Phill Jupitus: Comedy, Poetry and Blinding Punters with Confectionery
"We would not be talking right now if it wasn’t for Billy Bragg"
This is the first thing I tell him and apparently I’m not alone. “It’s only something that happens when you work on something like Buzzcocks which has this massively unpredictable and unexpected longevity.” I admit to him that I used to laugh at it along with the adults in the room without understanding the jokes. “Man, we all do exactly the same thing,” he says, absolving my embarrassment at being a precocious show-off, “my dad used to let me watch Python, he’d sit there rolling about, and I’m like ‘what the f*ck is this? What’s going on?’” People before me have told him that Buzzcocks “was the first grown-up, slightly naughty late-night thing that their parents let them watch”.
Once old enough to grasp Buzzcocks – its truly British sense of comic anarchy, its irreverence and absurdity – I was hooked. I even went back through the archives to re-watch what had gone over my pre-pubescent head. It was reflective of shifting currents in comedy, music and television and is in my mind, I tell him, a pillar of British comic history. “Oh thanks mate, that’s really kind,” he replies. “I liked that it got simpler as it got along, and actually it got kinder without losing any edge.” One thing it was previously known for was the ‘ejector seat’ – the spot reserved for a victim of the host’s sharp tongue. This began, Phill tells me, when Simon Amstell took over from Mark Lamarr. “I was going to leave the show because of that. I just got bored with the fact that we couldn’t all just have a laugh. Apparently no, we have to tear someone a new arsehole. Then Simon left to do his sitcom, then they said Noel [Fielding] was joining and I love Noel so it was a no-brainer really.”
Unlike the orthodox panel show set-up that he likens to a “roll of the dice”, his show Juplicity is anything but conventional in format, as I discovered when I recently saw it. If you’re looking to tune out to a standard routine about people’s hometowns and traffic jams, then this isn’t for you. As we took our seats at the Newbury Corn Exchange, Phill was already installed, his back to the audience with a record player at his feet playing ‘Don’t Ask Me’by Ian Dury and the Blockheads.
The gig starts with a vinyl scratch and up to the microphone walks Porky the Poet, the support act for the second half of stand-up from Phill Jupitus. “Porky invented Phill Jupitus and writing the poetry feeds the stand-up – I thought that would stop and they’d become two separate entities and it’s not the case. Most of my really good stand-up bits still come out of me chatting between poems.” In Newbury the poetry functioned like a comedic motorway and Porky would frequently take exits and off-ramps.
A poetry set is also rewardingly flexible – “I can go wherever I want with it. Weirdly there’s more scope for me to be selfish in poetry. Also I get to talk to the audience about poetry which I don’t think happens a lot.” I wonder why poetry gets such a bad rep. “I think it’s school isn’t it?” he surmises. “It’s in English lessons and it’s the worst bit. Also poetry is the first time where an adult says ‘right, Toby, read this one for the class’ and you’re reading out words you don’t understand in a rhythm and it’s the first time you feel embarrassed.”
Porky the Poet was Phill’s first break, “I very much started in the music business. We would not be talking right now if it wasn’t for Billy Bragg who’s still a mate to this day.” It was supporting Madness, however, that made him learn which gigs would go well and those at which he’d “be someone for people to gob at”. This is the reason why he’s recently declined a tour offer from an internationally well-known band. I cheekily suggest that this band could have been Coldplay – “Dear boy, it was not,” he says with a laugh, “can you imagine that call?” One band he will tour with however is The Lovely Eggs, a lo-fi punk duo from Lancaster who he describes in Newbury as adorable – being married with a child, they can only tour during school holidays.
In Juplicity, halftime is signified by nothing more than Porky saying, ‘interval’. He then loses the double denim but doesn’t leave the stage. I’d read that he hands out Hobnobs at this point – “Occasionally Hobnobs. It’s only Hobnobs if I can’t get Tunnock’s Teacakes. They’re the biscuit/cake of choice because they’re big, round and soft – the subtext of that is, so am I – but also when I throw them at an audience they don’t do any major damage. I did hit a lady in Barrow-in-Furness the other night; I hit her in the forehead with a teacake – thrown with some force I have to say.” I submit that it’s not the best look flat-arming confectionary at elderly people, “I can’t be blinding people with popular British sweets at this stage in my career. You’ve got to do the dolly drop, the up and over – no line drives.” I am happy to report that in Newbury, he stuck to this plan and no one was blinded. And yes, your humble correspondent did get one, ably by caught by my chum Hugo.
Phill is taking three shows to the Fringe this year, two stand-up shows and a poetry show. Having been such a regular feature in Edinburgh over the years I ask if he’s developed a survival strategy. “The last three I’ve done I didn’t drink. The thing is, man, I was doing four shows – one year I did five – basically I just didn’t give myself time to go to the pub and f*ck about. So not drinking is the real secret. I’d say to any comedian, are you there for the work or are you there for a holiday? If you’re going for a holiday, go and have a laugh but you’re going to feel like sh*t for a month. But if you’re working, don’t drink, and go for walks in the morning and do other things. Don’t just go to gigs and hang around with other comedians.”
I met Phill in the interval and tentatively mentioned that we’d spoken on the phone the previous week. He complimented me on the interview and I’ve been on cloud nine ever since. Though I was shaking I managed to get a photo, at which point I drank a pint in less time than it had taken to pour. Leaving Newbury, Hugo and I agreed we felt drained. Not only did we laugh to the point of asphyxiation but Porky’s poetry had taken us on a journey through his frame of reference that had sent our minds rushing through music, culture and art. The old adage ‘don’t meet your heroes’ is in need of an update.
Phill Jupitus: Sassy Knack | Edinburgh Fringe | 3-26 August, 4:30pm | Stand Three (Venue 12)
Phill Jupitus: Freeviously | Free Fringe | 1-26 August, 12:30pm | Bannermans (Venue 357)
Porky the Poet: Living In A World Where They Throw The Ducks At The Bread | Free Fringe | 4-26 August, 3:05pm
Voodoo Rooms (Venue 68)
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