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Slim: Taking the funny route

COMEDY CAPERS: Slim

WHEN SLIM steps onto the stage at London's Hackney Empire next month, it will mark 20 years since he took his first tentative steps into the world of comedy.

Though inexperienced, the south London-born star recalls being 'forced' onto the stage by fellow comic Curtis Walker during his one-man show at the same famous theatre in 1993.

“At the interval, Curtis turned to me and said, 'I'm gonna put you on'. I looked at him blankly, but he was insistent,” Slim explains. “We're both from Brixton and we used to hang out so he knew my personality and was like, 'I think you could do it, just do a little something.'”

Despite his early hesitation, Slim, real name Danny Gray, says his first experience on stage confirmed that this would be the career for him.

“[My set] went wicked. It was only four or five minutes, but the audience laughed. When you do get that laugh it's like an acceptance and you get the bug after that.”

A full-time bus driver at the time, Slim had visions of packing up his job behind the wheel long before he was propositioned by Walker, but by his own admission, didn't think it would come packaged like this.

“One of the bus routes I used to drive took me along the Kings Road in Chelsea. As I would drive, I'd look at people going to brunch and they just seemed like they weren't forced to have this slave existence. I used to envy them and think, 'I want to do that one day.' I don't want to be stuck behind this wheel for the whole of my life. I didn't know where this road would lead me.”

Fast forward 20 years and the comic is the proud recipient of a number of comedy awards, further solidifying his place as one of the top black comedians to come out of the UK.

“The years have gone fast,” he says. “It doesn't seem like 20 years. There's still much more left in Slim. It's been a good journey. I've managed to travel the world and meet people in my job that if I was bus driving on my normal day-to-day job, I wouldn't have had the chance to meet.

Among those people he has come into contact with throughout his enviable journey, who range from early influences such as US comics Dave Chappelle and Eddie Griffin, the award-winning star draws particular reference to US comedian and actor Kevin Hart, who he describes as a “friend”.

“In my teenage years, I used to watch a lot of American comedy movies - they were the movies of the nineties and if you know anything about black movies of the nineties, they were the best. Films like Boys In The Hood and Jungle Fever are just some of the titles to come out of that era.

“I would get my inspiration from those films as we didn't have anyone over here like that. Now, for me to be in an industry where I meet a lot of these people and can call a lot of them friends is surreal.”

Two other friends in the industry, albeit a little closer to home, are fellow funnymen Richard Blackwood and Eddie Kadi who Slim describes as “more like brothers”.

“We get on so well. That's so important in this industry,” he says.

The last time the trio performed together was at the sold-out Kings of Comedy show last year, which had fans asking each of the comics when the next instalment would be. After months of responding with the proverbial “soon,” the boys will reunite once more for Comics Unchained next month.

“Myself, Richard and Eddie are big comics in our own right. We sell out theatres by ourselves, so it's great when we can come together.”

Taking place at The Hackney Empire, which he dubs his “second home”, Slim promises the comics will, like the show's name suggests, be “unchained”.

“We'll be talking about everything, nothing will be off bounds,” he says excitedly. “We'll venture into love, life, whatever we feel like. That's the beauty of this job.”

Though evidently happy with his career at present, how would the father-of-four feel if one of his children (two boys and two girls) said they wanted to follow in his footsteps?

“We're in an age where you can support your kids in careers that were probably not considered life-long back in the day. I would definitely back them if they wanted to pursue a career in comedy.

“My little boy, who is 13, I think he has it. He reminds me of myself badly at that age with the quips and that. If he goes into comedy, he'll put me out of a job!”

But Slim needn't worry about his son stealing his comedy crown after forging out a career in acting too. Last year he appeared in UK comedy It's A Lot as hilarious “head mechanic” Mo. His performance was described as one of the standout performances in the film, directed my Femi Oyeniran.

“I've been encouraged by a lot of people including Lenny Henry to pursue acting,” Slim explains. “[Lenny] said to me, 'have you ever thought of acting because you are very animated on stage?'

“I would love to do more acting,” he adds. “I think that's the path I would like to take. I wouldn't mind doing one or two theatre bits either. I'm not saying I could be as successful as Kevin Hart, who has successfully made the transition, but I've never been afraid of trying.”

Comics Unchained takes place at The Hackney Empire on February 8. For tickets, visit: www.hackneyempire.co.uk or call 020 8985 2424

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