I spoke to comedian and BGT winner Jon Courtenay before his show 'Bigger' comes to Lancashire

A comedian and former Britian's Got Talent champion is heading to Lancashire this spring with a comedy musical extravaganza which highlights why life is “about just grabbing each day by the whatsits"...
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50-year-old Jon Courtney won the ITV talent show with his comedic piano playing routine back in 2020- "the year that nothing else happened to overshadow my success. Thank goodness, nobody was worried about COVID or lockdown" he jokes.

Of course the father of two had been crowned the Britain's Got Talent winner during the Covid pandemic, and so all the theatres were shut at the time, which also meant he could not go on his first tour until 2021- when various restrictions were still in place.

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Aside from struggling with the complexities of the pandemic, Jon was also silently struggling with his health during his time on BGT and in the period after his win. Whilst filming the show, Jon was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer and two months after the final - in December 2020 - he was given the all clear after undgoing surgery. However in February 2021, it was discovered that the cancer had spread to his neck, which required more major surgery and a year's course of immunotherapy.

Now out the other end of both his cancer and the pandemic, Jon has spent the past few years writing his new show, called 'Bigger', which is coming to Chorley Theatre on March 3 and Lytham St Anne's Lowther Pavilion on April 4.

I sat down for a chat with Jon to hear all about the show, find out what he said below:

Comedian Jon Courtenay is bringing his new show 'Bigger' to Chorley and Lytham St Anne's.Comedian Jon Courtenay is bringing his new show 'Bigger' to Chorley and Lytham St Anne's.
Comedian Jon Courtenay is bringing his new show 'Bigger' to Chorley and Lytham St Anne's.

Why is the show called Bigger?

Jon explained: "The show is called bigger for a number of reasons. One is, I love the idea of the poster, which is obviously from the movie 'Big' with Tom Hanks - combining the piano - that's where we started and then I had this thing about being overwhelmed by the size of everything in the universe, the fact the universe is so big, and we're so small.

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"I was talking about this with my wife and she said 'that's really depressing' and I felt the complete opposite. I said, ‘No, it might make you feel insignificant but it also makes you realise that you've got to make the most of everything, because everything is so out of our control and it's easy to be overwhelmed by it, along with everything else, so it's all about making people realise don't sweat the petty stuff -and don't pet the sweaty stuff- don't worry about stuff that's not important and make the most of everyday. That's kind of a broad message but hopefully, that's how people are going to feel afterwards.”

The promotional poster for 'Bigger'.The promotional poster for 'Bigger'.
The promotional poster for 'Bigger'.

What can we expect from the show?

Jon answered: "The first half is very much what I've been doing for the last sort of 20 years in as much as it's piano and songs and chatting and a bit of stand up. Mostly comedy, I mean there's a couple of songs there that I've written, which unusually I didn't write to try and be funny, just a couple of songs that I really like performing.

"And then the second half is a rewrite of a show that I took to Edinburgh two years ago, called ‘Against the odds’ which sort of started as my way of processing what I've gone through with the whole cancer thing and I think the problem with trying to sell this is people hear the word cancer and go ‘OMG, why do we want to go and see a show [about that]?’ It's not just about that, as I say, it's got the broader theme of making the most of every day, but I was certainly influenced by what I went through.

"It was like the highest point in my career, and the lowest point in my health, I'd never been that sick before and for a long time that was tearing me in half, I didn't know how to process any of it… I should have been jumping off the sofa and amazed that all this excitement was happening to my career after 25 years but I wasn't because I'd have one day doing a recording at the studios and then two days later in hospital having treatment and being scared out of my wit's. So I started writing the show about that but again, being who I am, and what I do - I was not laughing at it, because it makes it sound frivolous and it's too important to that - but certainly trying to keep my chin up,  the stiff upper lip and all that that business. And I wrote a lot of stuff during that time and at the end of that period, once I'd got the all clear and it had been sort of a year and a half, this show sort of came out of it. Which mixes the whole BGT stuff, it's got some of the behind the scenes stories going on that were happening on BGT combined with me dashing to hospital, but it's all told with the sort of musical winks kind of thing.

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"It is a fun show, I know that's a really hard sell,  when you hear the synopsis, it doesn't sound like something that's going to be fun, but it is and I think it's an interesting story. With so many people nowadays being affected by cancer - it used to be one in three when I was sort of growing up, you know, my granddad and my great granddad, they all suffered - but now it's one in two and it's a scary statistic so even if it's not yourself, then it's your neighbour or your family or somebody like that and I think there's a message in the show about how you can possibly get your head around it and how you can help cope, whether it's you, or your friend or family member. Yeah, hopefully, that's the idea - did I sell that at all well?” 

Have you performed in Lancashire before?

Jon replied: "We did Chorley Little Theatre in 2021 and that was brilliant and in fact, Steve Royals a local of Chorley isn’t he, so we're mates obviously from doing the show together and he told me he was gonna be free that day so he came to the show and unbeknownst to him, I arranged for a little spotlight to be over the top of his seat. So halfway through the show, I made a point and bang, we lifted Steve up and we had a bit of banter together, which was lovely because I was in his hometown so that was nice.

"I've been to Blackpool a lot as well- I love it. We didn't holiday there, I grew up in the south but the history of entertainment in Blackpool is just incredible. We opened the 21’ tour at the Winter Gardens and that was a huge deal to perform there. I love the audiences, you can't pull the wool over the northern audience's eyes… maybe it’s because I'm a southerner, maybe I feel that I've got to up my game when I come up north, and I've got to prove myself a bit more but I love it, I love the challenge."

Chorley comedian Steve Royle at a Blackpool RNLI Open Day last year.Chorley comedian Steve Royle at a Blackpool RNLI Open Day last year.
Chorley comedian Steve Royle at a Blackpool RNLI Open Day last year.

Although Jon has not performed his live show in Lytham St Annes before, he says has visited the town in the past and it holds a special place in his memory.

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Jon explained: "Lytham St Anne's was obviously Les Dawson's home and just after I won the show, ITV got in touch and asked me if I'd take part in a documentary called ‘The Lost Tapes’, which Les’ wife Tracy and his daughter Charlotte were presenting with all this home footage. I got to go to Les' house and play piano and chat with Tracy and Charlotte and talk about Les.

"He was a huge part of my childhood growing up, I mean, he was one of the first people I saw making people laugh sat at the piano, which was a great influence on me- although I try not to play like him too much! But yeah, it was amazing actually going to his house, I'd learned to play a couple of pieces that he played, as he played them, almost note for note... and I sat at his piano and played it and his wife and daughter came running out of the kitchen and they said ‘OMG, it sounded like Les was back in the house’, which was a very emotional moment. So yeah, lots of history up in Lancashire."

Why should the people of Lancashire get tickets?

Jon answered: "People that only know me from BGT have only seen nine minutes worth of material that I've written and there's more to it than that. It is a very happy show, it's a comedy show but hopefully there's gonna be some pathos and messaging there and stuff for people to think about. But people will hopefully end up leaving the theatre smiling and feeling good about life, that's the idea - life's too short, you’ve got to make the most of it.”

He added: "I'll also be doing a meet and greet afterwards. That's the loveliest thing, we couldn't do that to the full effect on the last tour because obviously, social interaction was still being restricted and I remember saying, after I won, when ITV shoved a camera in my face... ‘come and see me on tour, I will stay as long as it takes to say hello to everybody who wants to say hello afterwards and have a chat and meet you’ and it does stand through. Obviously at the time I was running on adrenaline fumes but that's a huge part of it.

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"The people that support live entertainment, that support people like me to be able to go out and do live shows, especially at this sort of level because you know, I'm not filling arenas, I'm not going out and doing Ricky Gervais’s tour or Jason Manford’s tour with tens of thousands of people, these are smaller venues, intimate venues, which I love. I've never done a show at an arena, I imagine apart from the financial reward, it is probably quite exciting and quite overwhelming, but at the same time, people that are sat half a mile away, you're not going to have that same connection that you have when you've got a front row two feet in front of you and you've got people sat in a room that only holds a few 100 people, which is what I love, and it's what I'm used to. And yes, if you come and see the show, I can promise you, I will do my best to give you a really memorable night's entertainment.”

Where can people buy tickets?

You can purchase tickets for the Chorley Little Theatre here and for Lytham St Anne's Lowther Pavillion here.

You can aslo purchase directly from Jon's website.

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