Rhod Gilbert interview: stand-up, teaching and work experience

Rhod Gilbert doesn't like dressing as a woman, but he's fallen in love with teaching. We talk to him about his new tour, and his Work Experience show...

Currently, the ever-busy Rhod Gilbert is touring the country with his The Girl With The Battenberg Tattoo live stand-up tour, and also putting the finishing touches to Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience series 3. As series one and two arrive on DVD, he squeezed in some time for a chat…

I caught your tour the other week. You seem to still get a really big kick out of a live audience, and this time, you’re meeting people afterwards, too. Can you try and capture just how important that audience has been for you, as it’s really grown these past few years.

A few years ago I found it was the same people coming year on year, and maybe bringing one other with them. Now I guess inevitably with TV exposure and stuff, there’s an awful lot of new people. As a bit of a gauge when I go out there, I mention my previous shows, and people do this weird thing where they cheer them. So when I say the Mince Pie show, and the Nicholas Lyndhurst thing, on the last tour when I said my last tour was called the Mince Pie, it got a really big cheer. It was mainly fans. Now, it gets a ripple of noise, but from about 2% it feels like.

I think that TV is bringing a lot of new people.

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So when you’re talking about your shows at the start, you’re getting a little audit as to your audience, and who’s in?

That’s not why I do it. I do it really because I say that this show sort of follows on in context. But I find it useful and interesting, and it does give me a gauge.

I’m just looking through your current tour schedule here, and it looks like 90% of it has been meticulously planned, and the other 10% has been done with a dart.

Well, I tell you what it is. We booked this tour a bit late for one thing. We ummed and ahhhed about it, because we were trying to decide if you book a tour late, you’re in a much less strong position to go yeah, we’ll do three nights in Manchester there, then three in Liverpool, and then three in Salford. And you have to get what you can get. So you go we can’t get three in Manchester, we can get one, and the only one we can get the next night is Aberdeen, so we’ve got to go there. That’s the problem with booking it late.

The reason we booked it late was for six months, we ummmed and ahhed about whether to do an arena tour. And because obviously an arena tour is far more lucrative than doing 115 dates around the country. I think my tour finished on November 28th, which is seven and a half months of touring. If I’d done an arena tour, I’d be finishing next Thursday! It would have been about 15 nights in just over two weeks. Then, obviously, in those seven months that I wasn’t touring I could write another show, and then go out again. So this is an enormous workload, and I’m taking time out to tour. But we made the decision, purely 100% based on satisfaction for everyone, the audience and me. Ultimately, it came down to what is important really is the experience. And we took the decision that it’s more satisfying in theatres, for punters and for me. I’m not complaining!

How hard is it for you in month five, when you’re faced with a crowd of people who, for them it’s the first night of the show, but for you, there must come a point where you feel you can’t add much more to it?

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Well, I guess once you’ve written the show and worked it in, then it’s almost the case the very first tour show. When you get to Edinburgh, you’ve done the show, you’ve previewed it, you’ve worked the material. When you go out on that first night, you’ve done it to death. It’s a combination then of acting, to make it feel fresh for that audience, and I want the gig to go well, so I will sell that material to make it work as well as possible. I’ll do that with every gig. Also, you’re waiting for the little sparks in the audience, that make things go differently. They don’t always happen, but sometimes they do. Loads of memorable fun things come out.

You’re without a support act on your current tour. You talk about the seven and a half months of work, and it’s entirely on your shoulders this time. How are you finding that?

It was a decision based on… a few years ago, when I used to go on tour, I used to have a support act. And I used to feel that people didn’t really know that much about me, they were just coming to see what they thought would be a good comedy night. Like going to a comedy club. So they were happy to see a support act. What I found was, the higher profile you get, the more people are just coming to see you. On the last tour, I found that the support act didn’t quite get the sort of reaction you’d hope they get. People wander in and out, standing in the bar… not really being that interested. I didn’t like that happening. And secondly, I’m doing two and a quarter hours, with an interval on top. Add a support act, and perhaps another interval, and you’re looking at a very late evening for people.

When I saw your Nicholas Lyndhurst gig, what was interesting was you do a half hour, 40 minutes encore that night, and you kept joking that if I don’t get off the stage by half ten – it was a Sunday night – they’ll hit me with a hefty fine. Is that true?

Yes! The theatre fines you all the costs they incur – the staff, percentage of things. That has happened to me tons of times! I think you’re better off giving people a really solid two hours and an interval than stretching it out. I used to stretch it out endlessly, thinking more is more, I used to do three or four hour shows.

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By the time you’re 80, you should be Ken Dodd.

Yeah, exactly! It was looking that way! It’s unsustainable for me really, and I don’t necessarily think it’s what people want.

You said that you named your Nicholas Lyndhurst show after the man who follows you around and gives you gifts related to the title of your shows. You new show is The Man With The Flaming Battenberg Tattoo. Is that partly to catch him out?

No, nothing to do with it. I haven’t heard from Alex on this one! I’m sure I will, but I haven’t heard a peep out of him yet. This title has nothing to do with it, although I wouldn’t be that surprised if he turned up with a tattoo!

Going onto your Work Experience show, when I first saw that, it was BBC Wales only. That seems to have escalated in the same way as your shows have, that it’s worked its way up by merit?

Yeah, well I think BBC Two just went we’ll have a bit of that. They showed the first series, then the second, and hopefully they’ll do the third. It seems to have caught on, that show. It’s only a small show, done largely by three of us. There’s the camera guy, the sound guy, and me. We go out and do it all, then edit it, and then I write it all. It’s very small. I think that’s part of its charm, perhaps.

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You don’t stretch it, either. You keep it to four at a time.

Yeah. I think the next four coming out I think they’re going to be good. I’m editing to day, and have been the last month. I think it’s going to be a successful series. I hope so!

Are you the kind of person who can fall asleep straight after a gig, then, or are you editing and writing into the night?

You could not be more wrong! My God! I am not. Absolutely no I am not. It takes me hours to come down.

Is that when you write and edit, or is your head in a different place?

I try not to work after gigs. To be honest, I hoped to film in January, and then edit and write in February and March, So before I went on tour. But things got knocked back and delayed, so we’re still working on it. It’s not ideal, really. I should now be in an edit suite, in the Welsh valleys, working all day. What’s actually happened is they’ve e-mailed me a file, I’ll watch it this afternoon, and e-mail my thoughts back. After then we’ll do a Skype thing. Circumstances left us there.

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This time I’ve done a policeman, a drag artist, a schoolteacher…

Which was the toughest?

I hated drag artist mate, I hated it. I felt so out of my comfort zone. Just awful. The whole thing. You’d think on paper it’d be quite close to what I do, but it’s a million miles away. And I loved teaching to the point where I may well retrain.


Yeah. And be a teacher.

Do the comedy for a few more years, then go off and have a third career?

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Another change, yeah.

Do you see your comedy has a lifespan to it, then, for how long you want to do it? Or you’ve just fallen in love with something else?

I think I may just have fallen in love with something else. My last job was in qualitative research, and I loved it. But I did it for eight years and then got up and left, and did this. So maybe I’ll go and do this.

So you’ve done 12 episodes of Work Experience, to find your next career!

Quite possibly, as it works out! I’ve done alright out of that show. It’s given me a live stand-up tour show, and possibly a new career!

The only thing that stops me doing the teaching is that there’s so much stress involved. And there shouldn’t be. It’s the most wonderful, inspirational job on the planet from what I saw. I loved it. Teachers, we should be molly-coddling them. Looking after them. Nurturing them. It’s such an important, immeasurable role.

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Teachers are downtrodden, pissed upon, stressed, measured in league tables within an inch of their bloody lives. It’s so what teaching shouldn’t be about. We should have a boxing coach massaging their shoulders on their way to school. Feet rubs between every lesson. Doing everything we can to make sure they’re as motivated, fresh and enthusiastic. In three days, I had an impact on kids’ lives, I’m convinced of that. You’re shaping the future, and we just shit all over teachers.

What were you teaching?

Primary, four to eleven year olds. One day observing, one day on a school trip, and one day in a classroom. Even then, I thought my God, this is a job and a half. At one point, they were singing the school song, and I was very cynical and grumpy when I arrived. But by the end I was belting it out, punching the air!

If you were in full-on rant mode, of course, you’d walk a job as a PE teacher…

[Laughs] My on-stage thing is only a mild comic exaggeration of what I am!

Rhod Gilbert, thank you very much!

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The first two series of Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience are on DVD now.

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