But not even a pandemic can keep Joe - or Frank - from spreading laughter. With a beret firmly wedged on his bonce once more, Joe is looking forward to getting back to what he describes as “the most enjoyable job I have ever done.”
“It’s a show for now because it makes everyone laugh. You see the whole audience like a Mexican wave, as one, leaning forward in laughter. It’s wonderful,” sighs Joe, who recalls belly laughing at the antics of hapless Frank as a kid watching the original TV series.
But while Michael Crawford as Frank had the nation chorusing ‘Ooh, Betty!’ Joe has made the role his own.
“It’s my take on Frank, not on Michael doing Frank. Some of the physicality is there, but we’ve put my personality into it. It’s Joe-isms rather than Michael-isms.”
And while many refer to Frank as a man-child, Joe is quick to defend the character.
“He’s childlike, not childish; he believes in what he’s doing. He might always mess up, but Betty loves him anyway. For it to work she has to; otherwise he’d just be an idiot.
“There’s not an ounce of malice in him and he always sees the best in people. But he panics the way a kid panics, and then takes the worst possible way out of a situation. There’s a bit of Frank in all of us.”
Understanding the character is one thing. The physical demands of this show, however, are another.
“There are 128 pages of dialogue and I’m on 126 of them - it’s the War and Peace of scripts,” jokes Joe, adding:
“It’s like a roller coaster; once it starts you can’t stop. I am literally in the moment and I just pray that the words come out.”
And, as Michael Crawford did in the TV show, Joe is doing his own stunts.
“Oh blimey, yes; I do it all. And I have to ice my legs after a show to recover from ‘falling’ down the stairs on the set. During rehearsals the bloke choreographing the stunts fell down the stairs and caught his knackers on the bannister. All he could suggest by way of reassurance was that I’d better wear a box!”
Based on an original story about Frank trying to get on a TV talent show, Joe loves that it’s a family-friendly show and credits director and writer Guy Unsworth with knowing instinctively how to tickle everyone’s funny bones.
“He suggests the smallest change; a tiny nuance to get the comedy out of a line, and he’s always right. This kid is a classic comedy anorak who really knows his stuff. He has rewritten the script and peppered it with more jokes. Most of the original cast are back for the new tour, which says a lot.”
Joined by Susie Blake as Mrs Fisher, Frank’s disapproving mother-in-law, Moray Treadwell as Mr Luscombe, James Paterson as Father O’Hara and Ben Watson as Desmond, playing his long-suffering wife Betty is Spamalot co-star Sarah Earnshaw. Also in the cast are Nick Wray and Alice Osmanski.
“Susie is an experienced comic actress and she’s brilliant in the show. Sarah’s role is more difficult. She has to be softer and more likable. The relationship we have on and off stage is built on trust and affection.”
Knowing Joe as she does, Sarah can stop him deviating from the script almost before he thinks of doing so.
“She’ll give a tiny head shake that means ‘I know you’re about to do something and DON’T!’ She calls me the Unstoppable Moron,” Joe chuckles.
Unstoppable is right. As well as Some Mothers Joe constantly works on new comedy material, writes horror stories and is a talented artist – a skill he has been known to incorporate into his stand-up act.
“I am really aware of my mortality so you might as well live while you can,” he says, waving aside any suggestion that a long tour might be tiring.
“Touring in Some Mothers is a lot easier than my stand-up show. Then I usually do forty one-nighters. A week in one place is a holiday,” he beams, adding that there are certain places he is particularly looking forward to.
“I do love Birmingham and the theatre is lovely; it’s so expansive and there’s not a bad seat in the house. Doing a comedy on that stage is going to be fantastic. The audiences are smashing and I always enjoy myself there; it’s such a great city. I’m really looking forward to Birmingham.”
As for playing Frank, while Joe knows he’s likely to collect a few bumps and bruises along the way, he’s used to ‘industrial injuries’, having previously got himself stuck inside a bingo machine and broken his toe while tap dancing.
Laughing, he says: “This show’s got danger written all over it. I wouldn’t want to be my understudy!”
But it all adds up to a show that is big on heart and rich in fabulously silly and blissfully uncomplicated joy. I’d advise you get those tickets booked. Leave it too late and you might, as Frank might say, ‘have a bit of trouble.’"
It's not just the lure of a big night out that Joe wants people to buy into. “When you go to the theatre to see a play or a show you’re supporting not just that particular show and that particular theatre, but also that whole eco-system of people that rely on theatre. The public are that top level. Without the audience there is no theatre. We need them as much as they need us. And we all need live theatre, for our mental health as much as for our enjoyment.”
Joe's revival of Frank came about a few years ago. Joe was playing King Arthur in the Monty Python musical comedy Spamalot in the West End a couple of years ago. Stuck in an airless dressing room at the height of summer, wearing chainmail and kingly robes, he was trying to mend a broken fan. Having taken it apart and put it back together again, when he turned the power back on the fan exploded. The show’s director Christopher Luscombe and staff director Guy Unsworth were present. Calling it a pure Frank Spencer moment, a seed was sown and Guy sought out Raymond Allen, writer of the original TV series. Fate was smiling. Allen, it transpired, was a big fan of Joe’s. Unsworth set about writing a script and Frank Spencer was reborn.
Show: Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em
Dates: 19 to 23 July 2022
The Alexandra, Birmingham
0844 871 7615* *Calls cost 7p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge