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Mark Lamarr

Mark Lamarr Interview

Interview by Jo Brown, March/April 2003

I was gobsmacked one day at the end of September to get home and find a message on my answer phone from Mark Lamarr. A very surreal experience I can tell you! We'd written to him asking if we could interview him for CHEERS and he was phoning to say that he would be very happy to. We're very privileged as he doesn't often give interviews and hasn't given one for some time. After a few more missed messages Jen Evans and I eventually caught up with him on the phone a few weeks later and we discovered that he actually had an experience that gave him a better understanding of what we go through with our illnesses.

A review of the interview was printed in the March/April 03 issue of CHEERS, but here you can read the full transcripts of the interview.

Mark LamarrHow did you get started in your career?

It's a really bizarre and quite probably romantic and poetic story. When I was at school, I used to write funny poems for the school magazine and for my mates and it was in the mid eighties when there was a lot of ranting poetry and stuff and I sent off a poem to 'Faber and Faber', they had like a collection of new poets that they were publishing. They published it and not only did they publish it but they erm"¦my poem was quite short and funny, and they used it for all the publicity, so suddenly the first week of being in show biz, I suppose, not only was I in a book, but I was in all these National Newspapers and then the Royal Court Theatre rang me up, and said would you come on and perform for us in the middle of some plays, so I literally was on in a massive respected theatre and in all these television programmes and stuff in my first day of performing or something or really my first week. Then I thought I might as well do this for a living for a while.

That must have been a bit of a shock to get it all so fast.

Well it wasn't really getting it because of course after that there was seven years of me working my arse off and, you know, no-one noticing which is of course probably the best way of doing it really.

Which do you enjoy the most, radio presenting, television presenting, or being on the stand-up comedy circuit?

Erm, I sort of like the fact that I can do all 3 really. I do very little stand-up nowadays, just because I'm too old I think, I think it's a younger person's job and you end up, when you do that for a living, you end up literally on the road all the time, the last time I did stand up properly, I probably did something like 400 gigs one year and I just haven't got the energy to do that anymore. But I like the fact that I've sort of made a little nest for myself that is very comfortable to live in and I can do things I really love doing you know.

Of all the TV shows you've been involved with such as The Word, Big Breakfast, Shooting Stars and Never Mind the Buzzcocks plus many more, which was the most fun to do?

Erm, I think probably 'Buzzcocks'. 'The Word' was no fun at all, it was a horrible, horrible, repulsive environment to work in, mainly due to the company, they were just very"¦just an obnoxious group of people to deal with and I think that came across in the shows they ended up producing. And 'Shooting Stars' was strangely no fun what-so-ever, because I was sort of playing a particularly moody, almost mute character and you end up just doing that. So there were times when we'd get to the end of the show and I'd think, "I haven't really said a word" and there were actually shows when I don't think I said a single thing cos I was so intent on sort of doing this moody character and stuff and it's a shame that that show wasn't more fun, I mean it was always fun with Vic and Bob because they are old friends and it was nice working with them, but no, it wasn't fun. 'Buzzcocks' I think was the first time on television I really thought "Oh you can enjoy your job as well", which I think is very rare, I bet there are very few people in television who count down the days to their next recording, which I do. That would definitely be the greatest fun, but that might just be a control thing, that might just be that I'm in the middle and calling the shots, I don't know.

Which Radio Station did you most enjoy working for?Mark Lamarr

I haven't worked for many to be honest, I like it at Radio 2, I really like it at Radio 2, because they let me do whatever I want, but I used to do a show on GLR, the local London station, which is now called London Lights, and that was exactly the same, they'd let me do whatever I want, that's the only reason I do it really, I'm passionate about music and that's very rare amongst DJ's sadly. So I've never done a show where I've had to play anything, I've never had a play list or anything like that. It's sort of academic really as long as I can do what I want to do in a show then I'm happy. Again going back, I do sound like a control freak!

I've read that you have over 10,000 records, is this is true and have you listened to every single one?

How do you store them all and what are some of your favourites? I've actually, you know recently, I worked it out and there are probably 30 or 40,000. Whoa! And no I haven't listened to all of them, but the vast majority, there is probably always a thousand that I keep meaning to get round to or something, which I know sounds ridiculous, erm, and I store them, I've got a big record room, in my house, obviously. And it is weird actually, recently someone sent me a thing from an American Newspaper, I don't know if it was like an American fan or something because now on radio you can listen to it all around the world on the internet and stuff, and it was a picture of me in my record room, but it was a picture about nutters basically, about obsessives, and it didn't say anything, it didn't say "Mark Lamarr, British TV host" or whatever, it just sort of said "This vinyl obsessive" you know, so I'm obviously being used as some sort of template of craziness around the world now which is quite bizarre.

I can't imagine that being the case! So do you have some favourites in that?

Yeah, I've got like, you know, 39,000 favourites! I'm very, very strict on them and I don't keep anything I don't like. So, I feel like a Queen Ant or something, I don't know if I'd miss one if it was gone, but collectively I'm very fond of all of them. But I like all sorts of music so it's very hard to say, at the moment I'm just about to start a new series of my reggae show on Radio 2, so I'm listening to reggae the whole time. As soon as I'm finished it I probably won't listen to it for a month or two because I'll be tired of that rhythm and I'll be listening to something else. Probably 'Ludicrous' is my favourite artist at the moment.

And do you still regularly buy more records?

Yeah, I don't buy as many as I used to nowadays, but yeah, I can't imagine a week going by without buying any, and of course because I'm a DJ, I get them sent to me on a daily basis, but, it's a hobby I have less and less time for, but that's probably good as I have less and less space as well. But sometimes if I have some time off, I'll go to America and I might just drive round for 6 weeks, literally from one record shop to another, every day, 7 days a week, for 6 weeks, just trying to find stuff.

Following on slightly, do you get any time, with everything you do and all these records to listen to follow any other hobbies?

Well, that would be it really, that would be my main hobby. I actually do get a lot of time, I made a decision, I sort of, I suffered from exhaustion a couple of years ago, and I know in show biz that sounds like drugs, but it wasn't, and I'd always thought whenever people say exhaustion "yeah, that must mean drugs, that must be like some sort of code-word in the newspapers". But I just basically shut down completely for two weeks, couldn't speak, couldn't walk, whatever, and I thought "I'm working too hard!" So now, I take off as much time as I can, and I also don't want to be on television the whole time because you end up like all those other annoying people, so I try and take off a lot of time, at the moment I'm the middle of my busy sort of period, but generally, I'm quite a relaxed individual nowadays.

Having this episode, must have given you a little bit of understanding of what it's like to have ME.

Well, I don't think anyone could really understand what it's like, but I remember thinking "Maybe that's what it is". And obviously it isn't because I'm incredibly active and speak very fast (As I'm sitting trying to write this from a Dictaphone, I realise he's right, Mark does speak very fast!) and I can't shut up and I'm always on the go, but yeah I do have greater sympathy with the whole thing because I couldn't quite believe that my body wasn't working, especially, I was probably 33 at the time, and I thought "well surely this isn't right, I don't understand it" and I still don't understand and I went to all sorts of doctors and specialists and they were just saying you know, lay down and"¦

rest?

"¦yeah and just relax, but of course it's not as easy as all that is it, because your mind is always going.

Mark LamarrHad you heard of ME or had any personal experience with anyone with ME before we contacted you?

No, no, not at all, I mean I'd heard of it obviously, but there still sort of seems to be great debate, you know medically whether it exists, and then you meet people and they say "Oh no, a friend of mine's got it" and of course it exists, so it seems to be a rather fractious debate really, there's no point saying something exists if someone says "No, I've got it", it seems a big waste of time by the medical community there.

Yeah, we can certainly promise you it exists!

I have, particularly since I had my little bout, which has recurred very occasionally, had people say "You know I've got a friend with ME" and you can't imagine the level of torture that they have to put up with.

What in your eyes is your greatest achievement to date?

Ummm, I don't really think I've had any great achievements, I'm not Leonardo di Vinci or anything, I accept I'm a comedian and I can write a joke and that's really my job. I mean I've had lots and lots of, sort of, very pivotal moments in show biz and stuff, but I wouldn't be as pompous as to claim them as achievements really.

I believe you were born Mark Jones.

Yes.

How did you come to change your name to Lamarr? And is Lamarr just a stage name or now your legal name?

When I joined Equity when I was 18, there was already a Mark Jones, and of course in a union, particularly in that union, you can't have the same name as someone else, so I had to change it for them. I just thought it was funny, it was just a little in-joke for me, because I was literally playing in rooms above pubs in front of 20 people, that would be a very typical gig, and I thought it would be really funny to have to a big showbiz name, because what I was doing was so ratty and useless

and I was on the dole at the time, and I thought , "Oh that'll be a really funny thing to do". Then as the years went by it just, you know, it's weird, I never thought I'd be doing it for longer than 6 months, I was 18 and just thought I'll go off and do something else interesting at some point in my life. So it just stuck and I'm glad it stuck, I really like it, I think it's a really nice name and I encourage everyone to go and change their name to something they prefer, because it's quite good fun. It's really nice when you say to someone your name and they go, "that's a really nice name" and you go "Yeah I chose that one" and it was just someone on a record, I just thought, "That's a really nice name Lamarr, I think I'll have that". And yeah, now I suppose I am legally Lamarr, it's on my passport, so yeah.

Your famous quiff has now gone, why?

I was about to start a tour, I never do interviews and I haven't done one for 3 years or something, again I don't like to be in people's faces the whole time, but anyway I was doing a tour, and I'd worked really, really hard and it was a really good show and I'd written for about four months to write this tour, and I did like 30 interviews in 2 days to promote the tour and every single person asked me about my hair and I just thought I don't want to be known for my hair, I want to be known for all the hard work I put into what I do, so I thought it was probably a good time to get rid of it. It was always just my hair to me, it seems to be a bigger fascination to everyone else than it was to me, it was just the shape of the things on top of my head. But I think it probably did help in a weird way, I think it became sort of something to identify me with and all those weird show biz things, but I'm sort of glad it's gone"¦I don't know why, I think just because I'm getting older again and I think I can't have the same haircut I had when I was 17. The weird thing is men keep one hair style for their entire lives, that's what men do, so I suppose that's why it caused such a big fuss, I still, people ask me about it probably on a daily basis, people still talk about it which is quite a weird thing just for a haircut.

And do you have any other distinguishing features, such as a tattoo?

Yeah I've got a tattoo of Yogi Bear on my shoulder, which I think I had done to impress a girl, yeah I can't imagine I've done anything that hasn't been to impress a girl at some point or another. Did it impress her? No, no I don't think it did, nah, that's shocking isn't it? What a waste of ink!

Can you describe yourself in 3 words?

No I can't. I've tried it, one reason I don't do interviews; I really, really hate the idea of celebrity. You never read about me in the paper, I never go to all the openings, I don't hang about with all the other ghastly people in show biz. I think a lot of them would be more than happy to describe themselves in 3 words and I think that's probably because they are 2-dimensional and that would mean they would have a word spare, but I think that leads to a terrible environment in show business, where there is a sort of assumption at the moment that everyone is rubbish and everyone is a worthless individual, so I try not to get involved in that whole side of things. But a lot of them I could sum up very easily in one word.

What bad habits do you have that you wish you didn't?Mark Lamarr

I'm a chain smoker, but I don't know if I wish I didn't have that, cos I quite enjoy smoking, obviously because I do it all day"¦erm, I don't know"¦this is terrible. I'm very anal, but again it's not something I wish I didn't have, I'm that anal that if I had a bad habit I would be anal about getting rid of it, it sounds like I think I'm perfect and I don't at all. I'm really, really anal, so I'm very, very clean and tidy, but again I don't think that's a bad habit, I'm very ordered and very conscientious and they are probably all things that slightly work against you in life because you just want to relax or whatever, but they're not particularly things I want to get rid of, I really enjoy cleaning and keeping things alphabetical.

What helps you to get through your bad times?

I don't know, I do have pretty much a very charmed life, I've always been very lucky, I get down same as everyone else at one point or another, but I've never had anything that's so bad that I've thought, 'oh this is a really bad time in my life'.

When you had your period of exhaustion, which must have been very frustrating for you, something we can all probably understand well, how did you get through and cope with that time?

Nothing really, that was miserable!! Because I live on my own, whenever you are ill, that's the one thing you miss, having someone to moan to, or at least someone to just make you some soup or something like that, and I remember thinking "I really want to speak to people"�, not because I was lonely, but just because it was something to do, I couldn't really concentrate on reading or watching television or anything I really wanted to speak to people but mostly I was too tired to pick up the phone, I just couldn't move my arms, but as soon as I could that was the thing, just mates, just chit-chatting and I suppose it's the same with all of us, what gets you through the bad times is knowing you feel loved by certain people. Do you feel the same, is that a similar thing, not that you want attention that it just sort of makes you feel worthier?

That's the big thing with AYME and why everybody gets so much strength from AYME, is that it provides so many friends, and friends that understand what you're going through.

But also, is there a sort of"¦cos I had a feeling of sort of worthlessness, I felt like, I'm a human being and I've got a body and I'm taking up space and I can't, I'm not doing anything. Yes definitely, I'm 25 and I basically worked for a year after university and I haven't gone into a career, like all my friends have and I do just feel that, and I'm back living with my parents as well so I feel a complete burden to them and that I should be on my own looking after myself and I can't look after myself, so it does bring a lot of feelings like that. And you know you're not worthless, but sometimes just not being able to move and not being able to do anything, you sort of disappear into yourself a little bit and think too much about what you are and where you belong or whatever, which is almost an unnatural feeling, humans mostly don't have time to be that introverted.

Yeah that's it, a lot of us have grown up too early sometimes, I've never finished my schooling, I've only got 2 GCSE's and I've never had my independence really.

Yeah, that must be incredibly frustrating. I suspect it makes you more independent minded as well with people not understanding you, but you physically can't be"¦

Yeah, as you probably know, like you said, you get so much time to think and it does give us a lot of time to think and as a group of people, people with ME tend to really know themselves very well and what they want. I bet, yeah. It's something that AYME also helps with, the feelings of worthlessness; because they have so many people doing jobs and volunteering that it actually gives everybody a purpose and something to do.

Jen: I've absolutely loved doing my job, it's been really good.

That's good and it's very rare in life that people love doing their jobs isn't it? I love doing mine as well; I can't wait to do it.

Is there anything you'd like to say to our readers?

It's something we don't all understand. I really feel that. The frustration must be unbelievable, that whole thing about people not knowing what it's like and I can't claim that I know what it's like, but I think, there is that, sort of thing from the medical establishment that we don't really know. Have you ever heard of Charles Fort, he's a scientist and there is a magazine called "Fortean Times"�, it's all about his philosophy, I don't know if there are UFOs or Bigfoots or whatever, but scientists always say if it doesn't fit into the way they think, it doesn't exist, but he said if there is proof that something exists, how can you say with your laws of science that it doesn't exist. And I think that's exactly the problem with the medical establishment is that they say 'we can't work it out' but people are going 'we've got it' and they are saying 'I don't think you have because I don't know anything about it', I think it's terrible, for broad minded thinkers, which is what scientists should be, it's a terrible attitude.

It's very frustrating for Doctors as well, especially I think for GPs, who know you and have known you say, since you were young or whatever, because they're frustrated because they can't do anything.

Yeah I can imagine that's true as well.

Jen: All they can really do is rule out other things.

Jo: And that's really because there is no way to prove we have ME, I mean you have to have been ill for 6 months before you can even have a diagnosis of it, officially, it's like every other test in the book and then it's right now you've got it.

Man that's a long 6 months, isn't it? That must be murderous!

Many thanks to Mark Lamarr for allowing us to interview him.



Article last edited on Monday 19th May 2008                         print version Printable Version




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