Marcus Brigstocke interview
Marcus Brigstocke talks about his new Planet Corduroy DVD, Have I Got News For You, working with Kevin Spacey, and the battered chips of Bromsgrove...
Wednesday 5th December, London.
Marcus Brigstocke has his maiden stand-up DVD, Planet Corduroy, out on sale now. It's good, too, as our impending review will testify. What's more, he spared us half an hour for a chat...
Your DVD has you doing a director’s commentary over one of the extras on the disc - an extra to an extra, if you like. To our knowledge, you’re the first stand-up comedian to do this….
Er, hang on, I’m losing you…
[Bad signal hell kicks in. It takes 2 minutes, and involves, er, us offering to sing. Marcus rings us back, and all is well.]
Better! What I’d have liked to have done is to do a commentary on the commentary. To have someone else do the commentary on the commentary on the extra.
Did you try?
No, it only occurs to me too late to do these things. The thing is, you see, they asked me did I want to do a commentary on the actual film, y’know, and I went, no, it doesn’t need a commentary – that’s what stand-up is. There’s nothing to commentate on, I’m already saying it.
So I thought I’d do one on that little extras bit as they seemed quite keen to be able to put the word commentary somewhere on the box. That seems to be the key element. And obviously we came up with the lighting directors’ commentary…
We went through that too…!
I hope you stuck it out til the end…
You know, we went through everything but it was the one where my train journey ended 15 minutes from the end. What have I missed?
All you’ve missed is he says, when Marcus comes on stage “I turn the lights on”, and at the end he goes, “I switched them off again”. Is there a bit in the middle where he says he’s going for a pee?
Yeah, think there is.
The box of the disc itself was made of recycled material; given the stuff that you talk about, was that something you were particularly looking to do?
Yeah, yeah. It was. With Sony, early on, we were talking about stuff, and I said it would be really good if we could do this on eco-friendly packaging, and as luck would have it they were in development on something at the time. So yeah apart from the disc itself, the whole thing is 100% biogradeable and absolutely minimum carbon impact, those sorts of things. I’m very pleased about that actually, and also, I don’t know what people think, but I like it.
Corduroy plays as a backdrop to your show and inspires your choice of outfit. Is that biodegradeable?
Some of the stuff that I’ve got has already started degrading, but I think that’s something to do with the number of shows I’ve done it in! It’s degrading on a bacterial level. I suspect it ultimately is. If you buy corduroy made from organic cotton which I have done then yes, it’s good stuff.
Putting your name into Google, we get 105,000 results…
Most of them seem to be about your legendary seven minute religious rant on The Now Show…
Did you have any idea about just how much that would roll when you did it originally?
I actually expected it to roll the other way, I was bracing myself for a level of attack that various other people that have done anything like that have got; Christopher Hitchins, Richard Dawkins and various other outspoken atheists. And it just didn’t go that way at all; I was absolutely blown away by the level of support that I got from atheists and agnostics, and also from a lot of religious people who said thank you very much for saying that, and saying that there are way too many nutters being allowed to run the show.
I don’t think the second piece I did, the follow up piece, got anything like the same attention, but I tried to write something proactive the week after, saying it’s all very well smashing these things down, but that’s not the point. The point is embracing the idea of being a human who is responsible for their own actions on Earth. So I did a proactive atheist, almost a character thing actually, which I was equally proud of.
But no, it’s lovely that that has had the impact that is has on the Internet, and it’s also become an integral part of my new stand-up show.
The thing about your stand-up is that, it’s fair to say you don’t take the easy option. You’re talking about very real – David Blaine aside – issues. There’s clearly a lot of passion underlying what you’re talking about. You’re the kind of person you’d sit next to in a pub, perhaps, and listen to ranting for two hours?
I think you’d find it very tiresome! But yes, those are the rules of my stand-up. There are things in there that I just get very irritated by, that are just for fun, like David Blaine. But the basic rule is ‘if I don’t care about it, I don’t talk about it’.
So, when I do a stand up show I put my heart and soul into it. If I say that I dislike something, I think it’s important to be honest about it. Because lots of political and social commentary comics do stuff, y’know, about the news, but I’ve always been very keen to say that if I’m going to talk about this, the least I can do is be honest enough to tell you what I think.
And do you think stand up comedy almost has a responsibility to do this, given that politics and issues are being trivialised in some areas of the mainstream news? That these issues are finding a platform particularly through comedy right now?
Yeah, I think that the British media – the newsprint media – is absolutely disgraceful, and the way the Internet has changed communication has had a big effect on everybody, we’re no longer unaware of things that happen in other countries around the world.
Five minutes on the Internet and you can see pictures of people being beheaded, if you wish, and starving, if you wish, being fat, if you wish, driving a thing, if you wish. Any of those things you can see anywhere in the world now. And to ignore that is actually a decision people are making. Whereas it used to be that if you want to find out about things, you had to go there, and you had to make the decision to find out.
But with climate change, the approach that most people have is to deliberately not look at the information. They see a story in a paper or online or on telly and they don’t want to hear it and they switch off. That’s why I’ve tried to engage these subjects in stand-up because it’s quite a good way of sneaking things past people’s radar.
That must make it tricky to balance the politics and the comedy; you’ve said in the past that you don’t want to do a political show over a comedy gig. So how long does it take you to put it all together and get the balance right?
It depends really. Planet Corduroy started at the Edinburgh Festival a couple of years before, but a lot of the content from that show was replaced with other stuff as I continued doing it, because that was the nature of the show. The basis of it is still the same, that it’s me, saying these are the things I don’t like and here are some possible solutions. But new material comes along, so it’s impossible to say. Some bits have taken three years to reach the point they have, and other bits have probably taken a couple of weeks.
I live in a place called Halesowen, which is just by Bromsgrove, which you talk about in your show…
Excellent! Do you know the battered chippy?!
This’ll be the chippy that you say sells battered chips. Well, no, actually! There is no chippy in Bromsgrove that sells batter on chips…!
There bloody is!
There bloody isn’t.
I have a witness!
Do you really?
Yeah, I swear to God, Sunday night, we went in there and that was all that was on offer. And I said to him ‘can you do any without batter on’, and he said ‘no mate, it’s Sunday’.
I think they must have put their celebrity menu on for you..
Ah, ok. They might have changed it. But there’s definitely a chippy in Bromsgrove that does them. I know, because I’ve been there every week since.
Who would you like to meet the least out of your rantees? David Blaine, Lynne Truss or George W Bush?
Well to be honest the people that I hate the most are the ones that I’m most keen to meet. Erm, but I have no interest in meeting the Spice Girls or something – they seem fine, why not, let them get on with that, it doesn’t affect me.
But the people I really hate and someone I would love to interview are the likes of Robert Kilroy-Silk, Richard Littlejohn… There’s a guy called Lord Monckton, who is some of the money behind a lot of the anti-climate change, denying climate-change lobby, the talk that’s also funded by Exxon and all that stuff. I’d love to meet him, just to have it out with these people and go ‘it’s not okay, you can’t keep saying this, it isn’t true’.
Bush I’m not bothered. He’s not curious. I think I say and imply in the show that he’s thick, but that’s not the real problem. The real problem is so massive that I’ve not been able to turn it into comedy yet, and that’s that he’s not curious. That’s an amazing thing for a President to be. How do you get to be the leader of the free world – whatever the fuck that is – and not be curious?
Can I ask you about Have I Got News For You, which has come in for a bit of a slating over the past few weeks, as Anne Widdecombe and Will Self have both said that they’ll never go on the show again..
Will Self said that? Why?
He said it today. He says it’s lost its edge, it’s become comfortable, they cut his funny bits out, and he can’t be doing with it anymore.
It’s a show that you’ve been involved with a lot, both hosting and as a guest. Are you one who’s going to join the people moving away from it?
No. I love it.
I absolutely love it. And it may be… in truth, I’ve only seen one episode in this last series, and I didn’t like it as much as I usually do, to be honest with you. I didn’t think it was hosted particularly well. But it’s a show that’s been going for over fifteen years now, and it’s going to have some ups and downs, it’s going to be a little bit cyclic.
But if you can find me two people who are better at doing that than Paul Merton and Ian Hislop I’d be very surprised.
I think it’s a tremendous show. I think what people sometimes forget is that it’s not that topical. They do a topical round each at the beginning, and then the odd one out sometimes has a topical link, quite often not. The missing words are from the papers, but they’re whatever the funny thing happens to be. It’s a comedy show first, and topical, political and all the rest of it second.
And occasionally you know those two things coincide beautifully, where Paul will go off on one about something that’s happened, and Ian knows all the facts because of Private Eye and his meticulous research. And Paul is one of the funniest people and can improvise topics.
I just think that people’s expectations of Have I Got News For You have got a bit weird over the years, and certainly that’s fine if Will Self and Ann Widdecombe don’t want to be on it any more than that’s fine. So be it. Maybe they had a crap host on? When Will Self was on or something? Who knows?
I wanted to ask you about the film Beyond The Sea – Kevin Spacey’s Bobby Darin biopic - which I really quite enjoyed.
Did you? That’s interesting.
It came in the midst of ordinary biopics that were good films, like Walk The Line, but shot in quite ordinary ways. Whereas I thought Beyond The Sea was fascinating. I didn’t think it all worked, but it was fascinating nonetheless. It must have been a hell of a project to be in the midst of?
It was unbelievable. And Kevin is … look at me on first name terms! … when you see him at work, like when he directed the main scene that I did that stayed in the film – there were one or two others that didn’t quite make it – he was directing everything. On a massive set, and he was playing Bobby Darin, as Bobby Darin was playing another role, directing all of the actors individually, and the cameras, and the lights, in three scenes that linked together.
My scene, where the camera swung through in the way that it did, onto the set of the film that Bobby Darin had been in, and then coming out of that and back into the role of Bobby Darin on a third set. And he did it with one sweeping camera movement. And to watch this man who had created the idea of that film doing it was unbelievable. Jaw dropping.
And I agree, I didn’t think that the film completely worked. The main reason being that not that many people really care about Bobby Darin’s life story. He managed a couple of great tunes along the way, but not that many people actually care. Whereas Kevin is passionate about it, and always has been. He’s a lifelong fan of Bobby Darin’s.
But it was a trip. We were in the huge studios in what was East Germany and that have only been available since the wall came down, and even then it took them a while to realise how big and amazing these studios were And Kevin was just on fire in terms of the excitement of being in these amazing places where Gehring had filmed some of the propaganda films, and prior to that Marlene Dietrich had done some of her work there. And since then almost nothing had taken place there!
To be honest, the film things that I’ve done – that and Richard Curtis [Love Actually] and other little bits and pieces – have usually been an excellent couple of days out for me. Good fun, a nice bit of location catering, well looked after, and a bit of horsing around on a set.
And some first name terms as well!
And some first name terms! Kevin, we don’t hang out, but he watches – or has watched – The Late Edition and written to me to say how much he likes it which I was very flattered by. And he’s a great guy, yknow, the stuff he’s done at the Old Vic is fantastic. We’re lucky to have him in this country.
For the site at the moment, we’re working on coming up with our favourite Christmas movies. We’re big fans of Muppet Christmas Carol – even the bit where Michael Caine sings – so can you recommend a Christmas movie they should watch?
Er, well I did a piece on Late Edition the other day, where I was trying to convince people that Northen Rock could have been saved if George Bailey – the It’s A Wonderful Life character – had been there in the Northern Rock convincing everyone to leave their money in Northern Rock. And almost noone got it, on a live show, on TV. And I had to bail out of it! Ah well, very few people have seen the film, so I’m going to have to say It’s A Wonderful Life. But to be honest, you really can’t go far wrong with The Muppet Christmas Carol.
So final question: what will we see from you next? Are you going back on tour next year?
I, erm, well the Late Edition carries on until April, and then I’m hosting this festival in France…
… is this where you go snowboarding?
Yeah, taking lots of comics to the Alps for two weeks to tell jokes on snow. That’s in April. And after that I don’t know to be honest. There’s a couple of publishers interested in me writing a book, but I’m not really sure what I might write just yet. But that’s possible. And I’ll certainly be doing the festivals next year.
But then I’ll be taking a big chunk of time of. I’ve just bought myself a motorhome, a seven berth! So I’ll be taking an eco-friendly seven week holiday around Europe.
Take it down the Alps!
That’s the plan! So I’ll be doing that. So if anyone wants to catch up with me, they can probably find me in various towns and parks.
You’ll be a moving target.
Yeah, exactly. I always knew he was a comic, but now he’s a gypsy as well!
Marcus, thanks for your time…!
Planet Corduroy is available now, priced at £19.99. Catch up with the latest from Marcus at his official website: www.marcusbrigstocke.com