“Comedy’s not about winning awards, getting nominations or anything like that.” – an interview with Nick Helm.
Brash, bullish and self-proclaimed dick-kicker Nick Helm has a lot going at the moment. Tomorrow he’ll be featured on Channel 4’s Comedy Blaps, an online platform designed to promote new comedy talent and ideas; and in August, Helm is back in Edinburgh with a new Fringe show, This Means War. Sandwiched in between, though, is a return to a little known festival called Latitude, where all the best comedians come out to play. And guess what? For the first time, Giggle Beats will be joining them. Dan Carmichael caught up with Helm to find out what life is really like outside the North East – and whether we should pack our sun cream.
DC: Hello Nick. We’re looking forward to seeing you at Latitude again this summer. Can you tell us what you’re doing there and what we can expect to see?
NH: I had a really nice gig at Latitude last year, and it was a lot of fun; but I didn’t want to go back and do the same thing. I’ve just finished work on a TV show called ‘Live at the Electric’ for BBC 3, which I worked on with my band. So for Latitude we’re preparing what’s essentially going to be a thirty minute rock gig. It’s going to be a mixture of things and we’re still working out exactly what the content is going to be, but we’re just going to try having fun with it.
The club sets I write evolve a lot slower than anything else that I do. The longer shows I create for Edinburgh are obviously more self contained, and feel a lot more difficult to cannibalise and break it into chunks for something like Latitude. There wasn’t really twenty minutes out of my last hour that I could adapt into a club set. I didn’t want to go back there and do exactly what I did last year. My set has obviously evolved as the year has gone on – stuff comes out and other stuff goes in – but the overall structure is basically the same. Latitude felt like the perfect place for us to do something very musical, and hopefully, very funny.
DC: Sounds ace. I know a lot of comics find festivals tough going – how do you find them? I’d imagine your act lends itself quite well to the festival atmosphere…
NH: Well, Latitude specifically was great. I did Sonisphere last year and everyone said, “Ah, you’ll love Sonisphere! You’re shouty and sweary – you’re going to have a really good time.” But, er, I didn’t. Because although I do shout and swear, I also so poetry, and that doesn’t go down well with fifteen hundred Slipknot fans throwing piss at you! That’s fair enough, though; you stand your ground, do your time and then wipe the urine off your face and go home.
DC: What about Latitude then? I noticed Slipknot didn’t make the line-up there this year!
NH: Latitude is more diverse! They’ve got tents for literature and poetry – because the music only forms part of the festival instead of being its sole purpose. Everything almost has equal billing, so there are people specifically there for the stand-up. (Editor’s note: Us) You go out and there is an audience waiting for you. Not necessarily me specifically… but for comedy. The people are usually comedy literate, and an intelligent crowd, so it’s really fun.
I’m doing Download as well this year, and that’s another good festival I’ve enjoyed doing. That’s the thing; Sonisphere was just a weird one. Latitude ended up just exceeding my expectations. I suppose I was expecting the same reaction from all festivals. I’m a heavy metal fan and thought Sonisphere would have been ‘my people’ but it turns out my crowd is Guardian readers; which is fine. I always say that my act only works if I’m the biggest cunt in the room, and that’s not always the case at a festival.
DC: How do you find playing the more mixed bill sets? Is it what you’re used to now or can it sometimes still feel quite jarring?
NH: I really enjoy it. This might sound corny, but the reason I do stand-up is because I love comedy and I love watching other comedians. I try to do something that other people aren’t doing and convey my personality on stage in a different way. If you go out and do exactly what everyone else is doing then it just feels pointless. So when I do mixed bill gigs, it’s good to see that most people get it. If you end up with a whole evening of one-liner comedians then what’s the point in that?
DC: Then you can come on and just scare the shit out of people…
NH: It’s good to scare people. It’s still comedy and you’re not just making people laugh; you’re making them feel different emotions. It’s just a bit of fun, really. You can’t over think it and feel like you can’t say anything – because at the end of the day you just want to entertain people.
Latitude is also great for people to experience stuff they maybe haven’t seen before. If they like me – they like me. If they don’t – they don’t. There is something for everyone at festivals like this, really.
DC: Every year the line-up for Latitude is mind-blowing. Is there anyone you’re particularly looking forward to seeing whilst you’re down there?
NH: Jack Dee – he’s my hero. He’s going to be amazing headlining the comedy stage. I never see as much as I want to see; there are only so many hours in the day unfortunately. At Edinburgh most comedians tend to get tunnel vision because you’ve worked for so long on your show and you’re just relived it’s finally happening. I get really tense and nervous before the gig, and when it’s over I just need some time to unwind. The days go by really fast as a result of that, so I don’t get to see as much as I’d like. But I see comedy all year round because I’m always in clubs watching it. I always make an effort to see the people I like, as well as support my friends and see what they’ve been working on.
DC: I noticed you were on celebrity Deal or No Deal recently. I’ve always thought you suited the live scene more – how do you feel about doing more TV work?
NH: Deal or No Deal was actually really fun! They said, “Do you want to do it?” and I just thought, ‘It’s Deal or no Deal…of course I do!’ I’d have still done it even without Jimmy Carr…
TV stuff is always nice, but my main focus is doing live work because that’s where I meet my audience and can really show off my persona. TV is one thing, but like you say it’s never going to be the same as actually going into a club and doing it live.
I think you miss the highs and lows when you do TV. Yeah, sometimes you completely die on your arse but other times you have a really amazing gig. With my act I never really know where it’s going to go until I get on stage. There is always that tension where I think, ‘Is this going to be a good one or a bad one?’ In that way it’s actually kind of exciting. When you do TV it’s just one shot and that is it; that’s the performance. But with live stuff you’re always honing it, playing on your instincts and the performance is different from night to night. They are both very different things but Deal or No Deal was a blast.
DC: Good stuff. You’re coming back to Edinburgh again after being nominated for the top award at last year’s Fringe. What’ve you got planned and how are you preparing for it?
NH: [pullquote_right]’This time I’m laying it down on the line and saying, “We’re not fucking around this time; this is the show.” So I think this show is going to be more of a mission statement than a piece of whimsy…’ [/pullquote_right]The hour that I’m writing for Edinburgh is still early days at the moment, but I can say we’re going to have a lot of music. I’m writing songs and poems whilst trying to work out what the overall structure of the show will be. In my last show, Dare to Dream, there was only about ten minutes of actual stand-up and everything else was audience interaction, poetry and songs. I kind of like that format; where you’re not just standing in front of a group and talking, you’re doing something that’s more theatrical. So that’s what the hour’s going to be.
With comedy it’s weird because you work backwards. For those who write plays: they sit down, write it, and then start to promote it. With Edinburgh – because you do it every year – you have to have your blurb, title and poster all ready in February. Once I had all that it was time to write the show. You work completely backwards, so I’ve no idea what the finished show will end up being yet.
At the moment I want to do something similar to what I did last year…but slightly different. Repeating myself without repeating myself if that makes sense. My last two shows, Keep Hold of the Gold and Dare to Dream, were quite aspirational sounding shows. The title of the one this year is This Means War, so this time I’m laying it down on the line and saying, “We’re not fucking around this time; this is the show.” So I think this one is going to be more of a mission statement than a piece of whimsy…
DC: Any pressure to take Dave’s funniest joke again?
NH: Well, that’s not a competition you enter. I didn’t even know they had come in until I won the award. This sounds like I’m being overly modest, but it’s not about winning awards, nominations or anything like that. It’s literally about how can I spend the month before Edinburgh without embarrassing myself every day. That’s my motivation; to try and do the best possible show that people will enjoy. Anything else is just a by-product, really.
Nick Helm will be kicking Latitude Festival in the dick from 13th-15th July. For full details, see: latitudefestival.co.uk.