Ipswich-born Britain’s Got Talent 2020 winner Jon Courtenay is coming back to his roots with his new UK tour ‘The Funniest Show With A Piano’, which is kicking off at the Ipswich Corn Exchange. With a soundtrack that includes all his Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) songs and music spanning the classics to rock n roll, Jon’s side-splitting show promises to leave you with a happy heart and a huge smile on your face. We decided to hear all about what you can expect from the tour and what it’s like to be back in Ipswich again from the man himself…
JM: Can you tell us a bit about how you got into comedy, because your style is slightly different, isn’t it, incorporating music into your act?
JC: The music and comedy kind of came along with each other quite naturally. I’ve played the piano since I was five years old and then the comedy came along when I got a magic set as a kid. I was an only child, so magic was kind of something I could entertain myself with and, back then, Tommy Cooper was a big deal on TV, he was a hilarious comedy magician so I started to try and replicate it and would mostly get laughs, which was nice! It’s quite addictive when you can get an audience laughing.
The piano came into the show a lot later on. I grew up watching Victor Borge, he was the original guy with the piano and a comedy act. That was the first time that it hit me that you’re allowed to be funny with a piano. I just try to put my own spin on it and try and make them original.
JM: Tell us a bit about your UK tour- what can people expect after being away for so long?
JC: I’m a bit worried that people are going to expect me to wring emotion out of them for an hour and a half. I’ve been doing some shows to build-up for the tour in the last six weeks and the common comment after the show is people saying that they were in floods of tears and had their tissues handy. I’ve spent my entire career trying to make people laugh and all a sudden everyone’s sobbing their eyes out!
There will be a lot of laughs, hopefully, and, with any luck, people will be leaving the show with a smile on their face, that’s the goal. I’m doing all the Britain’s Got Talent stuff too, there’s a lot of backstage gossip and stories in the show, so that’ll be a lot of fun!
JM: You’re coming back to Ipswich, your hometown, what’s that like after experiencing such a massive journey?
JC: It always feels like coming home. I live in a lovely village in Manchester and I’ve been up here for almost 20 years now, but I’ve still got a lot of family and friends in Ipswich and so it’s always really nice to come back for a bit. I was a member of the Wolsey Youth Theatre, I went to school in RHS in Holbrook and I lived in Ipswich for most of my childhood, so it does always feel like coming home in a way. Surprisingly, I can still find my way around Ipswich a lot easier than Manchester!
JM: I can imagine! Can you tell us a bit about what it was like to be a performer during lockdown?
JC: I was quite lucky in the fact that I’d built a home studio quite early in lockdown. I always wanted a home studio, for my piano and to practice my music and stuff, I suppose lockdown kind of gave me an excuse to create it, which is just as well. A lot of my work over the past few months has been done in there, I have a green screen set up with video cameras and stuff.. all very professional.
I did get the opportunity to do a lot of stuff online and raise some money with virtual shows, which was so much easier to do from the studio compared to having a keyboard on my lap in the kitchen. Doesn’t have quite the same professional feel, does it?
JM: (laughs) Not quite! Is it harder to tell what jokes land when it’s online compared to in person?
JC: Oh, a million percent! I’m in my office now and I have a little post-it note stuck under my camera that says in big letters: ‘remember the audience is there!’. It’s very weird. I’ve done live shows for almost 30 years and I can safely say there’s just no substitution for a live audience, even with the virtual screens they put in for BGT and the Royal Variety Show.
It is the next best thing for situations like the one we found ourselves in, at least shows can still go ahead, it would have been terrible if they were all cancelled. The energy that you get from a live audience, you can’t get that anywhere else. There’s something about sitting in a room with a bunch of strangers and all laughing together. Obviously, all the venues are doing their best to keep everyone safe too, which is great.
JM: They sure are and, as an audience goer, I can’t thank them enough for it! What’s been one of your favourite memories from a show?
JC: There’s been so many. SO MANY! My first ever performance was quite memorable because I was doing it for a charity at 11 years old, which was a huge deal for me, and I made this big entrance, striding out onto the stage, and promptly tripped over an extension wire and fell flat on my face. That was my first ever entrance onto a professional stage and it all kind of went down from there! I wasn’t even trying to do comedy at that age either, I was trying to do a very serious magic act. I’ve had people come up on stage before a come and take a swing at me, there’s been all sorts.
I get a lot of people now who ask me for advice, which is crazy because I never think i’m in a position to give advice because I’m always learning, but the one thing I always say is if you’re going into the performing arts, always be prepared to be pushed back. You’re going to auditions and people are going to tell you that you’re too fat, too skinny, too short, whatever. And some nights you’ll cry yourself to sleep because of how belittled you feel and you’ve got to have the stamina to get up the next day and get on with it. So you really have to love the job and what you do and remember how amazing it can be, which is generally the majority.
JM: Are you ever nervous before going on stage? Because humour can be quite subjective.
JC: Humour can be quite a personal thing, so you just kind of have to hope that the audience shares your sense of humour. I don’t get nervous really, I perhaps get a bit excited or apprehensive. With this tour, because it’s a brand new show, it’s a little daunting to do, which is one of the reasons I’m so happy to kick it off with Ipswich. I’m anticipating a friendly crowd, I hope anybody in Ipswich reading this feels the pressure because you’ve got to be a friendly crowd!
JM: I’m sure you’ll smash it, everyone in Ipswich is always up for a laugh! How has your life changed since being on BGT?
JC: It hasn’t changed at all at home. My kids have taken it in their stride now, my wife got over it within 24 hours, I had to make my own cup of tea the next morning, there was no special treatment! I guess I’ve got more strangers coming up and talking to me than normal. They’re always so nice, haven’t met too many nutters yet!
I haven’t yet gotten used to strangers talking to me as if they know me. I’m pretty useless with faces and so people will come up and be like ‘Hey, John, how are you?’ and I’ll have a whole conversation with them before I realise I have no idea who they are. You know how you do, you kind of go ‘how’s the family? Great to see you!’ and then they’ll walk away and my wife will turn to me and be like ‘you do know they’re just fans?’ and I’ll always be like ‘No! I didn’t want to chance it, I was just being polite!’. So I’m pretty useless in that regard… I’ve gotten away with it until now when they read this!
JM: The jig is up! So what would you like to do in the future after the tour?
JC: Well, there’s all kinds of stuff in the works! I’m talking to different people about TV projects, I’m writing a musical with somebody that I can’t talk too much about. I’d love to do some more radio. It’s really exciting that this has opened all these doors for me now. Like I said, I used to be a part of New Wolsey’s Youth Theatre, which was some of the happiest times of my life, so if I could get back into acting and that kind of stuff, it’d be great. There’s a lot of things on the table… my people are talking to their people, as they’d say in Hollywood!
JM: Very Hollywood! What would you like to say to all of your supporters and fans?
JC: Do you know what, it’s very overwhelming and emotional. People come up to me now when they see my shows and tell me they voted for me on BGT from day one. A lot of people say they knew I was going to win from the first moment they saw me and I always say ‘at least one of us did!’. Even my family didn’t put on a bet for me to win… not sure what that’s all about!
Obviously, I’d like to say a huge thank you. One of the reasons I’m even able to do this tour is because of my success on BGT and without the fans voting me through to the final, I wouldn’t be doing all this. I’ve always said that after the shows, I’m always going to stay at the theatre for as long as it takes to say hi to anyone that wants to meet me because it’s been an incredible experience. So, yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone!
Be sure to check out Jon’s show as it stops at a venue near you!
- >>> 19 Sep Corn Exchange, Ipswich
- 22 Sep Bilston Town Hall, Wolverhampton
- 23 Sep The Civic, Barnsley
- 25 Sep The Forum, Northallerton
- 26 Sep Tyne Theatre and Opera House, Newcastle
- 27 Sep Little Theatre, Chorley
- 29 Sep The Witham, Barnard Castle
- 30 Sep Playhouse, Alnwick
- 2 Oct The Mill, Banbury
- 3 Oct Corn Exchange, Exeter
- 4 Oct Queens Theatre, Barnstaple
- 5 Oct Camberley Theatre, Camberley
- 8 Oct Civic Hall, Ellesmere Port
- 10 Oct Town Hall, Middlesbrough
- 11 Oct City Varieties Music Hall, Leeds
- 17 Oct Beck Theatre, Hayes
- 18 Oct Hazlitt Theatre, Maidstone
- 21 Oct Leicester Square, Theatre London
- 22 Oct Farnham Maltings, Farnham
- 23 Oct Royal Hippodrome, Eastbourne
- 31 Oct Lyceum Theatre, Crewe
- 1 November Lyric, Carmarthen
- >>> 4 November Key Theatre, Peterborough
- 9 November The Lowry, Salford
- >>> 27 January Playhouse, Norwich