AFTER his triumph at this week’s Scottish Comedy Awards, Gary Little joked that his last great win was a table tennis tournament in prison.
He was speaking only partly in jest, since he has served two jail terms and is actually a dab hand at ping pong.
In the audience at a recent gig there were two prison officers and four former inmates.
“It was cons reunited,” said Gary.
Sipping green tea in a Glasgow cafe and enthusing about hill climbing, if Gary now seems far removed from a criminal life, it’s because he is.
The comedian, who won Best Headline and Best Show at the inaugural awards, is a mate of Kevin Bridges, who is also a fan.
Gary is so popular on the circuit that at Glasgow’s recent comedy festival he headlined four venues in a night.
He said: “I regret landing in jail but I can’t change it. I took my punishment and lost years of my life. But I hope I’m an example of how you can turn it around. It doesn’t matter what your past is, you can move on.”
At 6ft 2in, the man they call “Big Gary Little” is a boulder of a bloke, an animator’s impression of a typical Glasgow hardman.
He said: “I play up to that image and it stops the hecklers but I’m actually easy going and I was never a fighter.”
He is a natural raconteur and his act is gallus, but sharp. Glaswegian in flavour with universal themes.
It’s 20 years since he was sentenced to eight years for dealing in ecstasy, landing in Barlinnie but, with good behaviour, moving to an open prison and release after four years.
He said: “I didn’t set out to deal. I was clubbing a lot and I just started getting it for friends and it developed. It wasn’t something I planned and I haven’t touched them for years.
“Prison was daunting but it’s like a big school, you know people from your own area.
“You quickly get into a routine. I put my head down and got on with it. I read a lot and went to the gym and put on four stone.”
Prison – like the other dark theme in his life, depression – makes it into his act.
He said: “Everyone knows the scary stuff from prison but there is a lot of humour, winding each other up.
“There was a hard con who was terrified of wasps, so every September they spread jam on the outside of his window to attract them.
“He thought the wasps could sense he was scared of them.”
On his release, Gary, 50, found a job working the night shift for Harper Collins but was jailed in 2008 for selling £50,000 of books on eBay.
He said: “They pulped so many books. I thought it was a waste. So I thought, rather than throw them out, I’d take them. I started out with a couple but, before I knew it, I had
100 per cent positive feedback on eBay.
“I shouldn’t have done it but it won’t be in the annals of Scottish crime history.”
At his original hearing at the High Court in Glasgow, Lord McEwan told him it would be “unmerciful” to add to his troubles by jailing him.
The judge said: “My view is that the right thing to do would be to make no order and hopefully he’ll be able to appear at the festival in Edinburgh. I might even go and see him.”
His decision was overturned and Gary is yet to spot Lord McEwan at a gig.
He spent seven months in open prison, at Castle Huntly, and had a short story published in a book that was distributed, ironically, by Harper Collins.
On his release, he was placed on an electronic tag for six months. The governor timed the curfew to allow Gary to play night-time gigs.
The humour came from his mum “Big Vera” who was “wee with a huge personality”.
She was a school cleaner and his dad was a plumber, and Gary and his four sisters were raised in Maryhill, Glasgow, the first few years in a house with an outside toilet.
They moved to the east end scheme of Balornock and basked in the luxury of three bedrooms and a garden.
It was a happy childhood and he was always the funny man.
“I was the idiot at the party you either think of as funny or an a*******,” he said.
Gary took to the stage in a gig for a mate at the Halt bar in Glasgow and it was a success.
He was then short-listed in a competition at the Stand Comedy Club in Glasgow and gradually he has built a career, travelling the UK and performing in New York.
He has suffered from depression and has performed mental health gigs, hoping to reduce the stigma associated with the illness.
He said: “I was probably depressed for a long time but, like a lot of Scottish men, I thought I was just moody. I was in my 30s before I got treated for it.
“People find it hard to talk about. It isn’t a visible hurt, like a wound or a broken leg.”
There were nights he slept fully clothed and couldn’t be bothered getting out of bed.
He talked about suicide to his doctor and he laughs that she told him his plan to kill himself with exhaust fumes wouldn’t work, as his car had a catalytic converter.
“I didn’t ever seriously consider it but I had the thoughts,” he said.
Comedy has given him a platform to share his life on a grand scale and it has been cathartic.
“It is an amazing feeling when you come off the stage. My act is about storytelling and a lot of it is personal, so when people laugh at it, it’s fantastic. The last year I’ve definitely stepped up a gear, but that comes with experience.”