Growing up feeling as if he didn’t fit in gave Tom Allen a head start when it came to comedy.
Tom Allen made his Fringe debut a decade ago, after winning the prestigious So You Think You’re Funny and BBC Radio New Comedy Awards. Erudite, witty and sartorially refined, he immediately impressed fellow finalist Sarah Millican. The pair have since become firm friends and Allen recently supported the Geordie comic on tour around the UK and Australia.
“We’re both quite sardonic,” the 33-year-old says of their relationship. “And we’re outsiders. We have the viewpoint of having grown up without knowing where we fitted in.
“Of course, that’s a really useful position for a comic – peering in at the window, never on the inside of the party. Maybe that’s what makes us laugh about each other and probably why we’ve been friends for such a long time. She’s so inspiring and has always been so generous, warm and encouraging, teaching me so much.”
After developing the persona of an urbane, rather posh and mannered Victorian gentleman at school in Bromley “as a way of deflecting bullying”, Allen seemed to arrive in comedy fully formed.
“I always spoke differently to my parents and the people around me,” he reflects. “Maybe that was something to do with my sexuality in some kind of subliminal way.” Hailed as a gay icon by Attitude magazine, he modestly deflects the compliment by insisting that while it is important that role models exist, any comedian who sought such a title would be insufferable.
Relatively happy to be single at the moment and living in his childhood bedroom at his parents’ house while he saves for a home of his own, Allen has nevertheless played some huge rooms with Millican and recently appeared at London’s vast O2 Arena as part of Channel 4’s Comedy Gala for Great Ormond Street.
“I still get nerves and I sometimes wonder if it’s about class or sexuality,” he admits. “But nerves are the flip-side of excitement – you try to use those feelings to present a more truthful version of yourself on stage.
“As David Sedaris said, you should make a list of the things that make you feel ashamed or embarrassed and write about those. Exposing your vulnerabilities makes for better art.”
Growing as comfortable in his own skin as he is with a sharply cut suit and silk handkerchief, Allen has come to appreciate that “your quirks and the things that make you different, that’s not just you – everyone has a little bit of the outsider in them. Comedy has just allowed me to be bold with those things, rather than hiding them under a bushel.”
His rich, velvety tones and delight in Victoriana were put to good use as Pip in Radio 4’s long-running Charles Dickens pastiche Bleak Expectations. And, more recently, he has hosted the chattily scatty podcast Like Minded Friends with lesbian comic Suzi Ruffell, named after the most fitting gay euphemism they could think of. They embark upon their first UK tour post-Edinburgh, and Allen can’t wait.
“Being busy is a great way to avoid the creeping self-doubt and ego,” he laughs. “If you don’t have time to acknowledge your insecurities, you tend to get a lot more done.”
Words: Jay Richardson
Picture: Andy Hollingsworth
Tom Allen: Indeed, Pleasance Courtyard, 3-28 August (not 15), 8.15pm