Phill Jupitus is never one to take the easy option or settle for simple, having spent over 30 years entertaining the nation and rarely doing the same thing twice. Most will know him from his stint as a team captain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks or his excellent (albeit acrimoniously ending) 6 Music radio show.
In fact, it’s quite possible that stand up is not something you know him for at all. This shouldn’t be too surprising though, given his bouts of solo stage comedy aren’t too frequent (the last being some four years ago). Nor are his stand up efforts the straightforward ‘one man and his mic’ affairs we’re all too used to. His last show, ‘You’re Probably Wondering Why I Asked You Here’, involved him playing characters who had died and invited the audience to ask questions about their imaginary lives. Michael McIntyre he is not.
Jupitus’ latest show, Juplicity, is also something a bit leftfield, incorporating a little music and a good pinch of comic poetry, courtesy of Porky the Poet (AKA Phill), as well as some more traditional stand up stylings in the mix. But what got him back out on tour?
‘Stand up is always something I’ve had in my armoury, even when doing other projects, it’s there on the bench, wearing the number 12 shirt, waiting for the call. My last show wasn’t straightforward and neither is Juplicity. [The name comes from the dual nature of the show with its poetic first half and story-driven second] I’ve never really enjoyed the ‘banter’ with the crowd so much, I prefer interacting more with the audience. In the interval you’ll find me wandering around talking to people, like the dad at a wedding, checking everyone’s alright and having a good time.’
So the first half is poetry à la Porky, but who is he?
‘Porky is not a character. I really admire character comedy; Kevin Eldon and Simon Day do fantastic character-based poems that takes the piss out of poetry, and poetry does need the piss taken out of it, but Porky is just me. It was a nickname at college and also Ian Dury wrote a song about Percy the Poet, so it made sense to use it as a stage name, and it looked good on posters too.’
The latter section is more familiar territory, though the comedy is more about story-telling than Tim Vine-style one liners –
‘The ability to rattle off jokes that quickly like Tim is a real skilll, but the thought of it gives me a headache. Story telling on the other hand, is something that comes naturally to me. Not that I tell stories with friends – you can sense them thinking ‘He’s doing his thing now’, so I don’t tend to hold court.
In this show I start off telling the audience – “I’m going to tell you about some things that happened to me, and I’m going to exaggerate and embellish wildly”. I like each night to be different, not have things set in stone. I’ve found I’ll sort of ‘discover’ the show in front of an audience, in the moment. I think if I thought about it all at home in advance too much, the show might never happen.’
Phill has a pleasingly unstarry quality in conversation, despite being a bona fide celebrity. Not that fame has a lot of allure for him…
‘I’ve skirted round the edges of being a real household name, during the peak years of Buzzcocks for example, and had people come up to me in the street, which was weird. I never sought attention or went to celebrity parties; I never saw myself like that, or that life as something to pursue. I don’t consider my career as a career so much as a disorder, a function of my inability to hold down a normal job.
What I love is the variety, the flighty natural of saying ‘No I’m not doing that anymore, I’m doing something else’. There aren’t many performers who do really that. Of course there are really different things that come along that excite me of course like musicals or Shakespeare. Doing Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Theatre Royal Bath properly stretched me and it was out of my control, I was in the hands of the director and cast. I loved it though; it’s good to be scared sometimes.’
As someone who’s dabbled in satire in the past, does he have a political slant in his work these days?
‘I don’t do politics so much now. We’re living in interesting times, terrifying in fact, and I have strong feelings about what’s going on, but I’m not good enough at arguing and articulating myself and there’s enough ‘noise’ around already; you only have to browse the internet each day to see that. When I talk politics I am blunt and no-one can be in doubt about what I think, but I find it hard to be funny about it, and it’s my job to be funny. So, I could do a political show, but I get so angry that I’d just lose the audience. There’s too much rage and hyperbole already and what Farage and co feed off is fear.
I met Jeremy Corbyn and he seems a good man, but I’ve not done any gigs for him. That’s probably for the best though as I’d probably just shout and ruin his night! He’s an excellent speaker and just so calm. He’s up against soundbite bullshit from mendacious liars and he just seems very patient, almost like a monk in the middle of all of it.’