:: Article

Boy From The Boroughs

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[Photo credit: Brian J. Showers]

“I should just keep me mouth shut, I just upset people.”



PÓM: Now, what have I got? I think the last time I was talking to you, last year or the year before, you were going to do a stand-up comedy gig, or something like that, weren’t you?

AM: I believe I’ve done – well, there was that one that I did for the LoveLight charity, for Romania, that was my debut. It went alright, you know, nobody was throwing things, it wasn’t one of those chicken wire scenarios like in The Blues Brothers. Yeah, I did a few numbers, a few songs, and held my own for about, what, half an hour of improvised stand-up. And since then, I mean, I don’t think Michael McIntyre’s got a lot to worry about yet, but I’ve been doing a lot of – at least three or four gigs with Robin Ince, the Bedtime Stories for Godless Children, or whatever he’s calling them that particular year. It’s basically Rationalist events, so you get a healthy mix of scientists, and comedians, and people like me who don’t really easily fit into either camp. I can – I know quite a bit about science, and I can be relatively amusing.

PÓM: Yeah, I know that myself.

AM: So I’ve gone on and done two or three nights for Robin where I just go onstage and ramble for ten minutes, and I also did a – there was piece where I found myself at The Amazing Meeting, which was basically arranged by James Randi, and was a skeptics’ convention, which I hadn’t realised until I actually arrived there, and then I thought, this is a skeptics’ convention, and I would imagine that, as a public snake worshipper, that probably a number of the people might be kind of skeptical about me. I think I acquitted meself quite nicely, and indeed seem to be finding myself in an interesting position, where I seem to be the snake worshipper that rationalists –

PÓM: You’re the acceptable face of snake worshipping?

AM: I think I am! In June or July I’m doing the Cheltenham Science Festival, which they’ve asked me to curate, and I’m doing a couple of dates on Robin and Brian Cox’s Infinite Monkey Cage

PÓM: I heard you on one of those with, I think, Josie Long, was it?

AM: That might have been a podcast that I did with Josie. I was talking to Robin earlier, he said that there’d been a couple of people offended on behalf of Karl Pilkington, because I’d made a remark about how I saw myself as the new Karl Pilkington, because it was the first time I’d done a podcast – I barely knew what the fucking things were! – I was making light of it, but no, apparently a couple of people, Karl Pilkington fans, had been offended. I should just keep me mouth shut, I just upset people.

PÓM: [Laughs] Ah no! To go back to that original one, the one for LoveLight, was there supposed to be a DVD going to be made available for that?

AM: I’ve not heard any more about it. I don’t know whether they got enough good footage on the night to actually make it a viable option. But I’m seeing Robin on Friday – we’re talking about doing a Dodgem Logic benefit, which would be a number of comedians and Dodgem Logic-related bands at some big venue, I don’t know, some two thousand seater, or something like that, where I’d be performing, and Robin [Ince] and Stewart [Lee] and Josie [Long] would probably be along for the ride, and people like Al Murray has apparently expressed an interest…

PÓM: Cool. I like Al Murray. What about, I believe you’re a big fan of Frankie Boyle?

AM: I wouldn’t say… Where did you hear that?

PÓM: I thought you said that you were a fan of Frankie Boyle? Maybe that was someone else?

AM: I liked some of his stuff on Mock the Week

PÓM: Yeah, I think since he did the other show he’s gone a bit eeurgh…

AM: I watched, I think, the first half of the first episode of Tramadol Nights

PÓM: Me too…

AM: I found it repulsive and it struck me that he was, he’d been a victim of his own success, in many ways. I heard a good Frankie Boyle joke the other day, you might have heard it: How many Frankie Boyles does it take to screw in a light bulb?

PÓM: Ah ha?

AM: You say, ‘I don’t know, how many does it take?’

PÓM: I don’t know, how many does it take?

AM: Fuck shit cunt paedophile!

PÓM: [Laughs] OK!

AM: So, you know, that pretty much sums up – I’ve nothing against him, I just think that – and I certainly don’t want to run him down in print, but it seems to me that he has got early success for perhaps things in his comedy that were not the most interesting things, and I’d have to say that I did agree with – when Stewart Lee was, at the age of 42, or something, and had just heard Frankie Boyle say that all comedians should quit at the age of forty because they no longer possessed their youthful drive and anger. And Stewart Lee was saying, ‘Yeah, that’s probably right, because Frankie, he is angry, isn’t he? I mean, look at all the things he’s been angry about like, he was angry about the Queen having an old vagina.’ Yes, there is a certain amount of truth in that, there’s quite a bit of truth in that, you know. Being angry about – I’m sure the bloke has got political opinions. You don’t see as much of them as easy crowd-pleasers – you know, a gag about Josef Fritzl, or something like that, you know? I hope that he extricates himself from this probably very lucrative mire, because he’s – a lot of the comedians that I’ve spoken to have said – I can quite easily agree with them – they’ve said that Frankie Boyle is one of the best natural stand-up comedians in this country, and I can quite easily believe that, and I know an awful lot of really brilliant stand-up comedians, and his delivery, his timing, all of these things, they’re impeccable. That was why I originally liked his work so much. He’s definitely got it, no one could take that away from him, but I just feel – and this is only my opinion, and I doubt whether anybody would care about it – but I just feel he could have done a lot better, and been a much more important comedian, if he hadn’t succumbed to the lure of the easy popularity that came with his studiedly outrageous remarks on Mock the Week. But that’s just my opinion, and it doesn’t detract from the fact the he is, like I say, a remarkably good stand-up comedian who’s naturally born for his trade.

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PÓM: Fair enough. OK, I wanted to ask you about Jimmy’s End. What’s Jimmy’s End?

AM: Jimmy’s End. We are, we should by the end of the week have the funding for that sorted out. Don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to announce anything regarding who or what that might be, but it’s people that I find interesting, and we’re not talking to anybody from Hollywood.

PÓM: Now, is this a film, or a TV series, or both, or what?

AM: Well, at the moment we’re just talking about a short ten minute film. There are possibilities beyond that, but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. The ten minute film Jimmy’s End is the cornerstone for everything that follows, so we want to just treat that as entirely a thing in itself. Then when people have seen that, they will be able to judge whether they would be interested in the other possible film, television series, or whatever, that we’ve got to follow that up. But I can tell you that it’s coming on very well, it’s looking very, very interesting and if, by the end of the week, we’ve got the funding sorted out, then we should be going into filming very soon, and it’ll take us about a week to film it. So, later in the year is my best guess, but I’m spending a lot of my time thinking about ideas related to Jimmy’s End at the moment, so I think that people will be interested when we’ve finally got it developed enough to be able to show people some of the stuff we’ve been coming up with.

PÓM: Is it in some way related to Big Numbers, or the general idea of Big Numbers?

AM: No, not really. It’s set in Northampton, but then everything that I do tends to be set in Northampton, I mean, if I could feasibly have done it, I would probably have set League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Watchmen in Northampton…

PÓM: It would have been a very different book…

AM: It would have been. It would have been. There’s not really any high buildings that you could have got that opening page from Watchmen – the Express Test Lift Tower? I don’t know. But you’re right, it would have been a very different book. But, what it is, Jimmy’s End, it’s a little tiny vignette, and people should remember that originally it was just going to be a film for Mitch [Jenkins]‘ showreel, that would utilise the same elements that we’d used for the burlesque shoot in Dodgem Logic #2. At that point I said, ‘Well, if you’re doing a ten minute film, do you want me to write a screenplay for it, so that it hangs together?’ And then I wrote a self-contained little screenplay that was just for a ten minute film that would be complete in itself. And, yeah, it is pretty complete in itself, and once you’ve seen Jimmy’s End, you might ask yourself how it is possible to actually continue that in any way, but, yeah, we’ve got some ideas. But, no, nothing to do with Big Numbers except that it shares a location – and, it’s difficult to describe, but I suppose you could say that Jimmy’s End was perhaps a supernatural tinged drama? You could say it was a lot of things, actually, so that might be completely misleading, but people will be able to judge for themselves later in the year.

PÓM: What have I got now? Yes. You said a lot of your work is set in Northampton, most of your work is set in Northampton. There are certain things that crop up quite regularly throughout your work: Northampton obviously does. A lot of stuff gets set in November, which is the month you were born, and you seem to have an affinity for setting things in November. And the Kray Twins turn up quite a bit. And the other thing is – and a friend of mine wants to write a paper on this to present at one of the science fiction conventions, is – your comics particularly, almost uniquely in comicdom, certainly for a while, all have had very strong female characters.

AM: Well, I’m proud of that. The other – the occurrence of the Kray Twins or whatever, these are probably just tics that were appropriate to the times, but the strong female characters, yeah, I’d own that proudly.

PÓM: Why was it, that you were and nobody else was, do you think?

AM: Well, you have to remember that when I came into comics, this would have been the late Seventies…? And that I had been, ever since the undergrounds had basically bit the dust in the early Seventies, I’d been reading anything that looked remotely like an underground. So I was reading Street Life, which was a tabloid underground, or cultural kind of paper, that was I believe handled by probably The Who, Eel Pie Books, something like that [Writer Peter Hogan, who worked for Eel Pie, says it wasn't published by them. PÓM]. I was also following Spare Rib, which I’d buy every week for Phyllis, my first wife. So I was absorbing all of the stuff about feminism – I think you probably could make a certain case that my attitudes to race in some instances, were – I believe, with Tom Strong, ludicrously, in 2000, that was the first interracial marriage in American comics, which I hadn’t even though of. But, yeah, the thing about women – for one thing, forgetting any political reasons, if only half of your characters are developed, you’re not a very good writer, and you’re not writing very effective stories, and they are going to appeal to boys, and it struck me that, with the exception of Archie Comics, girls did not read American comics, and you could understand why, ‘cause they were all testosterone-fuelled men in costumes with muscles wrestling with each other. Over here we’d got an interesting line of girls’ comics – I’m not sure that they presented the best image of womanhood and femininity but they’d got some really good writers, you know, your John Wagners and you Pat Millses working, and sometimes with sardonic humour, but they were turning out well written little stories that were specifically for girls. It was when those comics all bit the dust – the whole run of British comics all went under in, what, the mid-eighties?

PÓM: Yeah, early enough, early eighties, maybe.

AM: That was what decided me to write Halo Jones, because I thought that, in the context of 2000AD, which was largely men with big guns, that that would be interesting. It just never occurred to me not to write female characters to the best of my abilities. Any character that you deal with is a challenge. I remember reading an article by Martin Amis where he was – this was in the Nineties – where he was talking, in a rather self-congratulatory tone, about his book, was it called The Information? [sic, it's Night Train]

PÓM: The Information is Amis, yeah.

AM: Is that the one that is about a female, where he writes in the persona of a female policewoman – well, obviously a female policewoman – a female cop?

PÓM: I don’t know, not having read it…

AM: He was going on about how difficult this was, and by implication, how daring it was to have written from the point of view of a woman. Which is ridiculous, you know. I mean, like, if you’re writing from the point of view of a swamp monster, or a swamp demi-god, then how pathetic are you if you cannot write from the point of view of a human woman, that you have presumably spent a lot of your time hanging around with? If my characterisation of women seemed to women to be in any way credible, or realistic, or effective, then I’m incredibly pleased by that because obviously, to some degree, if you’re writing about another gender, you’re making guesses that are probably based upon your own perceptions, your own prejudices, so you never know whether you’re going to be, I don’t know, condescending, patronising, or whether you’re going to get it right. I notice that more and more these days, if I do the odd signing or public appearance, the audience is about fifty percent women, the people in the queues are about fifty percent women, and that’s tremendous, that’s the real progress since I entered the industry.

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First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, March 17th, 2011.