Having just moved house, stand-up Rhys James’ weekend “was made up of unpacking things from boxes and building furniture”. Having overdone it Friday night, OX editor Sam Bennett’s was spent horizontally, on the sofa. Here – ahead of the 2019 general election – the pair discuss cancelled plans and corrupt postmen, as well as the comedian’s current tour, Snitch.
RJ: How was your weekend?
SB: I had all these civilised and wholesome plans for Saturday, and then Friday turned into a bit of a late night and I ended up cancelling all of them – I told quite a few lies.
What was your excuse, what did you go for?
I started using things I’d cancelled as reasons for cancelling other things…
A web of lies… If there’s any crossover, you are done for. You’ve just got to say a blanket ‘I’m ill’.
I’ll start talking about you: February is our Love Issue – is love something you talk about a lot in your shows?
I talk about relationships all the time. I talk about my girlfriend a lot, we moved in together this year, Snitch talks about that but I think you’d be hard-pressed to say it’s a show about love. It involves me talking about a relationship, having some petty gripes about things I’ve learnt – about her and myself – from living together. Obviously that does come from love or it would be insane (if I was doing that from a place of anything else it would just be bullying). I don’t think you see a lot of comedy about love, but a lot of it comes from love.
Does most comedy come from a loving place?
I don’t know if you can be that broad about something, I think it comes from all sorts of different places. You’re told art comes from pain but that’s also a bit limiting; it comes from love, joy, anguish… Really, you just take the inspiration you can get and run with it. The main thing is authenticity. If you’re feeling particularly loving about something and you want to talk about it like that and it’s real, then it’s going to be funny. But if you’re furious and try and do it in a loving way, it’s going to be abysmal. There’s loads of comedy full of rage and it’s real rage, that’s what makes it so funny – watching someone else angry at something you don’t care about is hilarious.
Have you got angrier the more stand-up you’ve done?
Oh God yeah. To be honest, it’s just passion – if you do something passionately it’s more exciting to watch. I’m still quite silly on stage but I used to be a lot sillier. Now there’s slightly more rage in things I’m saying. But they’re all things that don’t matter; it’s not ‘I’m furious and it’s all about this goddamn government!’… which by the time this is published might be a completely different set of people (but almost definitely won’t be).
I’ve got to do a postal vote this time, but I’ve heard there’s going to be a postal strike.
That’s because posties are trying to rig the election. But they’ve been doing that for years. I think they look at your handwriting, go ‘I’m not giving them a vote’ and chuck it in the bin. It is weird, isn’t it? When you think about the influence postmen have on our country. The amount of elections we have, soon postmen will be the most powerful people Britain has ever seen.
That cartoon will become massive.
Huge. Pat in Parliament, having a go at The Speaker.
I’ve not watched it for a while, being 27 and childless, but I have heard Pat’s moved up in the world – he’s got a helicopter.
Because he’s got the Tory government giving him bungs all the time, all this extra cash so that he puts a few votes in the incinerator. They should write that in – what an early age to teach kids about the corrupt nature of politics.
Speaking of teaching, did you enjoy school?
I really enjoyed sixth form. You slightly started to figure out who you were and you started to specialise – ‘these are the topics I want to think about’. There were long stretches of secondary school that were difficult and tiring, but I didn’t have it that bad. I was tiny though. There’s always three small lads in every school year – they’re smaller than the girls as well – I was one of them. Normally there are different types. One of those small lads is inexplicably excellent at football – the one thing you need to do to not have the insecurity of a small lad is just be amazing at the sport everyone loves. Everyone else has to be in a play or be a cheeky little shit. And then other people are like ‘I’ll just be really quiet’. I was one of those lads. That makes it a lot harder, you blend in less, you’re not that visible but people just notice. It gets talked about and you get the piss taken out of you a lot. I wouldn’t say that’s responsible for me ‘learning to be funny in return’ – I think that’s a bit of a myth, when comedians say that. But it definitely meant in order to get noticed I had to find other avenues. I don’t really know what they are though.
Were you encouraged to go into comedy?
Not before I’d done anything, but once I had that in my head and started to write and tell jokes, no one was saying ‘don’t do this’. I went to university, trying to drop out throughout so I could just be a comedian, but my parents were extremely insistent: ‘no, you have to do university’. I’m glad that happened because at university you get three years to become good at comedy. Those three years, spending most of that time trying to write jokes and perform (with no pressure to immediately be a professional comedian) was so handy. The 2:1 I’ve got is absolutely irrelevant to my life, but that time period really helped. As soon as I came out of university, I was already getting little bits of money here and there to do gigs. No one would ever say ‘maybe you should take your life seriously and do something else’. My parents in particular were very much ‘great, go ahead’. They have said since ‘if you were just hanging around and weren’t doing anything, and then occasionally you’d go and do stand-up, we’d have said “can you sort your life out and get a job?”’ But I was constantly going all over the place just to get any stage time – I was going to Swansea to do five minutes – as soon as I finished uni. I took it seriously pretty early on just because I really loved comedy, it was my favourite thing. I’m saying ‘was’ like I’ve died. It is my favourite thing to do.
Snitch is inspired by an invite from your old school, which you haven’t accepted…
I got an email from my old science teacher: ‘can you come and speak to the year 11s about what you do, to try and inspire them…’ or whatever. I thought about it for ages, spoke to a lot of people about it, and then realised the only reason I’d be saying yes was for material, and that isn’t a great way to live your life and treat other people. So I said no. Actually, I didn’t say anything, I just didn’t reply… I replied a little bit, there’s a slight email exchange that gets covered in the show. But I didn’t do the speech. Remember when you were at school: the people who came in and did those sorts of speeches were the worst – everyone hated them. I don’t know what sort of school you went to, I remember who was in year 11, that’s before all the nutters have been weeded out. I was like ‘no way, I can’t get bullied again by the year 11s, I’m 28. Arguably, I should have done it and got an anecdote or something, but I’ve manged to build a show around it anyway – so, not too bad.
Rhys James performs Snitch at South Street Arts Centre, Reading 15 February, and The North Wall, Oxford 27 March.