Whatever adjective you use to describe him – quirky, weird or just entertaining – Terry Alderton is unlike any other comedian you will see.
A former goalkeeper for Southend United, Alderton has also had a nomadic career in the entertainment industry, presenting on Capital Radio and performing in a production of Shawshank Redemption at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe
But at the end of his Hobgoblin Leamington Comedy Festival performance on Friday 18 October, he confirmed that he was leaving the stand-up comedy scene for the time being. Why? Because he was struggling to pay his mortgage and so accepted the offer of a contract with Eastenders for the next year, where he will play Cockney taxi driver Terry Spraggan. Although he will surely thrive in this smaller role, it is still a waste of an innovative entertainer who revels in his own ingenuity.
In a heartfelt gesture of thanks to the Royal Spa Centre audience, Alderton admitted that the life of a comedian on the road, performing in front of half-empty crowds, was just too gruelling. He then proceeded to spray water into the audience before making a dramatic departure. In many ways, it is a shame that this overshadowed one of the Essex-born entertainer’s best performances.
The 42-year-old is best known for his uncanny impersonations, retreating to the back of the stage to simulate conversations about how his show is going. His range of noises is something to behold, too: a five-minute rendition of a Formula One race had the audience in stitches, as did his rendition of a teenager entranced by dubstep music on a night out.
But Alderton is no clown. While his comedy is intensely physical and interactive – sitting as I was in the second row, I was wary of catching his eye – he clearly has an acute understanding of individual audiences. An elderly couple in the front row certainly appreciated his exaggerated attempts to pander to their more refined tastes.
The most humorous moment came when Alderton pondered whether or not he could lick his elbow. When one wag shouted, ‘I’ve seen the show before’ there were a few nervous titters from the audience. Alderton simply reeled off a spontaneous selection of new material to pacify the heckler, before turning to the dissenter with a ferocious, ‘I bet you haven’t seen that before, have you, you f***?’ It brought the house down.
In an age where comedians ostensibly become popular through a myriad of appearances on panel shows and small slots on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Alderton is, or was, one of the last comedians to eschew attempts at commercialisation and remain true to their comedic self.
Alderton doesn’t reel off contemporary one-liners: he stands on his head and orchestrates a conversation between his shoes. He didn’t have a fortunate upbringing, nor does he appear on television: he is 14 stone, shaven-headed and reliant upon gigs in small venues over the country. But I’d go to see him any day.
I’m sure that Lee Mack produced a polished display on Saturday night as the headline act at the Leamington Comedy Festival 2013. I have no doubt that Jimmy Carr, performing at the Warwick Arts Centre on the same night as Alderton, sold more tickets and told gags about sex and tax evasion that everyone smirked at. But give me a choice between that strange Terry Alderton and the smooth sell-out performer you see on television every week, and I’d plump for the former every time. It’s a shame I might not have the chance to do so again.