Viva Johnny Vegas

Johnny with Chorley Little Theatre's house manager Carla Martland

Johnny with Chorley Little Theatre's house manager Carla Martland

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Johnny Vegas in conversation with Steve

Royle Chorley Little Theatre

I’m wary of gigs with an ‘in conversation with’ handle, fearing something a little too intimate.

Add the premise that this one involved a celebrated comic (or entertainer, as he prefers) baring his soul, and it suggested this might leave you squirming in your seat.

Yet somehow, despite the subject matter, that was avoided with the help of Chorley-based comedian Steve Royle, who proved a perfect psychiatrist as well as a potential chat-show host.

This was no clichéd tears-of-a-clown type confessional, although we all learned a lot more about what drives someone to make a living at stand-up.

I should explain there were three people on stage at Dole Lane, with Johnny and Steve joined by Michael Pennington, who was in fact the main man.

Johnny’s just his better-known alter-ego, and while there was talk of split personalities, it made perfect sense when he explained it.

Where the story of Michael differs from that you might expect was that he painted such a happy picture of a Thatto Heath childhood, something you might not have expected knowing Johnny’s profile.

You could also tell that Steve Royle, a regular on the same circuit over the years, hadn’t seen much of that side of him either, for all their past meetings.

But while Johnny can be somewhat brash, vulgar and rude, Michael is every bit the charming, genuine bloke next door.

Queuing to have our books signed, a few of us delved into his autobiography, Being Johnny, courtesy of the night’s promoter, Chorley bookstore Ebb and Flo.

It’s a cracking read too, and although time was against us, a 75-minute cosy on-stage chat gave us an illuminating glimpse into many of the themes covered, from those halcyon St Helens days to his seminary in Upholland, Wigan, art school, and beyond.

Michael was training to be a Catholic priest at the age of 11, and perhaps that’s where you get to understand more about his alter-ego, created as a coping mechanism, that inner rebellion later giving rise to a truly public comic figure.

Michael and Steve’s talk proved a pleasure to witness, and although only really scratching the surface, we got through a lot, with plenty of laughs. On a more serious note, we saw how wrong it can prove to indoctrinate at such a tender age.

At the end, one bounder somehow legged his way up on stage to get his book signed, avoiding the queues.

For sheer cheek, he got away with it, Michael – after an outburst from Johnny - taking an age to sign his name and Johnny’s.

As it turned out, that pace didn’t increase, each punter sent home happy after a golden chance of not just two signatures but also memories to treasure.

Word has it that by 3am, everyone was ready for bed and they were waiting to lock up the theatre, the star attraction taking a few books home to sign for those who had to rush off to catch the last bus or train. So what did we learn?

That intimate gigs can work, that Johnny Vegas was more than just a character, and that Michael Pennington is a good bloke through and through.

Malcolm Wyatt