“I love Eamonn and Ruth,” Stephen Bailey says from a London coffee shop. With a pastel de nata on the go, he tells me he’s meeting with Eamonn later. I ask about the appeal of Holmes and Langsford, to him “the nation’s parents” he recently joined for Channel 5’s Do The Right Thing With Eamonn and Ruth. “They’re really good, salt-of-the-earth people,” is the stand-up’s assessment, “and I think the people still watching TV want to see real people. They’re a bit silly, they seem to enjoy what they do, [they have] great chemistry – what more do you want than a husband and wife? – I think that’s why we love them.”
Speaking of love, I’d heard he’s smitten right now. “I’m in a relationship,” the Mancunian says, adding dreamily, “with a lawyer… he’s a lawyer.” He says they have pet names for each other: “He calls me his little teddy bear and I call him my pension – I’m very happy with him, he owns property.” He’s yet to request legal advice from him, but has generously given his number out to friends, and been left thinking about what “dodgy deals” they’re caught up in.
Last Valentine’s they had a swanky meal in London, he recalls (taking full advantage of the innuendo going up the Shard offers), before staying in a hotel. It was a tad anticlimactic apparently – “We always eat out. I said to him the other day, ‘Are relationships supposed to be this boring?’ We were sat there watching TV and he was rubbing my feet. I was like, ‘This is nice and all, but is this it for the next 40 years?’” His pension offered to throw plates at him instead, which “would add a bit of something, wouldn’t it?”
He's spent near as dammit all his comedy career single. Now he isn’t, his spring 2020 tour will contain material about being in a relationship, which he finds “tedious”. Not the talking about it, but the relationship itself. “Quite frankly, I don’t know how people do it. People have really annoying habits; why he can’t close a cupboard door is beyond me.” I admit I’m a poor shutter too (I didn’t realise I was until I lived on my own). “It’s not easily done,” he disagrees in response to my sympathy, “if you can open it, you can close it.” I tell him I’ve got better, he doesn’t believe me. Nor should he, I haven’t.
His third solo tour comprises 24 dates, like an advent calendar, he points out, unable to leave opening doors to one side. With Christmas 2019 imminent, I wonder whether he’s sorted on the advent calendar front. “My mum got me and my boyfriend one, and we’re getting each other one – I’ve demanded Kinder and he wants Reese’s.” I mention the Ilchester Cheese one Lidl are selling for £7.99, not a good choice for him due to lactose intolerance. “It would be the worst. Twenty-four poos till Christmas.”
The tour is called Can’t Be Bothered because “so much is expected of us now. Everyone is so woke, the world is changing, and for the better. But you have to be a political activist; a climate change activist; an activist for the animals, the gays, the girls. And all of it’s important, but it’s exhausting, and it can feel like you’re not doing enough. There’s a lot of pressure – no wonder everyone’s having nervous breakdowns (I’m on the CBD oil all the time). That’s why I called it Can't Be Bothered; I went through a phase of being like, ‘I cannot be bothered doing everything.’”
Is it also about not bothering with people who aren’t worth it? He’s been going through this with a therapist (“I know, I’ve gone so LA – the minute I say ‘quinoa’ you know to hang up on me”) and is decluttering his life of people unforgiving of the fact he only gets paid when he works and thus might miss the odd dinner date; cutting out those who think his presence as their plus one at some do is more important than his livelihood, believing “people ask too much of people.”
He gets nervous about his career and future but is “very confident in being a gay man”, to the admiration of older people who “might have come out later in life”, seemingly more so than that of queer kids. He’s not avoided discussing sexuality in his act, doing so recently because he reckons issues faced by the queer community are sometimes forgotten about. In the past four months, he and his boyfriend have experienced four instances of verbal homophobia on the streets of London, “where you expect it to be a bit more cosmopolitan and forward-thinking”. LGBTQ+ matters might not feature heavily in Can’t Be Bothered, he says, but just being an openly gay man on stage still makes a point.
Insofar as screen goes, adhering to the Gore Vidal advice – ‘Never turn down an opportunity to have sex or to be on television’ – the past 18 months have seen him appear in Coronation Street, present Channel 5’s Celebs on the Farm (and Celebs on the Ranch which took him to the States for the first time), as well as make his Live at the Apollo debut. The latter’s left him pondering over what’s next, it being rather like the crème de la crème of stand-up gigs. “Now what? I need to rob one of Rob Beckett’s quiz shows.”
He can steal what he likes, I suppose, with a lawyer to hand. “I’ll tell my boyfriend you feel sorry for him,” he says as our conversation finishes. When I propose there might be an actual term for those of us who unintentionally leave cupboard doors open, he takes an unapologetic stab at what it could be – it doesn’t work as a pet name.