Micky Flanagan instantly satisfies the cockney stereotype, writes Paul Fleckney.

"I have just been to the dentist, I had a cap fall out when I was eating in a pie and mash shop in Bethnal Green," he tells the Guardian. Does it get any more cockney than that?

That is where the stereotype ends for Micky, though, due to the unpredictable life journey that led him to that pie and mash shop. His odyssey, which continues at Banana Cabaret in Balham this weekend, requires some paraphrasing, and I'll start with the turning point (the bit 99 per cent of people never achieve).

"It was one freezing January morning when I was pulling fish up a hill to Billingsgate market, I was 17 and I thought is this it?' All my friends were bedding down but I wanted more from life. So I ran off to New York," he recalls.

Micky survived by washing up pots in restaurants and he fell in love with the city: "It was buzzing. People would talk about their futures, whereas England was a horrendous, bleak place to live in the early 80s."

He returned to a London gripped by the Thatcherite dream, learnt how to make furniture, went into business, "worked his nuts off", found success - then bombed like everyone else when the economy failed.

In 1988 he was back in NYC for a holiday, £10,000 in debt. "I worked out that one thing people can't take away from you is education," he says and, angry with himself for leaving school at 15 with no qualifications, he ripped through an English GCSE, two university courses and a PGCE, which led him to the classroom as a teacher.

"I had seen the movies where a teacher comes in and changes the pupils' lives and they cheer you out of the classroom.

"In reality, they crap on your desk and you end up with a raging vodka and valium habit. It was the worst year of my life."

By this point, about 10 years ago, Micky had begun appearing on comedy open mic spots and now he is one of the best-loved funnymen on the circuit.

"I live in East Dulwich now and I dip bread in oil, I watch Newsnight and read the Guardian. Sometimes I survey my 20ft garden and think, I've cracked it!'" he jokes.

"A lot of the people I grew up with ended up as druggies or in jail, and I learned from visiting my Dad in prison that you achieve nothing from crime, so I walked away."

His experiences naturally inform his critically-acclaimed comedy act, which should help him shake off preconceptions of being just another cheeky, chirpy, cockney geezer.

"I am a cockney, though," he says, "I'm cheeky and I have been known to be chirpy, so I can't deny it."

Micky Flanagan (plus others); Banana Cabaret, The Bedford, 77 Bedford Hill, Balham; Friday to Saturday, February 11-12; 9pm; £12/£8; call 020 8673 8904, visit bananacabaret.co.uk.