JLife’s Laura Sefton caught up with comedian and photographer, Steve Best prior to his talk at the UKIB Breakfast Club meeting.
Steve Best has had a varied career to date, both on and off stage. From performing at Battersea Power Station in front of 6,000 people as part of an 80-date tour supporting Frank Skinner to using his photography training to create a reportage-style account of life backstage on the comedy circuit, he has continuously blurred the lines between performance and photographic art.
“If I had to choose between photography and being a comedian, I really don’t think I can choose,” says Steve. What if his life depended upon it? Would he be swayed then? “If my life depended on it I’d have to go for comedy. It has that added edge of the now, an immediate response to one’s endeavours. You live or die in that moment, each moment different, never to be repeated in exactly the same way.”
It is these two professions that he will be covering in his talk at the UKIB Breakfast Club meeting – something that, at the time of our chat, is still in the future. He does admit that, despite performing to thousands at a time at gigs, he has given very few talks in his career.
“Having said that, I did my first exhibition of some of my favourite [photographic] prints at the Bedford Fringe Festival in July 2016 and did a Q&A session that was meant to last 20 minutes or so, but ended up lasting an hour-and-a-half. It’s going to be a long breakfast!” he adds.
In addition, he will reveal being part of the changing comedy circuit for a career comedian; the life and times of a comedian photographer; plus how has taken his first steps into the publishing world with his book of photographs, ‘Comedy Snapshot’.
Today, Steve lives in London however he was born in the market town of Epsom in Surrey. He lived there for most of his early days, attending Sutton, an orthodox synagogue, where he had his Bar Mitzvah. Of his time growing up in the faith, he says: “I’m a twin, so I read from the Torah and my brother did the Haftorah.”
It was during these formative years that he found his love of performance. Steve describes how he would practice juggling before going to school and again when he came home. He learnt to ride a unicycle and once rode it to class. And there was more: “I became obsessed with magic – still am – and was a finalist in the ‘Young Magician of the Year’ in 1985. I was also rather obsessed with the guitar, especially flamenco, and practised for eight hours a day for a few years.”
Although he was a good student, he became so hooked on the entertainment bug he ended up doing an 18-week summer season in Devon and Cornwall with a 20 minute set strung out to 40 minutes: “It was a sharp learning curve. I came back into London and went on the ‘alternative comedy’ scene and that was it.”
The learning curve continued from there. Changing his name from Lewis to Best in order to join the Equity Union – only one name is allowed and Stephen Lewis was taken – Steve developed his set over the years. Filled with one-liner jokes, props and clown-like slapstick, Steve has built a very visual act. “I was once described as ‘a cross between Lee Evans, Tommy Cooper and Fozzy Bear,” he says of his routine.
There have been stand-out moments that have seen his star in the ascendant, including the memorable Battersea Power Station gig and a TV show called the Big Stage on Channel 5. “I really stormed it,” he explains. “I had producers coming up to me for some time afterwards planning my rise to stardom. Showbiz, eh!”
There have also been moments when he has had to handle hecklers, one of which stands out. “I was at Glastonbury. It was the year that it was really wet and waterlogged. The audience weren’t happy. I had a hard gig, heckled a lot, but kind of survived. When I came off the organisers asked if I was OK. As I was putting my props away I noticed small, round mud balls. I then realised while I had been on the audience had been literally chucking dirt at me!”
While he has spent his career touring the country and has based his life in the capital, the comedian-photographer has family ties in Leeds. His older brother Matthew Lewis lives here in the city and he often visits him, his wife Karen (formerly Karen Myers), and his family. He was also compere last year for Ashley Boroda at the Strictly the Laughter Factor fundraiser, which is set to take place again in January.
Steve can be seen at gigs across the map and he regularly updates his website – Stevebest.com – with where he will be next. “The big plan is to tour art galleries where I can have my limited edition fine art prints exhibition on the walls, my books on the shelves, and on one of the nights do a stand-up show and a Q&A,” he adds, summing up the elaborate mixture of skills this performer brings to his performances.