Stand-up comedian Bobby Mair has worked up a bit of a sweat trying to navigate the labyrinthine streets of Soho, where we meet in the boardroom of his agent’s offices.
On the unnecessarily large table in front of us sits a centre-piece of polished pebbles, presumably to inspire a sense of mindful serenity. Not that Mair needs the inspiration - he has finally hit on some inner peace of his own. He quit smoking, Coca-Cola and anti-depressants on Christmas Day last year, having quit drink and drugs (mostly coke - the ‘other’ kind) two years before.
The 32-year-old Canadian is recently married to fellow comedian Harriet Kemsley, who turned their nuptials into a TV sitcom ‘Bobby and Harriet Get Married’ for VICELAND, and is currently in the midst of his first national headline tour, ‘Loudly Insecure’, having previewed aspects of the show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
“When you’re in Edinburgh you can do this emotional journey,” admits Mair. “But then when you’re on tour you have to play the hits. You can’t just play the new album. Unless you’re Bob Dylan.”
The emotional journey Mair refers to in his new show is proof that life for him hasn’t always gone so well. It’s a tale of Shakespearean proportions, albeit one with a distinctly modern twist.
When you’re on tour you have to play the hits. You can’t just play the new album. Unless you’re Bob Dylan.
Aged 25, Mair moved to the UK from Canada, with the $10,000 he had won just three weeks before in stand-up comedy competition Stand Up And Bite Me. He slept on a friends’ couch in Streatham, south London for what ended up amounting to five years of his life. His brutally honest, self-aware and a little bit grubby comedy was a hit with UK audiences and he started appearing on various comedy panel shows including Never Mind The Buzzcocks and 8 out of 10 Cats. He supported comedians Doug Stanhope and Jerry Sadowitz and met his new wife Kemsley three years after moving over.
On the surface, it looked like a steady, commendable rise through the entertainment industry, but Mair had stashed a few skeletons in the closet.
He had grown been adopted at birth, growing up with his adopted family in Seaforth, Ontario, a small town that was a two hour drive from Canada's largest city Toronto, where the biggest employer was the local salad dressing factory. Mair describes his adopted mother as a “very angry woman”, while he hardly saw his father, a carpenter who worked long hours.
It’s this strained familial relationship that Mair credits with his comedy success. “My mum was such an angry woman that the only way I could make things nice was by making her laugh,” says Mair. “Then her mood would completely shift. I found a great motivation to be funny quite early on in life.” His adopted mother died when he was 20, a year after he had moved to Toronto to try and make a career in comedy.
In 2013, he put out a YouTube video, calling for help in finding his biological mother. “You just have an inherent wonder about your DNA,” admits Mair. “Why do I look this way? Is this the best I’m going to look or am I one of these people who is going to get hotter as I get older?”
The only knowledge he had of her was a “mini-biography” contained in his adoption papers. She had also grown up in the Canadian care system, and the papers had included her school grades and comments by her carers on her behaviour growing up. “I used to have this joke in my routine,” says Mair, “I was adopted at birth and I’ve never met my mum. I don’t know what she does for a living, which just makes it so hard to enjoy a lap-dance.”
Nothing came of the video and Mair gave up, citing the toil of emotional motivation needed to carry on searching. “You have to really build up towards trying to find people who didn’t want you as a baby.”
In the intervening years, Mair struggled with a drug addiction, which put a strain on his early relationship with Kemsley. It hit a breaking point when during a binge he was robbed by prostitutes. “The bank gave me the money back, including the money I took out to buy the prostitutes,” says a wide-eyed Mair in delight. “An extra little gift.”
A guilty Mair decided to give the money to Kemsley who used it to buy a bike that, despite the flat tyre, still gathers dust in their living room. “If your spouse cheats on you they have to be really nice to you for six months and there was a time when that period was over that she did long for me to cheat on her again,” jokes Mair.
With therapy and his partner’s help, he was able to go sober. At the end of 2016, and with the drugs behind him, he followed a hunch and decided to Facebook his mother’s name. And after less than five minutes he amazingly found her. She was the only one on Facebook with the name he had been given and lived just half an hour away from where he lived growing up. She was 55 years old and had credited her two children, 35 and 36, on the page - Bobby's previously unknown biological siblings.
It turns out she actually was a stripper - a case of art imitating life if ever there was one.
“I just froze,” explains Mair at the moment he found the page. “We were planning the wedding and we had this TV show coming out and I just didn’t get in touch. I left it for six months and then she just died .”
His biological siblings were tidying out his mother’s flat when they found the papers she had from putting Mair up for adoption. They googled his name and found the video. Through Facebook, they were able to get hold of his adopted sister, and the next day Mair was talking to his new siblings on the phone. That was when he found out the news.
“She was 55 when she passed away,” mentions Mair while biting his nails. “She liked to do drugs. I don’t think they killed her in that moment but it was a combination of that and diabetes. I mean I eat so much sugar, so I guess that one’s been answered.”
While Mair was pleased to have two new family members, he jokes about his friend’s focus on this fact when reacting to the news of his mother’s death.“No one is used to hearing something that tragic,” says Mair. “So they just try to find something good in it all. But just try and sit with something that bad. If your wife of 30 years dies and someone is like ‘oh well that means you can have sex with new people’ you’re not going try and find the good in it are you?”
Through all of that, there was the small matter of the wedding to Kemsley. On their TV show, they are married in a field by their long-time friend and fellow comedian, Romesh Ranganathan. The ‘real’ wedding was three weeks later at Chelsea Town Hall, with two strangers from the street as their witnesses, before spending the night in a Hackney hotel. “The next day I went to a corner shop and asked a lady for change,” recalls Mair. “Even though she had given it to me. She refused to give me the change, and then I just started screaming and the police were called. Luckily, Harriet found me and escorted me away.”
It’s a metaphor of sorts for Mair. Not only was Kemsley leading him away from the corner shop, but also away from the problems of his past life. In couples therapy a week later, Mair found out that the stress and pain he was suffering from his mother’s passing had been exacerbating his borderline personality disorder. “It’s a disease that has been in the public eye for years but never gets as much attention as bipolar or schizophrenia,” says Mair. “You have a problem regulating your emotions so a lot of people who have it will take drugs because they don’t know how to go from feeling bad to feeling good by themselves.”
He has now undertaken dialectical behaviour therapy for six months and credits it with helping turn his life around. “You basically learn a load of mindfulness and emotional regulation skills that most people get from nice parents,” states Mair. “And if you don’t have an ideal childhood then you never learn so you’re a bit feral inside. These skills teach you how to do that in a way most other people naturally can.”
Having drawn so much material for the new tour on his past issues I wonder whether now he is finally solving them and settling into life in his thirties, his comedy will merely become a chorus of awkward dad jokes. Mair chuckles in agreement: "I hope I get so happy, that my comedy just gets so lame. I remember reading a Louis CK interview where he said he went to a therapist once and asked them if there was a chance it would make him less funny. The therapist said they didn’t know so Louis left. Well, Louis maybe you should have stuck with the therapy. Might have been a bit less funny but at least you would have had a career still."
'Bobby Mair: Loudly Insecure' is touring the UK now until 7th April 2018. For more information and tickets visit www.bobbymair.net.