Interview: Craig Campbell
JM: I know you like to tailor your set to where you’re performing – so what do you know about the people of Mount Everest? [Craig is performing at the highest ever comedy gig in October 2014]
CC: Well, I know 17 of them are dead, which is pretty fucking horrific. The avalanche nearly cancelled the expedition; it was in view of the base camp. So that’s kind of hanging over it. I’m kind of surprised that it’s still going forward – not that I don’t want it to, it’s just a big factor to throw into the mix.
At the same time, given the right reverence, and considering that people’s livelihoods are still dependent upon the trade of people coming up and down, I think it can be benefited by what we bring to the party. For me my intention is to go and meet some famously pretty special people in a uniquely fucking special place and try have the time of my life, which I expect it will be. You can’t think that’s not gonna be the trip of a lifetime; I’m not gonna be talking to you in five years’ time about my third trip to Everest!
It’s gonna be important, though, to get it done to the best safety of everyone involved cos you forget as well that we don’t spend much time at altitude, and it’s 5800 metres. It’s one thing to think you get up there, have a shot of whiskey and try not to die on the way down. It’s another thing to think, ‘Ok yeah you’re on in five!’ Pant Pant Pant.
JM: Well at least your normal stage attire should suffice for the whole trip…
CC: Exactly true, but regardless, it’s going to be arduous at the best of times. A couple of weeks ago at a show down in here in Devon in Oakhampton a girl was in the audience that had been to the base camp so we started talking about that.
I asked what the weather was like, she said, ‘Oh, fucking brutal and snowing.’ I was like, ‘What?!’ And she went at the same time of year, last year, so that sort of shattered my perception of hiking up in the sun. Also, a Dutch fella I know through the family who I’ve done some pretty intense cycling with and I know his level of fitness, he had hiked to the base camp, and he just looked at me with honest eyes and said, ‘It’s hard. This isn’t a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination.’
Two weeks is a long time. I’ve done a week hiking in the Alps a few times and that in itself is tough. It’s exciting and intimidating at the same time. So all these things are sort of stacking up in my head, and then all of this has on top of it that you’re gonna do a show! So that’s the crazier element that’s unique in this situation, so I don’t know beyond the camaraderie aspect how much I’m really looking forward to the hiking!
JM: Two weeks without cheddar I guess…
CC: God! You gotta fucking throw that in! Jesus, I’d actually had that blocked out with hypnosis…
JM: I’m sorry to break it to you.
CC: That’s horrific – what the hell is wrong with you man?! Cos I told you some horrible story about a little boy’s dog and a shotgun, is that it? Is this payback now?
JM: I apologise. If it’s any consolation, I was going to say earlier that I love your bit about the Dutch and their unwillingness to laugh while also being incredibly unintentionally funny themselves.
CC: Absolutely, and mostly, the funniest shit they say is so fucking obtuse cos they’re just not guarded. [Dutch accent] ‘I was thinking that so I said that.’ My partner’s son married into [Dutch accent] zi Nederlands, and I find more interest in talking to their in-laws, cos then you’ve got this sort of necessity of politeness over talk of the Dutch sort of awkwardness.
Trying to feel out their humour is difficult, but I have a little formula, which is just basically – say the most inappropriate thing for any situation you can. They’ll laugh.
[Dutch accent] ‘I wish that child had cancer in its cunt.’
JM: I guess in Holland they’ve got a different perception of taboos. If you’ve got a brothel around the corner and a spliff in your hand you may have to go a little more extreme.
CC: If you have a second, and I know that you will at some point, do make this effort; get on Wikipedia and search ‘Dutch profanity’. You will get the greatest insights into their culture. Most of it is revolving normally around the church or animals, but there is a vast section of it that applies to diseases. Mostly diseases of antiquity, so things that would afflict you on a boat on the high seas…
[Dutch accent] ‘I hope your whole family gets tuberculosis.’ ‘It’s all gone tits up’ in Dutch is basically ‘Everything’s gone to tuberculosis.’
JM: So the Dutch profanity page is an essential for any comedian before heading out touring in the Netherlands?
CC: Absolutely, yeah. If you try and say something that’s just like a tiny bit funny they’ll just barely smirk. They really need the fucking sword to be run up the donkey’s ass before they have any fucking look on their face.
JM: With all the travelling and adapting, when you go back to Canada do you find yourself accidentally using different idioms, like ‘tits up’ for example?
CC: Actually, if I run into any trouble at all, it’s just being too severe. Canada has that sort of nanny-state attitude: ‘You can’t say thaaaat’, or, ‘you hurt my friend’s feelings.’
You’ve gotta take your foot off the throttle a little bit over there. I wouldn’t if it was just my shows, but I’m normally over there on ensemble bills, which is less of a thing now in my life on this side. When I go back to Canada I’m on a snowboard comedy tour, I only go back there for that reason. So they’re not your shows to throw.
In Liverpool, I don’t care. If it ends in a pool of fucking blood and broken teeth, I don’t give a fuck, it’s like, ‘See ya – good riddance.’ But it’s sort of different when it’s, ‘See ya – good riddance’ and your buddies are like, ‘Hey, we still wanna get paid man’, and I’m like, [shouting] ‘Yeah, well I’m Elvis!’
You can’t really work like that. It’s similar when I’m with the Lumberjacks on this side. On that show I’m doing my greatest hits, and that’s it. The boys [Stewat Francis and Glenn Wool] rip me pretty good when I go off on my stories of fancy; they call them ‘boat stories’. You’re under stricter orders when you’ve got their reputations to uphold.
JM: I was wondering what your take would be on your introduction on Russell Howard’s Good News, in which you were hailed as a genius. Lots of comedians I know don’t wish to be introduced in an overly zealous or enthusiastic fashion…
CC: I try not to be overly concerned with what other people do, honestly, and that’s more from a self-preservation point of view, rather than an opinion. Nothing starts until you are on and you are talking. Plus, more importantly, you can’t control it. So for me it could be plus or minus either way, it’s not up to me.
I mean, I’d rather that they don’t shit down my throat before they bring me out, I’d appreciate that. But at the same time I’m in a place where that really doesn’t cross my mind too much, cos then you’re worried about shit you can’t control, and then you’re out of control.
Comedically it’s not helpful to have anxiety. I’m talking from early days, these are things that I thought about years and years ago, and if things upset you that you couldn’t have done anything about, take them off the list of things to give a shit about.
JM: Have you got any plans for TV in the future?
CC: Well I’ve got a bunch of shit in the fire, all the kind of pokers in, which is good. Next year we’re trying to get me up to Alaska to build a log cabin over the course of a year, alone in the woods, on camera, so that’s a big one that I’m working towards. That’s pretty awesome. It’s totally up my alley. It’s basically following in the footsteps of a guy named Dick Proenneke – he was a famous Alaskan wilderness dude who did just that.
In the mid-sixties he went to build his own cabin, which is now in the American parts sort of a heritage building. So whether it’s in Canada, or Sweden, or Alaska, that would be really really nice – just the mental idea of not being in contact with people for a year while you’re building a log cabin would be crazy just on a personal note. So that’s pretty cool.
I also did a sitcom read with Frankie [Boyle] at the end of last month and we’re still hoping there’ll be some bite on that, which would be pretty wicked. Beyond that is sort of the norm, keeping my hand in. Did the old Alan Davies show, which comes out in June, that was at the end of last month and that was pretty incredible because it was with Bill Bailey, Kevin Eldon and Isy Suttie from Peep Show.
JM: Are you a Peep Show fan?
CC: I don’t have a television. I watch a lot of stuff on YouTube when I need to see things.
JM: So even when you’re on TV you don’t watch?
CC: No. I’d rather be looking up Dutch profanity. I can find myself spending nine hours researching EU legislation or American science articles. I’ve got a finite amount of time. How much time do I spend driving up to Durham, driving up to fucking Berwick-upon-Tweed, driving up to Sterling this month?
I gotta balance all these things against staying healthy, eating well, exercising enough, getting ready for something like Everest and at the same time keeping my head full of stuff that will benefit people comedically at the shows I do. So watching myself on TV doesn’t appeal. It’s like amplifying hearing your own voice on an answerphone a million times.
So I’m quite well known amongst my friendship circle for forgetting things; people are like, ‘Oh that bit!’, and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s great – who is that?’, and they say, ‘It’s you, you fucking idiot!’
Glenn [Wool] is like the archaeologist of my career; he just sort of brings up these bits festooned with fucking barnacles with a chip down the middle.
- Craig Campbell is currently touring the UK with Thrilling Mic Hunt, visiting Barnard Castle (25 May) and Durham (27 May) amongst others. He will also appear at Jesterval Comedy Festival (9 June) alongside Stewart Francis and Glenn Wool.
- Giggle Beats readers can get 2 for 1 tickets for Craig’s Durham show by quoting 241GIGGLEBEATS in person or by calling 03000 266 600.