Fred MacAulay talks to Mill Magazine about a life of laughter
35 years since he first graced a stage, Fred MacAulay discusses his career’s roots in Renfrewshire, his biggest highlights and more…
Fresh from 18 holes at his local golf course, Fred MacAulay somehow seemed every bit the showman while sitting in his car as he does onstage. Almost unconsciously, he slipped into an anecdote about the game, complete with profanity-tinged punchlines about his narrow defeat and the world handicap index, it seems like at this point, making people laugh is second-nature. In some ways, this is unsurprising when you consider that May saw the comedian celebrate 35 years since he first stepped onto a stage.
“It’s terrifying,” he said of the milestone. “It was the 19th May 1988 and that was the first time I’d ever held a microphone in my hand. There was a kind of fear in actually holding that thing but as soon as I did, I realised ‘this is what the professionals do’.
“It sounds silly, but it meant so much to me that I actually had the command of the microphone since. I’ve never let it go (laughs). I even bought myself one during lockdown and used it during zoom calls, just so it felt a bit more like the real thing.”
Although he hails from Perth, Fred’s formative experiences onstage are owed in no small part to the wealth of experience that he obtained in one familiar Paisley haunt from yesteryear.
“Absolutely,” he said of the influence Renfrewshire had on his first tentative steps into professional comedy. “Pierro Pieraccini, who owned The Bar Point on Wellmeadow Street, got in touch with the people at Mayfest and said ‘can you give me the names and phone numbers of everyone who took part in the competition’ and they just said aye. You couldn’t do that now because of GDPR, but they just fired them down to him. That was a blessing.
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“The deal was ‘you come down, you do five minutes and if I like you, you do a 20-minute paid spot’. So, the first gig was in May, my five-minute spot was in September and in October, I got my first 20 minutes from Pierro. 20 quid for 20 minutes.
“There were a fair number of us who started at the same time and a lot of us made a career out of it,” he recalled. “Like Stu Who? Bruce Morton, Parrot. Behind them there was Phil Kay and May McCreaddie, but the thing was that we had to create the gigs. There was only Pierro’s place and The Edinburgh Fringe.”
Since Fred’s embryonic days, Scotland’s comedy scene has changed immensely, with so many different venues giving budding talent the opportunity to get the experience required to finetune their act. As a veteran of the scene, it’s something that Fred is delighted to see, assigning some kind words for a local Renfrewshire comedian who’s been making waves of late too.
“Rude good health is an accurate way of putting it. There’s so much s**t hot talent out there, I compare it to Ireland in the 90s when you had Tommy O’Tiernan, Dara Ó Briain and all of these guys who are big names. I think we’ve got half a dozen in Scotland who are as good as they were at the start of their career.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier walking on-stage than I have now. As long as I’m able to do that, I love it”
“I saw [Paisley-born comedian] Liam Farrelly during one of my first gigs back after lockdown in a beer garden and I just thought ‘who is this?’ He was 21 and talking about his girlfriend being pregnant, just all of these well crafted lines. There’s so many great comedians, I hate trying to list them as I think ‘oh christ, you’ve missed somebody out!’”
A man who has had a multi-faceted career for many years now, Fred’s stand-up has often been offset by his work on the wireless to the extent that “Raymond Mearns said to me I was two people: the nice guy on the radio and the guy onstage that’s f’ing and blinding.”
The host of MacAulay & Co for almost 18 years, the esteemed comedian is now appearing alongside legends of the airwaves such as Ken Bruce on Greatest Hits Radio.
“I was sitting at home in 2021 with nothing going on when I got a call from a guy who asked if I was done with the radio,” he reflected, “to which I said no, I still do the occasional thing but I hadn’t done it daily since 2015. I went in with Ewan Cameron and Cat Harvey and they were very welcoming. That progressed to doing Sundays by myself and since Ken Bruce came on at Greatest Hits, the whole thing has changed and it’s really pushed things up a gear.
Having rebounded from a crisis of confidence that he experienced around 2015 where he thought that ‘people had had enough’, Fred MacAulay is re-energised, proclaiming that “I don’t think I’ve ever been happier walking on-stage than I have now. As long as I’m able to do that, I love it.”
When he’s not performing at comedy clubs all over or headlining as part of his current What(ever) Next? Tour, Fred MacAulay is a regular on the events circuit. Not least of all, at Renfrewshire’s annual ROCCO Awards.
“I think I’ve done it about 20 times and it’s great,” Fred reflected. “It’s a lively one, as I’m sure a lot of readers will know. All I’ve ever wanted is repeat business, so I’m the only one who knows how often Diageo, WH Malcolm and The Scottish Leather Group have been nominated.”
Still enjoying a journey which has spanned three and a half decades and counting, it’d be understandably difficult for Fred to pinpoint career highlights. But for him, a couple of things immediately stand out.
“Being the first Scottish compère at the Comedy Store in London was a biggie. Getting on Have I Got News For You? as well as that gave me a lot of national exposure. Without any shadow of a doubt, the biggest highlight was the three years of McCoist and MacAulay.
“To work with that man, it was just so many laughs, not being able to record a bit because we were howling. I don’t know how much footage must’ve been wasted! In Largs, we had Craig Brown and Kylie Minogue, it was just nuts. Honestly, I’d do that show again in a heartbeat.”
In a perpetual process of writing new material, Fred is now hard-woven into his industry to such a degree that it’s hard to imagine that before that inaugural Mayfest appearance, he was a disenchanted accountant with dreams of something more. Now that he’s enacted his plan, Fred has succinct yet inspiring second-hand advice for anyone who wants to break away from the life ascribed to them to carve out a new path.
“That very question was put to Billy Connolly when I was thinking about changing. He was interviewed by some kids who asked him that exact question and my answer is what he said. “If you think you want to do something and you think you can do something, do it.”
Follow Fred MacAulay for upcoming tour dates and more via his website.