A photograph of Stephen Bailey.

“Enjoy it, have a laugh, create some stories”: an interview with Stephen Bailey

After starting out as a stand-up comedian, Stephen Bailey made his name as a TV presenter on Celebs on the Farm and the narrator of Ferne McCann: First Time Mum. Other than stage and screen, Bailey recently started a podcast where he chats reality TV with fellow-comic Zoe Lyons. Here, Eleanor Luxton speaks to the self-confessed Real Housewives addict about his career and 2024 tour – an ode to settling down and proving that he’s more than just Crass. 

Eleanor: You always talk about your job in Sainsbury’s Denton (Greater Manchester) on stage. How have your previous jobs shaped your career in comedy?

Stephen: “I always say Sainsbury’s is the reason I know how to compère. That’s what I did on the checkouts: giving them banter, getting to know the regulars, learning how to be funny with strangers. I worked for the NHS for a bit, on reception, and that taught me how to reign it in. They’re very professional!”

Eleanor: Were you one of those nice, friendly receptionists or did you get angry at callers?

Stephen: “I’m the complete opposite. I just used to put everyone through to whoever they wanted.”

Eleanor: You must’ve travelled all across the UK during your previous tours (Can’t Think Straight, 2018; Our Kid, 2019; Can’t be Bothered, 2020). What have you learned about the UK?

Stephen: “I think we are a very friendly country – I end up getting to know people everywhere I go now. Right now, I feel like everyone just wants to have a laugh, since the lockdowns, we all just feel a bit worn out. Comedy is cheaper entertainment, and laughter’s good for you. I worry about everything: I’m such a ‘what if’ person, but you realise how many people go through it.”

Eleanor: Coming from a state school background at Oxford a lot of us experience imposter syndrome, and I certainly feel like I’m always worrying about things!  

Stephen: “Being in comedy I’m surrounded by Oxbridge-educated people. When I first started comedy I worked 12-14 hour days in my day job, and then went to gigs in the evening. People looked down on you for doing that. It took me years to get over that.”

Eleanor: Now you’re more established in your career, and are in a long-term relationship, do you feel more settled and less anxious? 

Stephen: “At the minute I think the word is ‘content’. Some things still get to me though: If I have to have a serious work chat about something I feel faint. I look faint. I don’t like it. But I’ve got nephews now and having children that you really love around makes you realise that nothing matters as much as these two little people. Then you have to have a serious work call and forget all that and have a breakdown of course.” 

Eleanor: So do you still feel like an outsider in comedy? Or have you carved your own niche in the industry? 

Stephen: “The answer honestly is both. I’ve got a good career, I’ve done some good jobs, I give less of a shit. But I still never get booked for topical shows – my family lived off food banks for a bit, but because I try to make my shows like a release for people, and not too political, producers forget that I’m layered. I have this accent and come across as quite camp and frivolous, so I’m not even considered for them. Reviewers can’t help but mention that I’m Northern, or working class, or gay. That’s not all I am.

“Nowadays, as much as people love to put me in a box, the world is too expensive to just ‘be a comedian’ or have one job. I like the variety of my life – I like going to corporate gigs and picking on the boss. I like doing a bit of social media content. I’d like to write a collection of dating stories one day, since there’s not much out there for gay people, there’s only coming out stories.” 

Eleanor: You mentioned social media there – how do you think funny TikToks and Reels are impacting your career and your audiences at shows? 

Stephen: “I have a weird relationship with social media. I find it a bit nonsense. But for the arts it gives everyone a chance since there’s no nepotism and you can build your own audience. In TV, one person’s decision means you’re done. It was Tom Horton and Troy Hawke who convinced me to post more – I won’t know how it’s changed my audience until this tour, but ticket sales are way better than they’ve been in the past. Having an audience of all different ages makes the show more playful too: when I write a dirty joke, I have to think if it would make my mum laugh.”

Eleanor: I read that you did a French degree, so I thought I should ask if you had any tips for students? Maybe about work/life balance?

Stephen: “I’m gonna sound so old – I’m only 37 I promise. Obviously get your degree, but enjoy the free time – you’re not as busy as you think you are. Enjoy it, have a laugh, create some stories.”

There are still a few tickets remaining for Stephen’s show Crass at the Old Fire Station in Oxford on Thursday, 29th February 2024 (8pm). You can get tickets here, and find the rest of his tour dates over on his linktree.

Image Credit: Tom Pitfield