Fin Taylor interview
Fin Taylor returned to XS Malarkey last week to present his reliably brilliant, anti-self-indulgent wears to a happy Manchester audience. Afterwards, I talked to him about Edinburgh, finding a comedy style and knowing an audience.
Hi Fin. You’ve said before that you wanted to do stand-up since you fourteen/fifteen – why? What, or who was it that was inspiring you?
I don’t know. I’d always been funny, that was like my character trait. Ever since I was like six or seven, I was always the funny one in every play – I was Nanna the dog in Peter Pan.
Were you dramatic as well, at school?
Well yeah, but I was just making it funny. And then I was doing sketched when I was a teenager, and I still wasn’t satisfied. And I remember the day I discovered what YouTube was, and the whole of Eddie Murphy: Raw was up there; and I just watched the whole thing and was like – and he was twenty two, and playing an arena. And it was like, that’s it: I’ve got to do that. Then I did public speaking competitions in school and kind of made that into stand-up.
I always knew I wanted to do comedy, I just didn’t know which bit of it. Then when I found stand-up it was like, oh it’s got to be that. All this stuff was free on YouTube. I just remember… I mean, it’s not dated well at all – there’s lots if stuff about ‘the fags’… But his impressions are amazing.
How different was doing stand-up to your expectation of it? How different were you as a stand-up to how you thought you’d be, when you first started?
Well, firstly I didn’t know you could make a living out of it. I guess everyone thinks that, but that’s because you just watch Mock The Week and then you start… I think I realised quite quickly that I didn’t actually care about getting on TV that much, because I like live so much. I didn’t really think necessarily that’s what I wanted to do, but it makes sense now.
And then it’s weird; I think when I started I was just trying everything, style-wise. I was just trying to be likable. And then you look at my stuff now… It’s much more like the guy I was at school and sixth form, when I was dicking about. So yeah, I think now it makes sense – what I’m doing now makes more sense than the last, like, six years.
So you feel you’ve fallen more into who you are as a stand-up?
Yeah, but… I read an interview with Bill Burr who was like – he thinks you have that thing and you’re so scared for six years that it takes you however long an amount of time gigging to be comfortable enough to find it again. Which is maybe what I think, I don’t know.
What would say your comedy style is, then?
If you have one.
… Ohh… Kind of like… Just… Kind of goofy, but a bit dark… I’d say it’s frank, I’m trying to be honest but in a funny way… I don’t try and be self-indulgent, I try and be honest about things around me . I don’t know. Early-twenties malaise has been said before.
I think you’re – you say you try not to be self-indulgent and I think that certainly comes across. I mean, you’re almost anti-self-indulgent.
Oh yeah, I like that. I kind of think you shouldn’t know too much what you do. I think it’s more of a feeling; I think if you ever try and explain what you do… I mean, I can’t really explain it. I think that’s kind of how it should be. I think if you know what you do then it narrows your creativity, and your field of vision. So… like I say, I just started watching cock-fighting videos; and it was like, this is something I feel I should have an opinion on. So yeah… I don’t think you ever want to fully know what you do.
You’re doing… what you are.
Yeah, kind of. But I’m trying to make it as no bullshit as possible. No no, what it is – I can’t believe I didn’t say this earlier – the target is always pretension; it’s always people who are smug and sneer down. For most of the bits, that’s the target. And feeling like you’re being judged; it’s normally a defensive reflex about being judged. A lot of the bits are that. I think. Yeah, I think that’s the starting point for a lot of it. But style, I don’t know… It’s not that weird. It’s a bit weird, but it’s still straight stand-up. Style is such a casual word, I don’t really know…
You did your first Edinburgh hour last year – how was that?
Loved it. Really enjoyed doing an hour. Looking back on the show now, I think it – I’m still really proud of a lot of it, but there was maybe fifteen minutes of stuff that maybe wasn’t good enough, I think.
Is that what you clipped in the album?
Yeah, yeah kind of. Pretty much. And also… People came. And it was really fun.
It was a good show.
Yeah, I was still proud of a lot of it. I enjoyed it a lot.
Very different to previous Edinburghs?
Oh, yes. I mean… Your first Edinburgh’s when you go and find it and get tanked, and it’s amazing. Then you start thinking like, right: I’ve got to do this as kind of like, I’m in the industry. And you do packer shows and they’re never fun – there’s a sense of camaraderie but that just offsets how hard it is, and bleak at times. And, you know, you feel like you’re competing every day with people in the room; because people leave going, ‘oh, who was your favourite blah blah blah’. And you see the same stuff every time… And then when I did forty minutes – I did forty minutes a couple of years ago – that was so much fun, because there was literally no pressure at all; you could do anything. Doing your own thing is great. But I love Edinburgh, I want to keep going as much as possible.
Real Talk had a sort of over-arching theme; how important is it when you’re writing for you to follow a narrative? Or don’t you, generally?
Well, narrative I find – like when you said you think I’m ‘anti-self-indulgent’, I like that a lot; because I think when you follow a narrative it’s very easy for people to become self-indulgent… I don’t people a lot of people have good enough stories to make it a selling point of their Edinburgh show.
They think – they kind of feel that to do Edinburgh you need to do a kind of Kitson impression, and make a narrative show… Which I just don’t think is right for me. I just think it’s about getting as much – getting a good, early bit of stuff that works; and then trying to see if there’s a rough theme with that stuff. And then tuff just comes. If you’ve got too much, you can cut stuff that doesn’t fit – I mean, that’s how I do it.
I’ve never done the whole beginning, end, fill; I try and make an hour of just the funniest stuff I can. I kind of think your Edinburgh show should be your voice as a comedian, and you should be honing it every year; and it should be more of a mood than an ostensible theme. But then I’ve seen some really great theme shows, but I just can’t really do that.
I suppose if it’s not your thing, then that’s why it wouldn’t work for you.
Exactly. That’s true. But I think it’s very easy for people to become self-indulgent if they convince themselves they have to have a narrative. But… the broadsheet media does not like it if you go up and just do stuff that you think is funny, so you kind of have to put something underneath there, in a way.
The Guardian liked your stuff this year. They liked your ‘Fin’ joke.
Yeah, they did. Yeah, that was cool. But you know, there’s a bit of pretence up there about it. But that’s kind of good, because it means you need to be even funnier to stand out from the crowd. It should be like that, I suppose.
So, you’re previewing a new hour at Machynlleth Comedy Festival this year. What’s that going to be about?
Well, the show is called – I think, we have to submit it next week – I think it’s going to be called Notes From 3am. Someone told me that listening to me do stand-up is like that bit at a party after all the dancing has finished but before everyone leaves; when people are sat on a sofa saying really weird theories.
Like the things you would put in your phone.
Yeah exactly. That kind of thing. I like that, I think that kind of makes sense. It’s kind of about that. You saw a lot of it tonight. It’s just going to be fifty five minutes of the funniest stuff I can have. But it all comes from that… vibe. Yeah, so the rough vibe is that I sound like… Like I said, it’s me honing my voice. It’s me sounding like a guy that makes more sense at three in the morning than any other time, I think. You know like – or at least, I do, me and my friends: you always talk about slightly darker stuff, and everything always seems so much more fucked at three in the morning. And also it’s the time when you’re the most shamelessly philosophical.
Yes. Stuff that wouldn’t make sense to you sober.
Yeah, you look at it sober and you’re like, embarrassed that I said that. But that’s kind of how I see the world, I guess. I think – it’s March, but I think that’s what it will come out as. It might be too confusing for… anyway…
When you write, how do you decide what you’re going to write about? And how much are you writing for yourself? Comedians often talk about how you really have to be invested in what you’re saying; so how much are you writing for that, than specifically for your audience?
Oh, it’s all for me. It’s all for me. But then I gig so I can whittle down what’s not for them. Like, I can’t talk about anything I don’t – if I think someone’s done a thing, then it won’t pop into my head to do it. So it’s away what I find funny. I think that keeps you original. I’d like to think that no one else could nick my stuff and get away with it, which is the way it should be I think.
The more you find out who you are, the more it kind of becomes clear. Like now, I’m getting close to the time where someone could name a thing or a topic and I’d immediately know what stance me-on-stage would have on that; and then it’s just about going with it in an interesting way.
Presumably you’re, more and more, getting your audience.
Yeah, that kind of whittles down; and then I guess the whole thing – if you go out on a massive scale – gets easier and easier because the more you get to know your audience, the more you can push it. I guess. Hopefully the people that heard the album and saw the first show will come back and be up for it. They’ll know what they’re getting in for a bit more.
How did you get involved in the Bearpit Podcast? (It’s a great group of people…)
Yeah. Well, we’re all friends. It was Matt Winning’s idea. This was two years ago this month actually: he sat us all down in the Southbank Centre and was like, basically we want to do a spoof of Stuart Goldsmith’s podcast [Comedian’s Comedian Podcast]. Because – and don’t get me wrong, it’s great – but, and he’ll be the first to admit this; if you come to it not really liking comedy it sounds like the most indulgent, up-its-own-arse kind of thing.
And I think actually what binds us all is that we really don’t like… we all respect an audience more than I think other groups of people do. Or that’s at least what we all… we all try to never be indulgent I guess.
So it was Matt’s idea, and then we all just kind of added our place and just talked about it. And the first time – we never actually wrote anything; we all just sat down on the first day of the free Fringe and did it. Those three days, the first three days were the hardest any of us had ever laughed. So I had my iPhone plugged into the tech desk and was just randomly putting on stuff; and [Mat] Ewins was making jingles. And it was before John [Kearns] had any pressure on him, it was the first week of that year; so he was just fucking around.
There were loads of other people in it as well, just coming by. And it was at midday, so there was no… the audience was like: people who’d seen it and come back – like two of them; and then a couple of random old people who’d come to see a podcast, and a guy in the pub. But we would make ourselves laugh so much that by the end – did you see it in 2013?
No, I saw it last year.
Yeah, so by the end of that year, the room was heaving and they were just amazing shows. We kind of roughly knew what we were doing but we would just fuck around and not tell anyone what we’d do. It was so much fun. And then we did it at The Invisible Dot, and that was like – we kind of improvised a play then, at the end of 2013. And then we had the idea that we could do a different theme each episode; it was in danger of collapsing under the weight of its own – because it was a comedy spoof. And although you could get it not knowing about stand-up, we just thought: there were good people there, and we could make it broader.
And so we just decided to stretch ourselves… probably stretch ourselves too quickly, but we didn’t realise we were doing it to get anywhere; we were just doing it for fun. So yeah, that’s kind of how it all started. It was literally a meeting, a Facebook thread and then like a week of just pissing ourselves in front of an audience.
It is mental. It’s very funny. I went to one in the summer and we arrived late so it was already going on; and we just had no idea what was going on.
That was what was so much fun about this year’s Edinburgh was that something like that happened every day. I didn’t enjoy as many shows as I enjoyed seeing everyone else and being part of that. I remember running off to see Sam Simmons, and I was tired of laughing because we’d had an amazing one. But yeah, they were some of the most amazing things. But then, you know, there are times when people don’t get it; but there’s so many of us that we always make ourselves laugh.
Are you doing again this year?
We’re not doing a full run. I think at the moment the plan is to do a late-night one-off towards the end. We’re still doing it, but… It was a lot of work for – well, for everyone – but for me and Mat and John, it was a lot of work this year.
You all had your own shows as well.
We all had our own shows, and then me and Ewins have got to write an hour in a year; Adam [Hess] and Lolly are doing their first hours. John’s only going to be up the last few days. I think the next time we do it we’re going to do it and try not to have it as a deliberately underground thing. Yeah, that’s sort of the plan.
You do warm-up for Pointless – how different is that from a normal gig?
So different. I don’t do any material. It’s literally just riffing in front of – because, it’s old people.
Yeah, I was going to say. Presumably it’s a very different audience.
Yeah! So I don’t do any material, and I’m literally just myself. Yeah, you just free-wheel. And it can either be really fun, and you get to banter with Richard [Osman] and Xander [Armstrong] – I know them because I’ve been doing it for a while now; and they always join in and that’s fun. But it’s quite easy because there are a lot of things that you have to say as a warm up, because you’re the only link between the audience and the crew. So there are a lot of things you have to do, there are a lot of noises you have to make.
That kills a lot of time; and then you just kind of dick around a bit. I’m not allowed to dick around – I used to get everyone up on set, and fuck around a lot; and then insurance blah blah blah, so I can’t do that anymore. But I just kind of cause havoc, a very mild form of havoc that means the show can still go on. Because yeah, it’s a completely different audience. And also they’re not really there to laugh; they’re there for the quiz and just to kind of chuckle.
You don’t need to get them really riled up.
You don’t need to do stuff about the government; you just need to get the make that ‘ohhhhhh’ tower noise when the score’s going down.
What do you think you’d be doing then, if you weren’t doing comedy?
I literally don’t know. I think I would be probably trying to be an actor, and then I reckon I would probably end up finding stand-up through that. I would quite like to do radio… I don’t know, maybe a music critic or… Not even that. I don’t know. I really don’t know.
I suppose – I mean, you’re very young, and you’ve only ever really done this. So why would you know.
Exactly. It kind of defines me to all my friends, from school and from uni. It’s always been the thing I was interested in. I don’t really know. This may even prove to be… Do you have this thing where you’re young and people are always looking at you thinking ‘oh, just wait until you get… you don’t know anything because…’? So maybe I haven’t found the thing, you know; maybe it’s not even the thing I’m doing. Which would be weird, because I don’t really know what else I’d like this much that I wouldn’t know about.
But no, I can’t – I don’t really know. I’d probably just have a job, and I’d infuriate people by trying to be funny all day.
You’d be like a sitcom character, but in real life.
Do you have any recommendations of comedians that you really like that you think people might not know about? Or should know about, but don’t yet?
Okay. So my guys are Pierre Novellie, Phil Wang, Ivo Graham. Obviously everyone in Bearpit. Sean McLoughlin I think is genuinely one of the best acts in the country. I think Kerry Godliman’s really good. Kyle Kinane is an American comedian who people should look up.
Just had a new album out?
Yeah. When I saw him, I feel like he was doing what I always thought I wanted to be like in twenty years. Which is really cool, but also really… uhhhh… Yeah. I guess that’s it. I think, my peers. Liam Williams is brilliant. I’ve never… I almost can’t understand seeing an act – when you see an act that’s really hack, I don’t understand how they’ve written that; because they must surely have seen people do that. Maybe it’s just because they’re not as much of a comedy nerd as I am, I don’t know. I don’t know.
I suppose that’s coming from – you know how you write, so you can’t understand how other people would write.
Yeah, I guess so. But yeah, I think my crowd is… not defined by the fact that it’s weird and hip. Like, I’ve played clubs. I can do quite well in clubs. And there’s a type of sort of alt club – like XS Malarkey – which is perfect for me. But there aren’t enough of those, so you have to do the really hip ones and the really clubby ones, and kind of make it work.