Saturday, 25 September 2021

Buzzcocks stalwart set to headline Henley Festival's comedy lineup

Buzzcocks stalwart set to headline Henley Festival's comedy lineup

IS there anything Phill Jupitus hasn’t done? A DJ on BBC 6 Music, team captain on Never Mind The Buzzcocks and West End musical star of Hairspray and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, he’s also the latest headline act to be announced for the Henley Festival’s Salon Comedy Club.

Other top comics lined up for this year’s festival include Paul Merton, Lee Nelson, Mark Watson, Dominic Holland and Andrew Maxwell.

Jupitus will be appearing on Thursday, July 12, as part of his now-epic Juplicity tour that began last September and saw him sell out the Kenton Theatre in March.

It turns out that one of the things the comedian has most enjoyed about his return to the live arena is getting to be two people on stage.

The Juplicity tour has seen Jupitus providing his own support act in the guise of Porky the Poet — his former alias who at one time toured with the likes of Billy Bragg, Madness and The Who.

Porky’s career began in 1984 when Jupitus quit his job as a civil servant to follow a new direction as a punk performance poet on the alternative comedy circuit.

His abiding love of and in-depth knowledge of music later led to support slots with the Style Council and the Housemartins — and a star was born.

Whether Porky will be putting in an appearance at the Henley Festival remains to be seen, but Jupitus is clearly pleased to have his alter ego back in action.

“Because of Buzzcocks and other jobs I was given, I let Porky and the poetry slide,” he says. “But after about a decade I came back to it and wrote new poems, often just chucking stuff out on Facebook for mates to read. Combined with the old poems and factoring in
chit-chat between them I had about an hour of material.”

A pun-loving stand-up, poetry and music bonanza, Juplicity also draws on the details of the comedian’s own life, which he merrily describes as both “chaotic” and “flaky”.

“Sean Lock has a phrase, which was both inspiring and worrying, about comedians mining our own personalities for material and then in your head negotiating how much you keep back.

“Initially there was some resistance to me discussing things on stage about my family. One of my daughters, Molly, married her American girlfriend and emigrated there, so what you get is a starting point — gay marriage is a trope that’s very much in vogue at the minute and dovetails with what’s happening in the world with Trump and so on.

“As a comedian you are a person in a society within the world — all you have to do is look at things and shift your camera angle. All comedians can do is put a wider lens on a situation so that it resonates with people.”

With the sprawling tour now nearing its end, Jupitus freely admits the show has continued to evolve while on the road.

“What happens on the tour becomes added to the tour,” he says. “It snowballs as it rolls down the hill of the dates. I wish I had the discipline of my comedy brothers and sisters to say ‘It’s about this!’ By the end, who knows, it could be about my love of the bridge work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Still, that would do well in Bristol.”

One of the trials for any touring comedian on the road is the endless turnaround of doing a gig, eating late, heading for the hotel, travelling the following day to the next town and repeating the process — potentially for months.

Now 55, Jupitus has alighted on a new touring lifestyle that works substantially better for him.

“I’ve changed the pattern in that I now eat before the shows,” he says. “I used not to have lunch on the day of a show because for years I told myself that I liked the energy of being hungry.

“Turns out, no, I don’t, because you’re actually irritable. So before a show now, I have a proper knife and fork dinner and it makes me feel like a new guy on stage.

“The other thing I try to do, depending on the actual geography, is travel to the next town after a gig, so I’ll wake up where I’m playing that night. Again, it’s a very different energy to what you’re doing because you’re in situ, which also gives you stuff to talk about in the first 10 minutes of the show.

“And wherever I am, I look for art galleries and museums. I’ve got a thing about record shops, bookshops and secondhand tat shops where I might be able to find old badges. Everywhere I go, I try to find those five things.”

When Jupitus started out as Porky the Poet, he probably never thought he’d find himself on stage in lots of make-up belting out a show tune. But that’s one of the paths he’s landed on, with a series of large-scale touring productions such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Spamalot and Hairspray now nestling on his CV.

“My agent phoned up and said, ‘There’s a casting director in the West End who wants to talk to you about being Count Fosco in The Woman In White.’ I was like, ‘What! I don’t sing!’ ‘Well, they think you do.’ Turns out they’d seen me do the intros round on Buzzcocks and felt I could hold a tune.

“So I took some training and auditioned and they said ‘Maybe not this time, but do you want to be Wilbur in Hairspray?’ I went to see it and even though I’m watching Mel Smith as Wilbur thinking ‘yeah, I could do that’ I kept looking at Michael Ball as Edna and thinking ‘that looks like a lot of fun’.”

As chance would have it, he was offered the part of Edna instead.

“I was thrown into it — three months in a dress, wig and lipstick. I’d just come out of 6 Music and felt a bit adrift — do I want to do stand-up again or this or that? — and then Hairspray comes along and then Spamalot comes along.

“As a stand-up, you don’t think ‘this is it now’ — there are always other options. That’s why there’s a little resentment about stand-ups because we’re so adaptable.”

It’s hard to know exactly what’s down the next road for the ever-adaptable Mr Jupitus, but for now he’s enjoying the cut, thrust and edge-of-the-seat jeopardy that only live comedy can truly provide.

“I think I’ve found a way of monetising a social dysfunction,” he laughs. “I’ve always maintained that there’s something slightly wrong with arts and crafts types putting themselves in the most confrontational situation, which is standing in front of strangers and trying to get them on side.”

With his stupendous track record, you suspect Jupitus won’t have to try too hard next month.

• Phill Jupitus plays the Salon Comedy Club at the Henley Festival at 7.15pm on Thursday, July 12. For more information and to book tickets, visit www.henley-festival.co.uk

WEB EXCLUSIVE: BONUS QUESTIONS BY PETER ANDERSON

You work in a wide variety of roles from stand-up to stage musicals, who have been your inspirations?

I saw John Cooper-Clark in Chelmsford and it was a life-changing experience for me. In addition to him, Sara Pascoe. I love Bill Bragg for his diversity, and early Steve Martin when he was being daft — he taught me you did not need to stand there telling jokes to be funny

Is there a stage role that you would still love to perform given the chance?

Well, one is a role, the other a wide selection. In stage musicals I would so love to play Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls — I think after that I would retire from doing musicals! Plus, I played Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I really enjoyed it and would love to play some more Shakespearean roles.

Where did your inspiration come from for the theme of this tour?

I had just finished my time on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and a) I fancied going back to stand-up as I hadn’t done it for a while and b) I have always wanted to tour Australia, so I asked my agent to book some dates. I always make notes on my phone and then when it comes to writing a show I go through the notes and write it up. Which would have been a good plan, except for the fact when I upgraded my phone I lost all my notes! I asked a fellow comedian for their advice, and they said book a venue — it will apply your mind. I ended up having a great tour of Australia and New Zealand then all over Europe.

You write a sports column — do you have a favourite sport you love to do?

The sports work I did was not as a sport’s ‘expert’ but I had them all around me. Personally, I love baseball though I don’t get much chance to see it live. I did catch Oakland Athletic playing last year.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

The ethos I tend to live with is if you don’t enjoy doing something 100 per cent, don’t do it. One of the reasons I do the work I do is I couldn’t work in a nine to five job. But I can put that same work ethic into what I do, whether it is appearing in musicals, panel games or doing stand-up.

If you could go out for a meal with two or three others, living, historical or fictional, who would you pick?

Definitely Ian Dury and Kirsty MacColl. I miss them so much.

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