Alex Zane decides to stand up and be counted

Highgate’s resident funnyman on how his roots are firmly in comedy

Even at 32, almost eight years after he first appeared on our television screens, Alex Zane is still the foppish indie man of every 15-year-old girl’s dreams. As the face of MTV and Channel 4’s T4, he was one of the leaders of the cult of skinny and awkward stars that were a product of the 2000s. Nowadays, even a whisper of his name is liable to make a crowd of the most sensible young women a little excited.

But, as his PR says, conversations about girls are strictly off limits. Luckily I’m less interested in Zane’s love life (which he admirably keeps to himself) and more occupied with what seems like the Highgate dweller’s recent leap from TV indie boy to stand-up comedian.

For some, the star’s appearance at Edinburgh 2010 with a stand-up entitled Just One More Thing was an unpalatable move into a world that, for a trendy presenter, was off limits. The routine received mixed reviews, with some making unfavourable comparisons with Simon Amstell and accusing Zane of being insincere.

Zane seems to take it in his stride. “I went up to Edinburgh under no illusions,” he says. “I didn’t think that people were going to be astounded by me. Were there a couple of reviewers that I thought were lazy? Yes. It seemed like some had written the review beforehand and left spaces to insert the material after seeing the show.”

The reaction of reviewers was surprising, given that Zane started off in comedy and was successful as a young stand-up, getting to the final of So You Think You’re Funny? I put it to Zane that this may be down to snobbery and he agrees without a hint of resentment. “I think at Edinburgh there is slightly more snobbery than you would find in London. Edinburgh is a place that is the beating heart of comedy. A lot of people who haven’t been tarnished by television perform there. If someone turns up who they feel has come from TV, they’re not interested in going back through your CV to see where you actually started.”

Anyone who did care to look back through Zane’s career would see an intriguing story. The Yorkshire-born funnyman has started two degrees – in medicine and media – and, as a student living in Camden Town, spent some time working for his landlord after being penniless – spending most nights gigging for free. “I said to him, ‘I cannot pay you with what does not exist,’” recalls Zane. “Unfortunately a witty remark like that does not get you very far. When you work somewhere and you are aware that all the money you are earning is going back to the person you are working for, it is just awful.”

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After a stint on student radio, he got a job on XFM and took a natural path into television. “When I worked at MTV, it was a forum where you could do anything. It satisfied that urge I had to be creative. I have always done stand-up, though, it is where I started.”

His summary of his CV – treading the tightrope between comedy and presenting – is fair enough but which would Zane say he liked the most? “I would say film lover. Film has always been my biggest passion, it’s where I started in TV and it explains my complexion. I like winter you see, because in summer people sit in parks. I like to sit inside watching films,” says 6ft tall Zane, who readily admits that he prefers to stay in his Highgate home with his cat Holly than go anywhere else. “I don’t like to leave my house unless it is really necessary,” he says, contrary to the socialite image in which he has often been painted.

The move from Camden Town to Highgate has come with this maturity. “Living in Camden is great at a time when you want to walk out of your door and have a guy come up to you selling skunk and loads of tie-dye clad people,” says Zane. “Then you grow up and you think, ‘I don’t want this anymore. I don’t want to buy skunk and I don’t like your blonde dreadlocks.’”

Zane also puts another rumour to bed. “Wikipedia is wrong, I am not Greek and I don’t know where that has come from. I keep removing it from Wikipedia as it’s not true. It is brilliant that someone keeps noticing that it has been removed and thinking, ‘Oh dear, someone’s removed the Greek fact, better put that up again, because it’s definitely true.’”

The chipper, presenter-like tone that Zane speaks with is endearing for many, yet seems to be comedy cryptonite for some pundits. The only person who doesn’t seem to be affected by the career combination is the man himself – and he even addresses it in his material. “I couldn’t go on stage and just talk about socks” he says.

“I have to acknowledge what I am – the main pre-conception of the audience is, ‘You are a presenter, I’ve seen you on the TV.’ You have to acknowledge that – and I do.”

Alex Zane- Just One More Thing is at The Royal Albert Hall, Elgar Rooms on April 28. Box office 020 7589 8212.