Fitz of Laughter
BAFTA nominated and British Comedy Award winner Neil Fitzmaurice, first burst onto our TV screens in the late 90s and then into the Noughties, both starring in and penning some of the the most successful British comedy series of recent times.
With a portfolio as long as your arm, Neils’ accolades include many roles as a serious actor, but it his writing and performances in comedy,that has made his him such a favourite.
Neil very kindly took time out of his hectic schedule,to talk to Richard James of Firestyle Magazine.
Neil, how did you break into comedy?
“It was the mid nineties and my brother had a bar in Liverpool called Rimini’s. It was at the time when I was trying to break into the acting world,but not a lot was happening. My brother Tony was about to start a comedy night at his bar and suggested I gave it a go! After a few ‘shandies’ I contemplated the idea and told Tony that I ‘might’ consider it. He then came back to me and said he had already done the posters and if I didn’t get up, he would strangle me!
I have to thank his persuasive approach, as having done so, I soon found myself with the Liverpool Echo Comedian of the Year Award. I then went on to perform in competitions in Edinburgh and the final of the BBC Comedian of the Year, where I first met Peter Kay.
Myself and Peter kept in touch and it was then Peter asked me to become involved and write a part in a project of his called, ’The Services’. Things started to move very fast at this point and Peter, Dave Spikey and I wrote, ‘That Peter Kay Thing’, for which we received the British Comedy Award.
Then ‘Phoenix Nights’ came along which Peter (Brian), myself (Ray Von) and Dave (Jerry) wrote and it was a massive success. In fact it became the fastest selling TV DVD of all time!”
Following on from the critical acclaim of ‘Phoenix Nights’, Neil decided it was time for him to concentrate on his own project for the big screen. Released in 2000, ‘Going off Big Time’ is a dark comedy based on life in the Liverpool underworld, with Neil playing the leading role. It was nominated for 4 BIFA awards and also takes its’ place on Film Fours’ Best of British list.
Neil then found himself in big demand and in addition to roles in ‘The Office’, ’Buried’ and the ‘The Bill’, he was approached to star in Channel 4s new comedy series ‘Peep Show’ as Jeff, which in 2010 became Channel 4s longest running comedy show.
‘Charlie Noades R.I.P’, another film written by and featuring Neil in the lead role,was then released on the big screen in 2007. The story of a scrap metal dealer who found long lost treasure, saw Neil return to his Liverpool roots. Produced by his brother Tony,it co starred well know actors John Henshaw (The Royal Family), John McArdle (Brookside) and John Thomson (Cold Feet) and even enjoyed a cameo appearance from Ian McCulloch of Echo & The Bunnymen fame. Neil was joined for the premier of the film at the Cannes Film Festival, by friend and supporter, Steven Gerrard. A year earlier Neil had narrated the Sky TV production, ‘A Year in My Life’, which covered the former Liverpool and England captain.
Also in 2007 we saw a very different Neil than the one we were used to seeing. Neil played the lead role in the ITV drama ‘Mobile’, where we witnessed Neil’s serious acting, as an ex-telecoms worker suffering from a terminal brain tumour.
After a spell hosting the ‘Drivetime’ show for Liverpool’s premier radio station, Neil returned to our screens. He played a manic Rafa Benitez in ‘Fifteen Minutes That Shook The World’, a hilarious insight into what really happened at half time during the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul.
In recent times Neil featured as Lucky Kev in Benidorm and even wrote one of the episodes. He has also recently finished filming alongside Henry Winkler (The Fonz),in the BBC production ‘Hank Zipper’.
In addition, Neil is also filming a new series to be released by Channel 4 next year called ‘Aliens’, a dark comedy based on aliens living on Earth in the fictitious town of Troy will see Neil playing the role of an alcoholic Dad and he insists it is a, must watch! However he has never forgotten where it all began and Neil somehow finds the time to play resident compere at the ‘Laughterhouse’ comedy club, based at The Slaughter House pub in Liverpool.
I asked Neil how he now views comedy clubs and the stand up circuit?
“If I hadn’t taken the opportunity to do stand up when I did, then I would not of been able to have enjoyed all of the wonderful times I have had. This is why I started the comedy club many years ago… to give other people the chance to give it a go. Comedy nights are special, there is a great atmosphere and they are incredibly popular. To witness live stand-up and great talent is a fantastic way to spend an evening with your friends, wife, partner or somebody’s partner!!”
Finally Neil, you and the cast of Phoenix Nights broke a world record earlier this year?
“Yes that’s right! Peter (Kay) rang me up and told me about the idea. We wanted to break the world record for ‘most money raised by a live comedy show’. We sold out the Manchester Arena for fifteen nights to put on the ‘Phoenix Nights Live’ show and raised over 5 million pounds for Comic Relief. I think all 200,000 tickets went in hours and it was great to catch up with all of the cast and crew again”
Firestyle Magazine would like to congratulate Neil for his fundraising efforts and thank him for his help with this article. You can see Neil at the Laughterhouse Comedy Club most Friday and Saturday nights. The Slaughter House Pub. Fenwick Street, Liverpool.