Stuck In A Lift
The classiest man in stand-up talks mayonnaise, Michael Ball and Emma Bunton's mum
According to The Daily Telegraph, Tom Houghton is the long-awaited male answer to Bridget Jones. “I took that as a massive compliment,” says Houghton. “I’m single, I’m in my 30s, I’m now living in Borough Market and I’m currently wearing massive pants.”
Moving into his new flat in 2021 after six years in residence at… The Tower Of London (really), Houghton’s “ultra-privileged” stand-up career exploded after a pandemic spent making videos on lockdown life inside a royal palace. Now the presenter of the Netflix show The Circle and host of hit podcasts Bad Manors, Class Dismissed! and Very British Problems, Houghton is touring his new show, It’s Not Ideal, around the world. Even in places where that might not actually work.
“New York was lovely,” he laughs, speaking between an American tour and a string of dates in Holland and Germany. “It was just interesting to see how the humour translates over there. Americans get aristocracy because of things like The Crown, and they’re all royalists. So it feels like they get that joke already. Having said that, when I was doing The Circle with a bunch of Americans and I told them I used to live in The Tower Of London, they asked me if that was the one with all the waxwork models in it…”
Before he picks up the rest of his world tour – and before It’s Not Ideal comes to UK stages in February – we got stuck in a lift with Tom Houghton to ask the less high-class questions.
Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?
My instinct is straightaway to say either a lift mechanic, or some horrendously good looking model, but the person I’d probably choose is Eminem. I’m not a big fan of hero worship but Eminem is the one for me. Obviously, being a private schoolboy I had such a big connection with Eminem growing up… I actually think rap and comedy are quite similar. It’s all about organising words and having punchlines and bars. So weirdly, I’d want to pick his brain about that. He’s also someone that’s got me through many a breakup and many a gym session, many a rugby match.
Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?
You know who annoys me the most? Michael Ball.
He’s a national treasure!
That’s the trick. That’s how he gets you. I think he’s got a very smug way about him. And I think it was ever since he did that record with Captain Tom. Somehow he suddenly became Captain Tom’s best friend. Even though he only met him for like a week. I think I think maybe in COVID I was probably feeling a little bit angry at the world, and it just really got to me that Michael Ball forced this old man to sing… So yeah, he’d be my worst to get stuck with. Lift music is bad enough without Jean Valjean singing at you.
What’s the weirdest interaction you’ve ever had with a famous person?
She’s not a famous person but Emma Bunton’s mum messages me quite a lot. As a kid of the 90s it’s quite fun to get updates from one of the Spice Girls’ mums every now and again.
Also, I used to work for an events company, doing catering, and I once had to serve Kristen Scott Thomas. She was in Four Weddings And A Funeral and I’m a massive Hugh Grant fan – if I was ever an actor, I’d want to be the next Hugh Grant… I can’t actually act but I can be myself. So anyway, I saw Kristen Scott Thomas in person and she’s so stunning. I remember I was serving hors d’oeuvres and it was “a brûlé of foie gras and apple”. I’d rehearsing it the whole day, and as soon as I met her I was “would you like a blehblehflerandapple?”. She just looked at me and said, “no”. I think that was the first time I’d been starstruck and lovestruck at the same time, and I only managed to get the word “apple” out. It was terrible.
What was the last gig or show that you went to?
I got asked out on blind date by a girl who wanted to go and see Panic! At The Disco. She was very heavily tattooed, and looked nothing like any person from my world at all, and she knew all the words to every song. I moshed along as best as I could.
What’s on your rider?
I tend to just have water. It used to be a Monster energy drink. I used to have a whole can before going on stage. And then my 20s finished… So it went down to a smaller can of Red Bull. And then later to a can of Coke. The energy spike is coming down. It’ll just be one lick of a lollipop soon.
What did the 12-year-old you imagine that you’d be doing now?
When I was young I either wanted to be an astronaut or a snake charmer. I wasn’t very good at maths, and I can’t play the recorder, so neither of those dreams came true. I then wanted to be an artist for a while. I still do art actually – I illustrate a lot of my routines and jokes and I sell them on the merch stand. And then I wanted to become an actor. I think 12-year-old me probably thought I’d be an actor by now. Ever since I was in The Pied Piper Of Hamelin in my school play.
Surely you had to play a recorder for that?
Well, I had to hold a recorder. The music teacher played a flute offstage while I mimed. All the younger six-year-old kids were dressed as the rats of Hamelin, and I had to walk them around the audience as if I was scaring them away from the town. After I’d done a circuit I said to the mayor, “there you are sir, they’re all drowned. Now, where’s my money?”. But as all the kids had passed through the audience they’d all been distracted by seeing their parents, so a couple of kids turned up late and ran across the stage right when I said my line. It got a huge laugh, and that’s probably the moment I realised being funny on stage is probably better than just being a serious actor.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given?
I remember when everyone at school started going out with girls and we used to get hold of each other’s text messages and take the micky about how we were being lovey dovey or overly gushy. And I always remember one guy saying, “oh, I always text my girlfriend as if one of my mates is reading it over my shoulder”. Like, “don’t be too sentimental”. I now realise that’s terrible advice. It’s so toxic and horrible. You should never do anything as if anyone’s judging you for it. Do everything how you want to do it.
What’s your most controversial food opinion?
I hate ketchup. I don’t even like baked beans. I find the whole thing too much. Tomato sauce is overwhelming. If I have a Full English Breakfast I’ll cancel the beans. I’m a very much a mayonnaise guy.
Not on a Full English though, right?
Oh yes. Egg on egg.
Which film have you rewatched the most times?
Probably Jurassic Park. It’s my all-time favourite film. It hit me just at the right time back in 1993, when I was eight-years-old. I remember going, ‘Oh my God, dinosaurs actually exist’. I used to collect cardboard boxes at supermarkets, bring them back home and then recreate scenes from the film in my back garden. I’d take all my parents’ friends on a trip around Jurassic Park, and I’d act out all the dinosaurs. I was obsessed with that film.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
When I was 16 my parents sent me to work on the local estate. I should clarify that I’m talking about Lord Zetland’s country estate rather than a housing estate… But I was working with all the builders. Because I was 16, and very under qualified, I didn’t have any skills. So they’d be doing all the big stuff and my first ever job was to paint a 400-metre fence black. And it was a summer job, so the sun was beating down. And I didn’t bring a radio. So I was just stood in silence all day, painting a 400-metre fence. It was horrendous.
What’s the skill that no one else knows that you’re great at?
I’m really good at untying knots. I always like the challenge of knot. Christmas lights, shoelaces, you name it. I even like it when the waistband string disappears inside a pair of sweatpants, and you have to thread it back around. I’m very good at that. Anything where string has become complicated, ring me.
Do you have any superstitions?
I know in my head that superstitions are ridiculous. I dressed up as a black cat one Halloween, got very drunk and spent the entire night running across the road in front of traffic shouting at people, telling them that they now had bad luck. But… I still wouldn’t walk under a ladder. I also have this thing where if I knock my foot I have to knock the other foot twice and then knock the first foot again, to even out the knocks.