Having spent eighteen years a policeman, Alfie Moore decided to try his hand at stand-up comedy. With a successful run at the 2012 Fringe, he returns with a new show, Viva Alf’s Vegas, all about gambling. Neil McEwan catches up with him during the festival.
Your previous show I Predict A Riot drew on your experiences as a policeman and you’ve become known as the cop turned comic. Was this show an attempt in part to avoid typecasting?
I was conscious of the fact that I’m known as a cop and audiences like it, but I thought the critics might say ‘he’s only funny when he’s talking about police stuff.’ So I thought I’d have a change and talk about something else and also prove that I could be funny talking about other subjects. They say talk about something you’re passionate about and knew a lot about. That’s true of the police, but unfortunately it’s also true of gambling and I’m also concerned with how gambling’s going.
I read an interview you gave about in April last year where you were still clearly very much a gambler and talking about flying off to Monte Carlo to play. What has changed over the last year or so?
It was doing research for this show. I like doing fact based shows and I like them to be accurate. I research a lot and some of the statistics I found were shocking, which motivated me to get more into the political side. Some of things I discovered are in the show, like the fact that 2% of twelve to fifteen year-olds are problem gamblers. In Haringey – the fourth poorest borough in London with a 40% child poverty rate – they’ve got eight bookmakers in a half-mile stretch on their High Street. Since de-regulation in 2005 under Tony Blair we just seem to be blatantly, blindly marching into encouraging people into gambling. The more I looked the more shocked I was by what was happening and I decided to write about the political side as well as my own personal journey.
Was there one fact in particular that jumped out at you during your research?
There are these things called fixed odds betting terminals, which are the crack cocaine of gambling. They take £18, 000 an hour – £100 maximum bet with a spin every twenty seconds, if you’re quick enough. The only restriction is you can only have four per bookmaker so they just open a bookies next door. Bookmakers don’t need any planning permission, they don’t have to put a business case together they can just open up wherever they want. When Blair brought the gambling act in he wanted to go even further with supercasinos and give much more power to the bookies in return for a share of the profits in tax. He was reeled in by other people so god knows where we’d have been if it’s been left to Blair. I find it quite ironic, a socialist party, The Labour Party bringing this in. Everybody wants to blame Thatcher, but the thin end of the wedge was the National Lottery and she was wholly opposed to that, she said it was a tax on the poor. It was Major who introduced that.
The show is also about your personal experience of gambling. Do you remember when you first started gambling?
I was eight years old and playing cards with this lad from school – David Cox, who was a bit weird, we’d be playing for sweets. I’d run out and the only way I could see his hand was if I promised he could have my teddy bear’s eyes. That’s how I start the show with that shocking story that I agreed to this bet and lost. My dad was also a big gambler and my mum was an alcoholic, so how much of it’s in the genes and how much was learned behaviour from my dad I don’t know. I was a child of gambling. By the age of fourteen my dad was taking me to betting shops and when I was twelve I was climbing under the fence to go to the dog track and asking people to put bets on for me. My dad took me to the casino for the first time when I was about fifteen and by the time I was sixteen I was a regular at the casino. So I was a compulsive gambler at a very early age.
Was becoming a policeman, and now a Stand-Up, a way of feeding the same adrenaline rush you got from gambling?
When I joined the police I organically stopped gambling for a period of time. One theory is that gambling’s a chemical addiction which changes your brain chemistry, endorphins come flooding and you’re chasing a dopamine high. When I joined the police, the real time adrenaline buzz of it was dopamine on tap. You were getting attacked all the time, having to make real time decisions so I stopped gambling through that period. I started again when my father died and again there’s a theory that the emotional impact of the death of a loved one can bring back an old addiction. I went to see a counsellor at one point who told me I should take up a dangerous sport. There’s a theory called the Peltzman effect, that says we’ve all got our own risk thermostat setting and we can’t reset it so you have to manage it – tie your money up or whatever – but you also have to feed that side of your personality. I tried jumping out of aeroplanes and doing a few things like that and then I took up stand-up comedy and again that cured the gambling so that’s been my experience you – or certainly I must replace it with something else.
Both critics and other comics have praised your shows which are hilarious, but also carry a message. Do you think that you can get information across more effectively using humour?
Definitely I think there’s a lot to go with in comedy and stand-up. I know in the past it’s been used to help people with mental health issues and in business – using it to break barriers down really. We got commissioned about three years ago for the Hull NHS trust and they suddenly realised that a group of males, forty – sixty-five, weren’t engaging with the health service. They were smoking too much, drinking too much, overweight and it was crippling the health service. They set on comedy nights in various rough pubs in Hull and they commissioned me to write a 15 -20 minute comedy set about smoking, drinking and obesity, meanwhile two nurses gave leaflets out and made appointments and that was a great success. These were people who wouldn’t engage in any other way. I was getting all these shaven headed guys coming up to me and shaking my hands saying “I’ve always hated coppers, but you’re all right.” I don’t think you know your style initially, but once I started to read my own reviews they said here’s a socio-political comedian – I had to look it up. That was their interpretation of what I was so I thought “perhaps I am.” I think you naturally find your own style and identity and mine seems to be to write about something, to make it personal and also make it political as well.