Lawrence has been a regular at the Fringe ever since. In 2006 he performed his first hour-long, How To Butcher Your Loved Ones. Social Leprosy For Beginners & Improvers came next in 2007.
Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There (2008), Soul-Crushing Vicissitudes Of Fortune! (2009), Non-Conformists’ Guide To Civic Responsibility (2010), The Best Kept Secret In Comedy Tour (2011), Andrew Lawrence Is Coming To Get You (2012) and There Is No Escape, all followed.
“In my day, you worked your way up gradually,” he reflects. “Acts these days are much more businesslike in their approach because the industry exploded five years ago and became much more lucrative.”
He adds wryly, “When I started, it was mostly people with varying degrees of mental health problems just trying to get on stage to get something out of their system.”
That’ll be the misanthrope shining through.
Andrew Lawrence: There Is No Escape, The Stand, York Place, Sunday, 8.30pm, £13, 0131-558 7272