Chris Forbes: local comedian and actor talks to Mill Magazine
Ahead of his upcoming show at Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock, comedian Chris Forbes chats to us about his upbringing in Bridge of Weir, moving to America at 16 and more
Although he may be hurtling towards Aberdeen for a run of shows that weekend, Bridge of Weir-born comedian Chris Forbes remains an engaging and amiable presence even over the telephone. A candid conversationalist by nature, it isn’t hard to imagine how his first forays into public speaking ignited the spark of stand-up within him.
“I suppose what planted the seed, as I discuss in my new show, was something that happened when I went over to America at 16,” Chris relayed. “I was always sports-orientated and I went over there to play basketball in high school. While I was pursuing that dream, I got to do a presentation about the differences between Scotland and America. That’s all I thought it was, but essentially, that five minutes of making the whole school laugh was more enjoyable than all what I’d been doing for the preceding ten years.
“It can feel like things are quite limited in Scotland when it comes to your interests and hobbies,” Chris said of how that trip to America overhauled his approach to life. “Over there, the thing I was in awe of was that when the school band or theatre group had a show, it wasn’t ridiculed. The confidence they have means that when you have a creative inclination, it’s something to let out.”
Initially exploring the comedy scene while studying sports science at uni, it only took one gig for Chris to get hooked on the rush and adrenaline of stand-up. As for his influences, they came from both the screen and the sitting room, as well as the outlook from his upbringing in Bridge of Weir.
“The cliché answer is Billy Connolly, but I think any comic would be lying if they said they hadn’t been influenced by him somehow,” he contended. “Family members were inspirational too, like my dad and Uncle George. They were both hilarious and I really admired people that could hold court and tell stories. I wanted to be like that.”
“Scottish life and culture can be quite bleak, grey and rainy, so we love to have a laugh, it’s held in such a high regard. Growing up in Bridge of Weir definitely had a big impact on me too. Knowing these smaller, rural communities for most of my life probably had an effect on my observational style of comedy because you pay attention more. It can make the mundane things more fun, but it makes you grounded too. I very much like small village life.
“Scottish life and culture can be quite bleak, grey and rainy, so we love to have a laugh, it’s held in such a high regard”
Sure enough, Chris has retained his affinity for the lifestyle he grew up with, moving to nearby Kilbarchan and getting into the civic spirit. So much so that when he constructed a seven foot scarecrow for their annual Lilias Day celebrations, he saw the creation as “one of the most incredible achievements of my life”.
“My mum still lives in Bridge of Weir and I was phoning her like ‘do you want to come over and see the scarecrow? (laughs).’ It’s as if she was going to come over and give me validation. I actually should’ve been writing my fringe show at the time, but I built a seven foot tall robot instead.”
Hot on the heels of his fringe shows, Chris Forbes opened up about the more autobiographical approach that he’s taken to his latest hour, Court Jester.
“I’ve often spoken to people about that period where I moved to America,” Forbes detailed. “But just to pals and other comics. Pretty regularly, they would say ‘why have you never done a show about the fact that you were a wee skinny Scottish guy who was over there trying to become a basketball player?’ I just wanted to finally tell this mad narrative and take the audience with me on this journey of a young guy from a small village moving over there himself to live with this host family.”
In addition to his own standalone production, Chris also undertook a live show with Judy Murray as The Other Murray Brother. Based upon a sketch that he wrote years back in which he plays Duncan, the fictional third sibling who is an underachiever compared to his two tennis star brothers, Chris is eternally grateful that Judy chose to be such a good sport about it all and has praised her unsung comedic chops.
“I’m still so surprised with how successful those sketches were and continue to be. Every other day, someone will tweet Duncan’s account like ‘oh, I’ve just found out you’re not real’ and they’re heartbroken (laughs). I really do get a kick out of that. If anything, it’s annoying because he’s more popular than me. He’s got 30,000 followers on Twitter and I’ve got under 10. I’ve created a monster that just turns up and says daft stuff about tennis.
“The most joyful thing about it is that she knows her reputation and it’s easy for her to play that role,” Forbes continued. “Really, the only time she gets to do it now is during these sketches with Duncan. She’s great with timing, better than a lot of comics I’ve seen. Initially, I wrote her a tiny part, but she thought it was hilarious and loved doing it.”
With Chris believing it’s easier “to play a character” due to the free rein it gives you, talk turned to his farewell to arguably his most famous one in PC Charlie Mackintosh of Scot Squad.
“It’s sad,” he said, “we got used to revisiting that whole world for ten years, so it was basically a decade that I knew that at some point, I’d get to be him. It was so free and so much improvisation, so it was the polar opposite to a lot of jobs in that industry. Scot Squad was almost like a free-for-all until we found the funniest formula every time. I just feel extremely lucky. I’ll miss the uniform, right enough (laughs).”
Chris hasn’t departed from the screen for long though. In addition to being to excited to make his CBeebies debut so that his daughter can finally see what he does, he also had his first experience of a film-set with a role in the upcoming movie Man & Witch, which allowed him to be directed by his “first real crush” as a kid, Tami Stornach of The Neverending Story.
“I’m hardly in it at all, but it looks good for the CV as the puppets are voiced by people like Christopher Lloyd and Sean Astin!” he proclaimed.
While it’s all go for him personally at the moment, Chris is also elated by what’s happening in Scottish comedy, believing that it is flourishing like never before.
“It’s great, there’s even people who’ve done stand-up and didn’t enjoy it who have now found this whole other lane through making sketches. There’s so many Scottish comedians, but they’re basically all killing it across TikTok, podcasts and everything else. If anything, I’m a little behind the curve because I’m terrible with online content, but Scottish comedy is definitely in a very healthy place at this moment. It’s amazing.”
Catch Chris Forbes performing as part of A Scottish Comedy Collective at Greenock’s Beacon Arts Centre on Saturday 30th September, with tickets available now.