BLACK EYED SKANK
"I was an evil little bastard as I came out of school. I used to do a lot of pranks. I think that has manifested itself in my writing. I've almost been shot dead by the police. We did a photo shoot in a garden about six or seven years ago. The photographer was a white guy. He was taking photos and all you could see if you were a neighbour was this white guy surrounded by these black guys with weapons. Next thing you know they've cordoned off the whole road from the Old Kent Road Police Station and they stormed the upstairs flat and all I can remember is this gun being pointed at me. They didn't actually shoot me. Which was a good thing!"
Richard Marshall interviews Bobby Joseph
COPYRIGHT © 2003, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
BJ: I did another black satirical magazine when I was younger called Skank when I was about twenty. Which was like a black Viz. That had characters like 'Scotland Yardie', a lot of street like characters and what happened was that Skank quickly got closed down after I got sued. I did a joke about Linford Christie's lunchbox, and he wasn't very happy with that.
3AM: He sued you?
BJ: Yes. So at the age of 22 I was sued by Linford Christie and had no magazine. From there, someone actually had the guts to give me a column in a newspaper. The Voice. So I got this column, basically I did this bullshit thing where I rang the editor and said 'I hear you've been trying to call me?' Of course she hadn't. But it got me a column. So I did that for a bit. Got bored with that. Then I became a father. Stayed being on that father level for a while, until basically last year. What happened was with my writing I became disinterested with everything. The father thing came along really big with me. And then tragedy struck. My daughter passed away last year. She died two days before her third birthday. What happened after that was that we resurrected a mag under a different name, I got another gig working for Lenny Henry, doing a character called Gloria, got offered a lot of stuff for radio so I'm writing a lot for radio at the moment. I've been offered a pilot for BBC Radio 4 with the comedian Rudi Lickwood which could or could not happen. If it doesn't happen then Rudi and me will turn it into a play. So there's lots of stuff happening.
3AM: You're writing then is about making something happen. A black Viz you called it. You were deliberately going out to do a counter Viz?
BJ: A street Viz. Ultimately it was something that reflected a lot of the kids that are street. If you look at Viz it handles a certain selective audience. It's more for someone like you than a seventeen year old. Black Eye, my new magazine, is basically the sequel to Skank. It's a continuation of stuff that we did before under a different name. It's a street Viz, it takes a pop at things left, right and centre. It can't be taken seriously.
3AM: You haven't been sued yet?
BJ: Not yet.
3AM: It's obviously not as good as the other one then is it?
BJ: Yeah! You're clever. I like that!
3AM: Is it political? I see it as political.
BJ: You see it as political? Interesting. It just came out like that. They're just gags. It's just how I work. If it makes me laugh then I'll write it. You're thinking about the jokes about the attitudes of the police. You see, that's just taken for granted in the black community. It's not a big thing. The only surprise is that white people have now cottoned on to the fact that the Met could possibly be racist.
3AM: Some of what's funny pushes boundaries, is un-PC.
BJ: I think I can turn a lot of that around. A lot of the male characters get worse treatment than the women. The irony is that a lot of the people who actually buy the magazine are actually female. That's what I've found out that's interesting. It's not young males but females and they either love it or hate it.
3AM: Do you have an audience in mind as you write this stuff.
BJ: No. The best way I can explain it is like this. You're sitting there. You're having a drink. You‚re chilling out. You're passing jokes with your friends. That stuff's funny then. It's when you're sharing jokes. That's how I write. I'm not coming out of any thing else other than this stuff I do with my friends. If we find it funny then I'll write it. I don't see influences on what I write. It'll take someone like yourself to point out the influences. I just write what I like. What I find funny. It's quite extreme. It's always humour. I've never done anything else. I've been offered to write novels but I don't know if I will. I don't want to sit down. I'm too busy. I'm just beginning to enjoy life again.
3AM: Putting a magazine together like that, you can't do it alone, it's a collaborative thing. Where do you get the other people from?
BJ: Alcoholics Anonymous! People just appear in your life and you don't know where they come from and they just stay by you. Over the years these people I've met them and they've stuck by me. They write. They draw. A couple of the guys were graffiti artists. They've always trusted me to do the right thing. Which is probably the wrong thing! But hey! I have no training. I left school at 15 with no qualifications. What happened was that a friend had pushed my stuff forward to the X Press. The X Press then offered me to do a comic that was Skank. They were the publishers. At that point I was an artist not a writer. I used to draw. I don't draw now. I'm too slow. But then I was doing these little comic strips. And that's how Skank came about. It was with Skank that I found out that I could write really funny as well. I was an evil little bastard as I came out of school. I used to do a lot of pranks. I think that has manifested itself in my writing. I've almost been shot dead by the police. We did a photo shoot in a garden about six or seven years ago. The photographer was a white guy. He was taking photos and all you could see if you were a neighbour was this white guy surrounded by these black guys with weapons. Next thing you know they've cordoned off the whole road from the Old Kent Road Police Station and they stormed the upstairs flat and all I can remember is this gun being pointed at me. They didn't actually shoot me. Which was a good thing! I used to play a lot of pranks when I was younger. You know dog crap. In the summer time dog crap gets hard but if you break it there's a thin liquid in the middle. What we used to do was go to telephone boxes smear this stuff on the mouthpieces. Then we'd go across the road and watch. And when people put their mouths there -- well, we had fun watching. Let's just say. I was about 14, 15 doing that stuff. We'd be sitting across the road drinking and smoking watching this stuff and we'd be cracking up. My writing came out of that sort of humour. Another thing I did. I used to read a lot when I was a child -- shit like Dracula, Frankenstein, that stuff. When I was about 6 and 7 I'd read them. So I read the books. And I saw the Frankenstein films and in theory it's a very good theory. You take the brain out of one body and put it in another one. Now, I was a small child and my father, God bless him, was a big male. My theory was that if I got a knife, cut open his head, took his brain out, cut open my head, took my brain out and put my brain in his body then I could be in his body. Logical! Now the practice. My father was asleep. I went downstairs to the kitchen. Found the biggest knife I could find. Went back upstairs. I thought I‚d remove my brain first. Then do my dad's brain second. I took the knife, and k-chunk, hit it into the back of my head. It really hurt! I've got the scar at the back of my head to prove it.
3AM: I see it.
BJ: Imagine what would have happened if I'd have started on my dad!
3AM: So I can see how your evil as shite mind and your writing all come together. I can see why you write now!
BJ: I've got a very extreme imagination yeah!
3AM: So where do you see all this going?
BJ: It's day to day. I knock out this and that. I'm at that point when I write what I write now. The loss of my daughter and my father died both in the space of a couple of months of each other it was a double blow for us. So I've reached a point where people can't dictate what I write. I've been plagiarised left right and centre. I've had a film idea nicked and made into a film - luckily it bombed last year. I've been ripped off by loads of people so basically now I'll do what I want and not care.
3AM: You're extreme. Are you political?
BJ: I'd say I was an extreme writer but not a political writer. I'm interested that you see that in the stuff I do but I'm wary of doing it. I'm only going to do things that I'm not happy with. I've reached this stage where I didn't need to go for the easy money now. If I'm poor so be it. Sure, the Lenny Henry stuff will come along and I can hopefully make a wage out of that but you know if it don't come through tomorrow it doesn't bother me. The stuff I'm doing or I've already done is all stuff I want to do. I wrote the character for Lenny Henry in his last series. Everything I'm doing I'm doing it because I like it, I want to do it. No one pushes me into doing the stuff. At the moment I'm quite happy being a dad again. I've been away from writing for a while especially after my daughter‚s death but I'm enjoying writing again. I'm confident that whatever I do it'll get out there somewhere, somehow. It'll make some kind of headline somewhere.
3AM: So does this stuff pay?
BJ: No, not really. I've had to use other means to keep on. But that's another story for another time.
3AM: And is this your neighbourhood here, Ladbroke Grove, West London?
BJ: No, I'm south London originally. Lewisham. Came here in 96. I'm 29.
3AM: You like animated cartoons? You fancy doing one?
BJ: South Park used to appeal to me but it's a bit dated now. I think I like things like the Simpsons more. It's cleverer. South Park to me is a bit obvious. Too much swearing and too many sex gags. If I look at my magazine, and take away the swearing and the sex it still stands up. I hope so. So no I don't think I'd want to write an animation.
3AM: Is it difficult doing what you do? Would it be easier if you were white?
BJ: I'm the only one doing what I do. Satire. A lot of black comedy now is about personal experience and there are very few that are doing satire at the moment. I'm probably the only one. Maybe because satire doesn't pay the bills. Maybe because personal experience is what people want to know more. I think I'm the only one doing satire in this country. I'd like to see other people doing it. I'm someone who thinks there's a need for satire. That makes me one of the dangerous people doesn't it? That makes me one of the people who they want to lock up on a little island and feed me blue and red pills. I hear Black Eye makes people uncomfortable. All I want to do is make people laugh. There's nothing I wouldn't take the micky out of. Well actually there was one thing we dropped from the magazine. It was about Osama bin Laden and Page Three Girls. We basically didn't want an aeroplane crashing into our house! But apart from that there‚s nothing. Kiddy porn I guess. I wouldn't do that. You know, nothing makes me afraid. I've said some strange shit in print. I wouldn't do anything about punk because punk hasn't got anything to do with my experiences. I take the micky out of things that touch on my own experience. The Queen? So what? What's she ever done for me? She's never given me a spliff! She hasn't done anything for you neither! That doesn't appeal to me. The punk thing too. Old crusties from the 70's. How old are you again? Has anyone ever told you that you look like Tim Westwood?
3AM: Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Who is he?
BJ: They say he's the real Ali G -- allegedly!
3AM: That's a bad thing in your book then, you bastard!
BJ: He's a Radio One rap DJ. Anyway. What do I read? I read Courttia. Courttia is great. You want to know how I met Courttia? Shall I tell you about the brothel? No, he wouldn't want me to talk about that!
3AM: He'll read this. And even if you take it out, I'll put it back in, you realise that!
BJ: No, I respect Courttia. Courttia has done a lot. He gets about. He's one of the few writers I've seen who gets out there and hustles. And God bless him because there are very few of us out there. Now, I'm trying to figure out what to do next, where to go next. I've had a very strange thirty years. From thirty I have to decide what I'm going to do properly. I've got no qualifications. I messed about. I get paid to be a prankster. So what's the next logical step for me to do? TV and stand-up is too obvious. I have something else in mind but I can't say until the contract is signed.
3AM: We're going to need another interview later on down the line! I'm interested that when you talk about extreme you don‚t see it as political when so many other writers who talk extreme do see it as political in some sense.
BJ: Nothing fazes me. A lot of the characters I've created they're basically people I know or have experienced. I just turned them into writing. I record a lot of stuff. I watch Jerry Springer. The only ones I watch are the she-male ones. That's fascinating. You see these guys with knuckles and so on. I like shit that's twisted, that knocks people on their heads. My writing is just fun. Now my next episode of Black Eye will be a lot more free flowing. It'll be launched hopefully in August. You never know. It's supposed to be a quarterly but I screwed it up so I'll probably screw this one up as well. So what's the obvious plan for Black Eye? The distribution. Well, you're looking at the distribution. I am the distribution. A one man operation. I've distributed quite a few thousand. No distributor will touch me. They all want insurance against being sued. What's interesting about distributors and printers is that everyone gets sued. I distribute it myself just so that I can get it out there. To be honest I'm just looking to sell it on because I've been doing this for ten years and it's getting harder and I'm getting older. I'm nearly thirty. As a man, half your life has gone. When you hit thirty. As you get older you lose your morning riser! That's quite terrifying. How old are you again?
3AM: Fuck off!
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Bobby Joseph, editor of Black Eye, former Voice columnist and editor of the controversial and now defunct Skank magazine, is now writing for Lenny Henry's second comedy series.