Caro Meets Comedy Interview

Alex Lowe: Clinton Baptiste – Roller Ghoster

By | Published on Friday 3 May 2024

Pretty sure comedy aficionados out there will be very much aware of comedy character Clinton Baptiste, and you may even be old enough to remember seeing him in his first outing on ‘Phoenix Nights’ twenty-plus years ago.   

This week he’s headed to London’s Leicester Square Theatre with his latest show ‘Roller Ghoster’ as part of a very comprehensive tour of the UK.

It’s the talented Alex Lowe who plays him, so I arranged a chat ahead of his upcoming dates in the capital. 

CM: For anyone that doesn’t know, can you explain who Clinton Baptiste is? What does he do and what is he like? 
AL: Clinton is a slightly camp ‘end of the pier’ clairvoyant medium and psychic. He gives readings from beyond the grave for his audience that are unsubtle and undiplomatic. You can see the cogs working, but hopefully that makes him loveable in a ghastly way.

CM: What were the circumstances that led to you creating the character? 
AL: Well, I suppose I’ve created him in a way, but he originally is the brainchild of Peter Kay, Neil Fitzmaurice and Dave Spikey who invented him for Channel 4’s ‘Phoenix Nights’.

I played him for the first time about 23 years ago. Since ‘Phoenix Nights Live’ at Manchester Arena in 2015, I’ve been playing him on the comedy circuit and this is my fourth UK tour.

CM: Has he changed/developed from the early days?
AL: Clinton was only in ‘Phoenix Nights’ for about three minutes, so I’ve fleshed him out and he has an entire history now, which was developed through my podcast Clinton Baptiste’s Paranormal Podcast, radio appearances and many many live stand-up shows. 

I would say he hasn’t strayed too far from the original idea but sometimes, when I’m chatting on the podcast, I do think he sounds too much like me – just with a silly voice. 

CM: What do you like about performing the character? What makes you want to continue playing him?
AL: Well I love to use the everyday clumsiness and laziness of the English language for Clinton. It always makes me laugh when characters do that.

Viz for example has me laughing out loud when it captures the way people speak every day in Britain, with inaccuracies and idioms, and my audiences seem to really get all that stuff.

It also makes me laugh when I hear British mainstream cultural references that everyone knows. Captain Tom, Jane Macdonald, “Midge Ure off of Ultravox” feature in the show.

I wonder if Britain is unique in our love of a plucky loser like Clinton? The valiant underdog. There’s nothing funnier and more endearing than someone with low status trying to play high status. Maybe because an audience feels superior. Who knows?

But I want to continue playing him because it’s such a blast to be onstage up and down the country just with a microphone getting laughs, that’s all.

CM: Are fans able to separate you from him?
AL: I’d say so –  I’m a suburban bloke from nice middle class Pinner in North West London, not Bolton as in ‘Phoenix Nights’, and when anyone meets me afterwards they are normally pretty disappointed that I don’t sound like Clinton. I’m not even from a place north of Watford.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about working on ‘Phoenix Nights’? Any anecdotes for us? 
AL: I recall waiting in a tiny dressing room ready to step onstage at the Phoenix Club – St Gregory’s social club in Farnworth – and being reminded that the audience of supporting artists and locals weren’t prepped and were just expecting to see my “act”. 

It was odd to play a live cabaret gig in front of cameras. I also remember it being quite a technical exercise of “pause here, react there, hit the light here etc”.  Mostly I remember thinking how funny the script was and how pleased I was to be there.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’? How did you come to be performing? Was it what you always wanted to do? 
AL: I was a child actor from the age of twelve with an agent and everything, which when I think about it is odd, because my parents weren’t remotely pushy theatrical types.

It must have been strange for them, but luckily they were very supportive and were always my chaperones when I did professional jobs. I think they thought I’d have to knuckle down and do something proper with my life to earn money at some point. 

Luckily I’m now 56 and even if I wanted to do something else, literally no one is going to employ me in any other field. But I have never wanted to do anything else. Apart from play for QPR and those days are probably over, I’d imagine.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far? 
AL: I was in three feature films when I first started after college. Two with Kenneth Branagh, including ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ for six weeks living in a Tuscan villa with Brian Blessed. That was great fun but there’s never been anything as glamorous – or loud – since.

That was great, but – without a doubt – touring as Clinton is the biggest thrill of my career. I pinch myself every day. Genuinely.

I have spent so many years waiting around for people to make decisions about me for one job or another, that to just write material and go and perform it and have people turn up is gratifying.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
AL: I just want to keep going for as long as possible. I am considering bringing back my other creation, Barry from Watford, to support Clinton on my next tour in a couple of years time. Just hope I’ve got the puff.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this? 
AL: After this I’m going to have a bit of time off, pay some overdue attention to my lovely wife and kids, and then do the tour extension next year. Then think about the next Clinton show. I’m a bit of a workaholic, which isn’t always too much fun for my family, so I will try to take my head out of my arse.

Alex appears as Clinton Baptiste in ‘Roller Ghoster’ from 10-12 May at Leicester Square Theatre, see the venue website here for more information and to book. The dates are part of a very long national tour of the UK – click here for all dates and locations. 

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