This is Tony, he's my brother from another mother. We grew up in Preston together. We started hanging out in a big group of friends at 17. It was obvious he was destined for a life focused on joy, people and connection. One of life's brilliant storytellers. Tony started out in law, then did a media agency and then went into comedy. He met his wife Clare, at a gig. They have two children and live in Manchester. He lives a life that's honest, real and with some audiences, a bit white knuckle. He's full of stories and has a ton of courage.
Tony, welcome to the Call On Courage podcast. It's brilliant that you were able to come and do it.
Tony Vino 1:12
I'm so pleased I'm very excited to be here. I feel very comfortable…
And you did make quite the entrance turning up in the Salford neighbourhood in this amazing big van.
Tony Vino 1:20
We're only four days into buying a motorhome. I mean, this is the most uncool thing that I think I've ever seen in my life. But I've gone and got a motorhome. I think it’s me giving up on all my dreams of having any kind of street cred when essentially you get a motorised caravan and then turn up to a podcast in it. People were watching me having a mini breakdown trying to park this thing. It's ridiculous, it's massive. But the reason I've got it, is that at the time we're recording it’s the corona lockdown. I've got no work as a comedian because of live audiences. It’s a transmission nightmare is the official line. So there's no comedy on and so I thought well, I'm just going to go away for a couple of months and travel with the family.
So you did mention, obviously, you do stand up that’s your profession. So why did you choose comedy as your career?
Tony Vino 14:33
It's a good question. I don't want to sound cheesy, but it chose me. Sometimes in life you kind of get a sense of what's coming. But sometimes you have a moment that things turn on a sixpence. In May 2005, a friend put a comedy night on, in a cafe in Leeds. He invited loads of people to come. And he said, ‘Look, could you host it?’ I was like, ‘yeah.’ And then on that one night, I hosted this comedy night. Things changed in that moment, where things clicked into place. So even studying law, and wanting to become a lecturer wasn't really because I liked the law and teaching. It was because I liked live audiences. And so it really was a night of destiny as well because this guy Jonathan, it sent out messages, who wants to give it a go? And an email went through to a girl called Claire over in Manchester. And she was goaded to do it, by one of her friends. And she did a show. And she is currently my wife, as in she is my wife! I met her that night. Destiny, career wise, relationship wise. It all kind of changed.
That's magical. That's amazing. I guess you know, a lot of people probably ask this question, but is actually making people laugh, as scary as it looks? Is it quite nerve wracking?
Tony Vino 16:49
No, when they laugh, it's a total relief. It's like rounders, you know, when you hit a ball and you've got to go to one post, and then you get a sort of titter, and then you might get people smiling, then you know, they get you and then you’re at fourth base and you’ve passed. And once you get that laugh, then it basically goes from there, and you've kind of broken the mould. So, there are nerves before you go on. But I always like to say, in terms of nerves, the idea of just enough, just enough to give you an edge and to get you your brain really, you know, running at 100%. But also, I think one of the things with comedy, any type of public presentation is that, the more you do, you've got more evidence to yourself, it's gonna be okay. You've done this routine that many times and it's worked. It's the new stuff that we worry about.
Do you feel like comedy and courage are like necessary to be a comedian? Do you have to have the courage thing going on?
Tony Vino 18:22
Definitely, you know, dare I say it’s a courageous lifestyle to get into for various reasons. If you've been working in an organisation for years, you build up a sort of credibility and security. With comedy you're only as good as you are in that moment. Because nobody cares. And the audience don't care that you did really well, three nights ago when you smashed it in Newcastle… and you're here in like, Newark. So it's quite courageous, there's no safety net. But also it's a very meritocratic world in that, you know, you have to stay relevant, stay fresh, and make people laugh.
There’s a level of courage not being part of any institution or organisation. But mainly it's the courage to find the funny in your own life. And I think to find your own authentic voice, you've got to mine your own past. Mine your own history and find out what's your USP. Who are you? What's that part of yourself you want to amplify on stage, but also what's your unique perspective? So you have to have the courage to look inwards. Think about that. And so it's the courage to actually overcome fear. Now some comedians are naturally less fearful, I’m utterly petrified of audiences. So it did take courage, somewhere in me to make that first decision to even say, ‘Yes, speak to me.’ I did this first in my 20s, it’s a very courageous time, I think in your 20s.
Yeah, big time.
Tony Vino 20:30
…There are careers that are more comfortable. But for me, I'm really nervous with live audiences. Like, I remember when I was doing my law degree I had my first presentation I did in front of my class. It was in this lecture hall. And my mouth went dry. I was like, 18 or 19. I could hardly speak, my legs shook. I'd never seen this before in my life! And so you think, ‘Oh, that's horrible.’ I would never want to do that again. But somehow I have this part of me with things that I'm fearful of. And I've recently learned a term. You've got what's called phobic or contra phobic. So the way you deal with fear, those that are phobic will whatever they fear, deep down, they'll move away from that and somehow kind of box that area of life. Contra phobic’s way of dealing with fear, is to go right into the centre of it. Wow. And so I'm petrified of speaking in front of live audiences in large groups. And I've put my entire life and career and that of my children… seems a great decision doesn’t it?! So it could be courage or it could be just, you know, a rush. Madness.
I would say I want to take that stuff head on, because I feel there's better stuff on other side of it. I want to come back to that. But I'm really curious to know because you were so worried early on, this was a big deal around public speaking… Have you got any nerve wracking stories? Any funny things happen?
Tony Vino 23:59
Okay, yeah, I mean I’m having flashbacks. Yeah, this. Remember that film, As Good As It Gets, right? It's beautiful. And the line in it? You know, the main protagonist says, ‘You know what, I always feel that this is as good as it gets.’ So for me, one of the most helpful things with dying on stage or it just being horrible, is that, this is as bad as it gets. Right? This is what I feared and this is as bad as it gets. And I’m still living the next day to tell the tale. I've had various different times when I have clammed up. And now, thankfully, I don't think I've ever just bottled it and not gone on. I kind of made a decision because I've always vowed whatever I'm going to do, I'm going to honour the situation, and give it 100%. Also I'm not going to back out. I might decide not to take something on. I was offered to do Britain's Got Talent. And I was like, that sounds a bit scary for me. So I'm not going to do that. I'll tell you one time, which was a nightmare. It was about 10 years ago, and I was doing a corporate event where…
surely they've got to be the worst?
Tony Vino 25:28
The reason is because people aren't there to watch comedy. They're not there to hear you. It was a boxing charity night, but people were paying quite a lot of money. And they're in suits, and having a big meal, around these tables, and there's a boxing ring in the middle. The person running the event thought, ‘What a great idea before we bring on the fights.’ Let's have a comedian. Right? It was a terrible idea. And so while people were eating, you know, it was in the KC Stadium in Hull. It’s this big, big function room, there's about 600 people there. And then they brought me on, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, give it over to Tony vino,’ and everyone was just eating and talking. And I was like, ‘Hi, everyone.’ And I didn't bottle it. I did it. Wow. But the microphone kept cutting out. That was over the punch lines as well! So nobody was listening.
Then this guy ran to the side of the ring, and said ‘pass us the microphone,’ so I pass it to him. And he put some new batteries in to try it out. I carried on. And it kept cutting out and I kept going. Basically people were just talking and it was embarrassing. I kind of clammed up and another guy came to the side. He looked quite official in a suit.
He asked for the microphone and I passed it to him. He shouted into it, ‘You’re shit!’
I was mortified. Yeah, it took me a few days to get over that. I just thought, you know what, all those 600 people over in Hull, most of them don't know who I am. Most of them were probably nonplussed by that, ‘What the hell, did that just happen?!’ It didn't matter.
Wow. It's interesting, because I think if you're doing anything creatively, it always holds itself up to some form or judgement doesn't it? That's art, music, performing of any type. But I feel of all the types of creativity, probably stand up is the one that you know, we've got the most vocal opinion of in real time. It's not when someone's designing something or sculpting something…
Tony Vino 33:16
Absolutely when you try to make people laugh, people actually either go, that's funny or that's not funny. Yeah, very binary. So it's the most instantaneous art form as well. Even more than music. You know people can sit back and listen, some people can like it, some don't. But those that don't, if they're at a gig, they might switch off a little bit.
(Re anxiety) So when you told me about this before we did the interview, that really honestly surprised me because obviously, my point of reference was meeting you at 17, we were part of a big gang of friends. And you know, maybe a lot happens in your teenage years. But the 17 year old version I remember of you, and obviously then the natural progression into comedy, was a larger than life personality, life and soul of the party, full of stories. When you said about doing comedy it just made complete sense because of how you're wired. So I was genuinely surprised when you told me about your anxiety story. I was so surprised.
Tony Vino 38:49
Because you knew me at 17 yeah. I am quite an extrovert. So yeah, when I go out into social situations, especially in groups I was in my element. I love it. But I was thinking about the future. I remember when I finished college, in Preston, I need to think about getting a job. I was walking around, almost having some kind of anxiety attack. I don't know what it was, option paralysis, you know? It's an interesting one. Now, round about that time, was also had a bit of a revolution in my life as well. I was 17 or 18 when we first met, I had a total change on the whole idea of anxiety as well because I read a great book. I don't even know if it's in print anymore, but there's a book called Spirit Controlled Temperament an old school book.
I was 17, 18 and had come into a faith out of being in a fairly agnostic, Northern family. I wouldn't say atheist, more agnostic, to the point of literally not caring about a worldview or what life's about really? We were an ordinary family. I had a sort of question, is there a bigger story, an itch inside? For me, that was one thing that dealt with, like a level of crippling anxiety. I'm 42. Now 25 years of what I would say, is a really positive worldview, this idea that the world, you know, from a theistic perspective, it's not just, totally random. But actually, there's benevolence. In a world that has benevolence, there's hope. So anything that’s bad can get turned around, and that's the Christian story. You know, reformation, resurrection, and there's a hope for the future. So that, for me, was a big one.
That book Spirit Controlled Temperament. It described people basically suffer from either fear or anger. I think it is true, people have this subterranean level of fear, which drives so much, or a subterranean level of anger, which also drives so much. So, you know, people talk about this road to Damascus style moment of change and that was mine. That was probably one of the greatest spiritual, emotional and psychological. No, it was the greatest spiritual, emotional and psychological transformation in my life. So I don't know what I’d do now if that hadn't happened.
That's really amazing. Oh, my goodness. Yeah, I didn't know the specifics of that story. I didn't actually know, the specific detail of what led to that was fear being a driver
Tony Vino 45:21
It was a major driver. I think there's something to be said for just enough, maybe just enough fear that kind of gives you an impulse in the moment, whether that be public speaking… But also just in life…
Right. Yeah, it's interesting, because it's almost like at every stage of life, there are things that weigh in quite heavily aren't there? You know, the societal pressures that kind of put these things as milestones and the achievement markers and the things to chase after. It is interesting because I mean, we're obviously a similar age. So for you in terms of getting into your 40s and now you're a dad of two, what are some of the things in your 40s you want besides purchasing a motorhome?
Tony Vino 53:23
Once you get into 40s, the whole thing is about property. It’s a big pressure, particularly in the UK. You've still got your best years ahead of you, whether you go for security or… find what you love to do and you'll never work a day in your life. Some people are totally in line with their values and their heart, which is fantastic. But some people are also kind of acquiescing to consumer culture and just playing it safe and trying to make money. Which I think is fear, fear of letting go because this age is when we’ve accumulated stuff from experiences. From knowledge to houses to cars and motorhomes! I think the big call on people at our age is what can you let go of?
You’ve become, I imagine, pretty bulletproof. If you think with comedy, I've got this in my back pocket as my skill set. Because entering a room where the onus isn't on you.... Surely that unlocks a lot of doors?
Tony Vino 57:48
At the very least I can make them laugh and give them a good time. Even if you don't learn anything, whatever you're talking about. Actually, for me, the trick has been when I've been doing all different types of talks there’s a change to the pacing, because it's like you're watching a greyhound racing. You're constantly chasing it. Whereas other types of communication, that's maybe not the best rhythm where you go for the laugh. It's much more paced, I think. So being comfortable with silence, being comfortable with moments of reflection, all that kind of stuff. I want to grow in other areas.
I love it. I'm going to end on some quick fire questions. Just a burst of short answers, the first ones that come into your head. So why be brave?
Tony Vino 1:05:47
Why not be brave? Because bravery is different for every different person. So you have your own set of demons and monsters to overcome. And everyone is incumbent upon each one. I love that word, incumbent, to go on your own hero's quest. Because, you know, Fear knocked. And bravery answered. And when it opened the door, it found that nobody was there.
What scares you?
Tony Vino 1:06:19
Oh, my goodness, that question scares me because I put real value on this idea - that which scares you the most, is probably one of the greatest gifts to you. At various times in my life, I’ve said ‘What am I most fearful of right now?’ And it might be really saying what I feel in a certain situation. When I've told someone that, whether it be my partner, whether it be a friend, whether it be whoever, actually that's brought something so beautiful. So many things scare me. But I actually find that the thing that scares me the most in each situation is usually the thing that I need to have a look at
What's sexy about courage?
Tony Vino 1:07:22
We are all sexual beings. I think we've been really reductive in this idea of sexuality. Basically, through porn, a kind of image based view of sex. It's just become this act and this one thing, but we all engage in sexual intercourse. Throughout the day, everyday we interact with people, we are sexual beings. So there's something really drawing about someone who is able to be fully present because often if you're not courageous, you're running away from stuff and you're not dealing with stuff. Whereas someone who's fully embodied in their own physicality and their own mind and their own soul. And that's a beautiful thing to behold.
What does courage demand?
Tony Vino 1:08:23
It demands everything from you. Courage demands you to look in the periphery of your vision. Courage demands you to stop and not just be reactive, you know, fight or flight. Courage, I think, demands you to take a moment and stop and think, ‘Okay, what's life offering me at this moment?’
What is courage?
Tony Vino 1:11:11
Courage, is well, it's not the absence of fear. It's the ability to kind of recognise that fear is not an evil and fear is not even a flaw, it is a part of you and a necessary part of you. And courage on the other side of the coin. Fear is like the form, courage is like the light, and whatever the shadow it casts is the revelation to us. So courage is the ability to switch on the light to look at the form in order to discover the shadow.
And what are the benefits to courage?
Tony Vino 1:11:58
We've got one life to live! I think you will live life more intensely, beautifully and consciously. We're in our 40s, we're gonna die, whatever happens, right? And you might as well live a courageous life because you're more likely to be one of those people that adds goodness, light and truth to the world. Be of service to other people and make a change that is positive. Whereas if not, I think it's actually people that are not courageous, that somehow don't realise the potential of what they were gifted to this world to do.
A time you wish you'd been courageous?
Tony Vino 1:16:39
Wow. This is an old memory, right? I was about six or seven. We're in Spain on holiday and this very early memory where I was on a swing in this hotel. And there was this girl. We were getting on really and a massive Alsatian dog approached us. It was not just a dog, it was like a hound from hell. It was a wolf. It was one of those wargs from Lord of the Rings! And I flipping legged it. I jumped off this swing and ran inside. There were patio doors that shut. And I’m looking at her, she'd stopped swinging, this dog was just sort of walking around and she was absolutely petrified! And there was part of me just six or seven, when I was like, ‘Tony you lamo. You are so lame. How unchivalrous are you? You literally left this girl, she's dog meat now.’ I wish I’d been courageous then.
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