Comedian, social media sensation, and son of the ex-chief of defence, Tom Houghton is the master of making the seemingly unrelatable, relatable. Having recently left his former residence at The Tower of London, Tom’s had a big year and his upcoming tour tells us all about it. When asked what we could expect from his appearance at the Glee Club Oxford later this month, he said he’d imagine he would still have blonde hair and blue eyes – thankfully, I got a little more out of him…
“It’s about the year I’ve had, I moved out of the Tower of London where I had lived for six years, and now I’m living in my own flat which has been an experience. I went through a breakup as I did it, too, so I’ve been healing from that as well as re-finding myself. I’ve had a year of addressing breakups, as well as some of my short comings and lifestyle choices like my relationship with alcohol, so I went sober for a while. It hasn't been an addiction, and it hasn't been a divorce or anything like that, but I don’t think something has to be an extreme to matter. A lot of people have these experiences, and the show is about my journey through them. At the same time, it’s been a big year for the country, namely the Queen passing and the new King. My dad was part of the Coronation service and because the Queen was a real figurehead of our nation, she represented a lot of our identity and her death, for me at least, represented a real passage of time and a reinvention. I’ll be observing the country moving forward – as well as me personally – so the show is really about addressing your situation and moving forward in a positive way.”
Can you tell us a bit more about your sobriety?
I did a ‘three-month sober’ post, a lot of people do a month, but I did three because at the gym or in therapy they always say it’s after three months that you really feel the benefits, before you properly get into it. For me, three months of sobriety felt right to acknowledge. The reaction I got was really great. I said look, I didn’t mess my life up completely, I didn’t ruin everything, but I did get to a stage where alcohol was affecting me and I wasn’t achieving my full potential. I think that’s very relatable for a lot of people. You shouldn't have to wait until you get properly destroyed by something to address it.
The show is a lot about shedding parts of yourself in order to progress. Would you say this was part of that process?
Exactly. Becoming self-aware of the problematic elements of yourself and how you’re dealing with them; learning when to leave something and move on from it; and learning how to treat yourself better.
With Valentines in mind we’ve been talking about love languages in the office; the idea that we all have our own ways of showing love (through words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, giving or receiving gifts). What do you think your love language is?
In terms of what I give out, touch is definitely one for me, I’m a very tactile person, very huggy, very touchy. I think the one I like to receive is words of affirmation, I mean I’m a comedian so... Laugh at me, give me a nice review, tell me nice things, comment nice things. I think I’ve learnt a lot with relationships in the past, is the importance of appreciating what the other person’s love language is, and how they want to be loved because I think you assume everyone wants to be loved in the same way you do and that’s not true. Part of making relationships works is understating what the other person wants/needs from you.
We're really excited to have you in Oxford, do you know the city well?
I’ve gigged in Oxford several times but never for my own tour. It’s always one I’ve wanted to do so I’m very excited and I’ve got lots of fond memories of Oxford. I attended one of the most badly organised stag-do ever in Oxford, too. I think we mainly ended up staying in a Travelodge just outside of the city drinking because the best man completely messed up all the bookings, but then we went punting and fed the ducks.
Has to be done in Oxford.
Has to be done, I loved it very much.
Do you find that you get vastly different reactions depending on where in the world you’re playing?
Yes, for various reasons. Of course, there is a general British sense of humour – I just toured America and Scandinavia and I’m doing Europe in January, but we British people have got a very good sense of humour, and we enjoy a good dose of self-deprecation. I think different parts of the country have different senses of humour, too. Also, you go to certain big cities in England, and they’re spoilt for choice so a bit more, ‘impress me’, whereas I remember the first time I went to Hull they were just so happy that I had even bothered to come.
The nature of my character and who I am – a private school boy who lives in a historical palace whose parents are a Lord and a Lady – appeals more to the gilet-wearing crowd, somewhere like Oxford where there might be a few more boat shoes in the audience. I’m now at the stage where my audiences know what they’re in for though, and they've come to see me.
Did you ever try and shy away from your background?
No, because when I first started doing solo stand up, I was in this ridiculous situation which I’m really grateful for because it’s a unique angle to come from. When you’re a comedian you’re looking for a USP that’s going to make you stand out from other people.
And living in the Tower of London is quite a good one.
It’s a pretty good one. I got told really early on that there would be people in the country who wouldn’t like me for talking about this, and it’s just not true – people don’t want you to lie. As long as you’re honest and you’re self-aware, people will respect that.
Which, I suppose, is the case with social media, too. What do you think makes your content so appealing?
My social media started kicking off during lockdown where all anyone had to do was be on their phones. Hopefully people were drawn to me because they like my sense of humour and I try to have a down to earth style which is fun and accessible. I think it’s the vulnerable, human bits that people really resonate with. Humour is a really good way to reach out to people. If you make someone laugh, you can portray an important message while being entertaining. It takes away a bit of the stigma [around mental health] because it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom and depressing – there is a bit of hope.
Is that difficult to balance?
Yeah, it’s very difficult. Some of the material in this show is on really emotional things I’ve been through, and I wrote it quite quickly because I was feeling it. I was performing it on stage when the emotions were very raw, and an audience can sense that and feel that, and it wasn't funny. They could feel a sadness, whereas now that I’ve come to terms with it and processed it and gotten myself into a better place, I can perform it with a different energy, and it becomes more accessible.
What are you reading, watching, and listening to at the moment?
I’m a big fan of musicals and I like orchestral music. I write my shows to music because lots of shows have call backs and it all ties up and there’s high upbeat bits and there’s low bits. There’s trumpets, which I look at as punch lines and funny silly bits, and there’s violin which are the emotional bits. I see musicals as how I write my shows.
When I come and see you in Oxford I’m going to try and guess what you wrote this one to.
Please do, I’m trying to make it less Dear Evan Hanson and more… Wicked isn’t a bad one actually where she comes into herself, and she defies gravity and goes off to do her own thing. I’m also listening to a lot of Eminem I’m a private school boy so obviously Eminem is my most relatable artist, but I think rap is very similar to comedy because it’s all about lyrics and words and bars and punchlines, so I see it in a very similar way. Very quick witted and funny and it’s all bang on the beat.
I don’t read physical books very much because I’m dyslexic and I find it really hard, so I listen to audio books which is just the best thing ever for someone who struggles to read. On the go at the moment is A Brief History of Philosophy which is cool, and also read Dolly Alderton’s book, Everything I Know About Love. She's amazing, so witty and very honest and inspirational. I also tried reading one about different minds and how octopuses think – bit of a random one but my calm-down routine in the evening is watching nature documentaries (particularly deep space or deep ocean) so I’m in my new flat which I’ve decorated with scatter cushions and throws and scented candles and I’m watching a nature doc with a Horlicks, it feels very relaxing.
That’s a very zen space.
It’s very zen.
Tom Houghton will be at the Glee Club Oxford @ The Bullingdon on Thu 29th February 2024.