Comedian, hot head and radio presenter Rhod Gilbert is a very busy man with his new tour The Man With The Flaming Battenberg Tattoo so Victoria Nangle emailed him. He kept his cool for most of the interview…
Hi Rhod. How’s your day going?
My day is fine thanks… I’ve only been up five hours and I’ve already been to the toilet, and successfully managed to make my first online purchase; some shirts. From America. It took me nearly three hours. I’m very excited, as I have never managed to buy anything online before (unless you count accidentally buying five chesterfield sofas on ebay). I am what’s known as a ‘technodick’.
Do you really get as fired up at the minutiae of life as your stage persona implied?
Inside, yes. I do get really wound up about stuff. I don’t show it as much in my day to day life as I do on stage, but inside the feelings of anger are bubbling away pretty strongly at lots of little things. I just let it all blow out on stage. I’m like a zit that you keep for a special occasion, then burst as a treat. I save my frustration, so I can burst open like an overripe zit on stage.
That tattoo on your poster looks very impressive. What’s the furthest you’ve ever gone to promote a show?
The tattoo was not to promote the show. The show is called ‘The Man With The Flaming Battenberg Tattoo’ because I have this stupid tattoo that I never even wanted but that changed my life. I did it just to make a point… I was doing a TV show where I try different jobs (called ‘Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience’) and I was being a tattoo artist. The producers thought it would be a good idea if I had a tattoo first before I tattooed someone else so that I knew what it was like and understood what the person I would be tattooing was going through. We argued about it as I had no interest in having a tattoo. In the end I thought; ”Right… I will have a tattoo, just to shut everyone up. But to show the producers how pointless tattoos are, I will have the most pointless tattoo I can think of”. I had a flaming battenberg cake on a cushion with flames coming out of it. In my head I won that argument. In retrospect, I lost quite badly.
Listening to your radio show you have some remarkable adventures on your holidays in terms of admin. Where have you got in mind for your next break and have you done anything ensure it all goes swimmingly?
Actually, I have been looking at holidays this week, but seeing as every single one I have is a disaster (because I am incapable of booking things properly online, because I am hopelessly disorganised, because I am too lazy to write down the address of the hotel or place we are staying, because I just set off with a vague idea of where I am going, because I do not even have the patience to look at a map), I now ask my agent who very kindly books things for me. I am looking at Thailand this year, so will almost certainly end up somewhere in north Wales. That’s the only reason I ended up doing those tourist adverts for Visit Wales… it was supposed to be an advert for Thailand which went wrong.
Will there be another series of ‘Ask Rhod’?
You appeared to have a great rapport with Lloyd Langford and Greg Davies – on the show the relationship between you all puts forward a fun and boisterous image of the comedy community. Is this a fair reflection of the community?
Well it’s more a reflection of us being good friends, or in Lloyd and my case, flatmates. We know each other very well and genuinely have fun together (although if Lloyd does not clean the flat this year, I am going to kill him, literally throw him out of the window into fast moving traffic). Many TV shows try to force partnerships, so the chemistry often is not there. Like apparently Rod Hull and Emu were thrown together by TV executives, and never got on at all. We get on really well, and the three of us are going to do more stuff in the future, but ‘Ask Rhod Gilbert’ is over, gone, forgotten about. I’m not bitter, but I blame Lloyd and Greg.
“I can burst open like an overripe zit on stage”
You’ve done two series of ‘Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience’. Have any of the jobs struck you as viable alternative careers for you had you not become a comic?
In the third series, which is about to air in the UK, I was a Primary school teacher. It was the most inspirational three days of my life by a mile.
I wouldn’t want to be a full time teacher as they are fairly poorly respected in society. These people are shaping the next generation, they are having a massive influence on what society is like in five, ten, 15 years’ time. It’s considerably down to them as well as parents. Yet many teachers I know are tired, stressed, downtrodden, hammered, poorly rewarded, over worked, over-examined and league-tabled to within an inch of their miserable lives, and we as a society, as parents, as politicians have to rethink the way we treat them.
If I was a politician one of the first things I would do is to ensure that teachers were looked after, wrapped in cotton wool, with government funded personal masseuses, drivers and personal assistants, whose jobs it would be to massage their shoulders on the way to school like a boxing coach, rub their feet, grant them sexual favours, so that when they go into that classroom they are excited, motivated, fresh as a daisy and raring to go.
What is the best thing/side product that being a successful stand up comedian has allowed you to experience?
Having a job that I love, that does not feel like work, and that I think I am genuinely born to do in the sense that I think I am okay at it. Before I started comedy, whatever job I was doing, I kept thinking ‘why am I doing this meaningless, pointless, poorly paid rubbish job that I am crap at?’. Now what I do is equally pointless and meaningless, but at least there’s a bob or two in it.
You’ve joined Anthony Hopkins, Shirley Bassey, Richard Burton and Harry Secombe as a Welsh national treasure. You even fronted the Welsh tourist campaign. Is the love between you and Wales still as mutual as ever?
I still spend half my time in Wales, and holiday there. I have to really, seeing as how I appeared in the adverts saying how good a place to holiday it was… I love the place as it’s where my roots are. But I’m not a patriot especially, as it seems a little too close to nationalism to me. I love the landscape, I fit in there, am comfortable with Welsh people and enjoy the natural resources and sense of humour that Welsh people share, but I’d be equally happy if I was a young Russian boy living in Moscow or an African.
I love your Saturday morning BBC Radio Wales show, but you seem to be absent a fair bit this year. Please tell me that this is a passing phase and that the show is solid as a rock in its schedule.
I have made a pretty much lifelong commitment to Radio Wales. They gave me a break years ago, and took a gamble on me when I was starting out and I think it’s nice to reward a decision like that with loyalty. I hope I will always be there. The freedom I get there, I could not get anywhere else. I can play what I want (within reason), say what I want (within reason) and just turn up and wing it every week. Saying that, the show is massively inconvenient as I hate getting up on a Saturday morning, and I lose a fortune in lost work that I can’t do because I am doing that damn radio show. I have not done it much this year as other things keep getting in the way, like TV commitments and stuff. Also as it is radio Wales, their priority is news and sport, so if Bangor third croquet team has a match on a Saturday morning, they stick that on and kick me off air that week. So I have not been around much but fully intend to continue with the show and do it as often as I can for as long as they will have me. It’s such a luxury to have a show where you can just mess about with your mates and I want to keep doing that. I’m a bit gutted I have not been on air more this year, but I will be back.
What’s next for 2012/2013 for Rhod Gilbert?
God knows. Greg and I are going to do some travel stuff like the most dangerous roads thing where we nearly died in Nepal. We are going to do some sort of series, but details are sketchy at present. I’m on tour with the ‘Battenberg’ tattoo show ’til December, and record my DVD in Hammersmith Apollo in July.
The third series of ‘Work Experience’ comes out any day now on BBC2, so watch out for me being, amongst other things, a drag artist. That was about as far out of my comfort zone as I would ever want to be. I’m no female impersonator.
I’ve read women’s magazines at the dentist’s, but a quick go at a word search doesn’t make you Emily Pankhurst, so I went to a ‘male to female makeover’ company in Aldershot to try to find if I had a hidden female side – apparently, they could make Brian Blessed look like Audrey Hepburn. They stuck on some metaphorical rubber gloves, bent me over and tried to find my inner woman. They say there’s a woman in all of us struggling to get out… but when mine did finally emerge, the struggle had clearly taken its toll. I looked like a horse with an admin job. Performing on stage, I lasted about two minutes then had a nervous collapse.
What question should I have asked that no one ever does?
Why do my nostrils face forward? How do I know? And to be honest, it’s a pretty personal question, which I am not prepared to answer. If this was a phone conversation I’d hang up. As it’s email I will just content myself with pressing ‘send’ firmly.
Rhod Gilbert – The Man With The Flaming Battenberg Tattoo, Concert Hall, Brighton Dome, Mon 9 July, 01273 709709, www.brightondome.org