Is this the end of the road for Johnny Vegas? According to the man himself, it could well be...
Appearing at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, the comedian – real name Michael Pennington – spoke candidly about his loutish, outspoken on-stage alter-ego and the "detrimental" effect it has had on his health, both emotionally and physically.
Using the third person to describe Vegas, he said, "I've reached a stage of my life where he wasn't the right person to be. I know a lot of people out there really love Johnny. The public love to live vicariously through somebody like Johnny – everybody wants one night out where they get hammered with Johnny – but you don't live with him and the thing is, Johnny hammered every night can get a little bit tedious."
The 42-year-old went on to discuss his recent struggles to reclaim Michael Pennington from his media persona, who is famed for his booze-fuelled antics and outspoken rants. "It was really hard regaining control of myself from Johnny. In the end he was quite manipulative. I am reluctant to let Johnny back out the box again."
Pennington – who has chosen to take on more dramatic roles in recent years – spoke of his fear of bypassing the booze to play serious characters. "As Michael, when I first started to get acting work, I never had the confidence that Johnny had on stage. Always in my head when I'm doing a scene, I'm thinking, 'I can think of five other actors off the top of my head who'd be better at this than me.' And that's not the most positive attitude to have when you're there."
Pennington went on to commit his future to directing after stepping behind the camera to oversee episodes of Sky's Playhouse Presents and Little Crackers. "Directing is where I feel really, really comfortable. It’s the closest thing to stand-up. I’ve been involved in the creative process from the start, from an idea in the pub right through to writing it, casting it and then directing it – that’s where I really hope my future within the business lies.
When asked about the possibility of Johnny one day returning to the stand-up stage, the comedian suggested it was unlikely, although he refused to rule out the possibility altogether and even hinted he may one day appear on stage as Pennington. "I’d probably rather leave it as it was – he was of his time. I might do it some day as Michael Pennington but I don’t know if I’d let the genie out the bottle again and turn into Johnny.
"For the first time in my life I feel as proud of what I’m doing as Michael as I did for what Johnny achieved within stand-up. I’ve no immediate desire to give up on what I’m doing now – I’m very lucky that I’m allowed to be creative and try and do something else. I kind of miss him. He’s always pacing around up there and if I go to gigs, he’s gagging to get out and go up on stage. I suppose he’s like a boxer with one more fight left in him – he does want to get out there and show the young ‘uns how it’s done."