Interview: Richard Gadd
Richard Gadd began comedy just over a year ago with what he describes as a ‘schizophrenic thing, a real nutcase on stage who hadn’t a clue’; but, after performing for a month at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe alongside fellow comedians Matthew Winning, Stuart Mitchell and Chris Scoular, the Scottish comedian has finally found his feet with a strangely compelling anti-comedy act. Fresh from his well-deserved win at The Laughing Penguin’s New Act Of The Year Final earlier in the month, Andrew Dipper had the pleasure of talking with Gadd about his successful first year in comedy. Enjoy.
AD: Hi Richard. Firstly, congratulations on your recent win in The Laughing Penguin’s New Act competition – how much do these awards affect you as a comedian? Have you got much work off the back of it?
RG: They help a lot. Winning any competition helps you get seen by lots of people in the industry. I’ve been offered quite a few gigs in the North East as a result of winning, really decent gigs with high-standard acts. I feel privileged to be up there performing with some of the best. I’m starting to think my fan-base in North of England is larger than my one in Scotland!
AD: You have an almost satirical anti-comedy style on stage – why is that? What, or who influenced your comedy?
RG: Well the story is quite funny actually. I used to do a more conventional stand-up, talking about my girlfriend, generally moaning about life etc. but I hated it, it wasn’t me. I like weird humour a lot, anything that’s remotely different I admire. I find unintentional humour hilarious. I’ll laugh more at a gig when a comedian forgets his punchline, or deviates from script, or makes an odd facial expression, than I ever would at a well constructed observation. It’s not cruel. I’m just odd that way.
The character itself stemmed from my fury at being unable to write proper jokes, so this once time I had written a load of bad jokes in my joke book, and I mean terrible ones, and I was at the end of my tether with it, so I got drunk and decided to go on stage and read the “work-in-progress” jokes out. The audience love it. One year later here we are now.
People like Tony Law, Sam Simmons, Brian Gittins, Terry Alderton, and even aspects of Steve Martin have influenced me in my comedy. Anything different. Even less known stand-ups like Daniel Webster, Matthew Winning, and James Kirk, I find inspiring – anybody who thinks outside the box.
AD: I’ve seen a few clips of you performing musical comedy. Why don’t you do that anymore?
RG: Again, it wasn’t me. I wasn’t particularly good at it. I actually came second in a nationwide Universities Got Talent competition doing it but it was a transitional moment of trying to find my feet. I think you really need to be a master of your respective instrument to stand out, I wasn’t. I could thrash a few chords, that’s about it. I could get laughs doing it, but I wouldn’t exactly stick out in people’s minds or anything like that.
AD: Your routine can be quite unpredictable at times. Do you ever worry that the audience won’t buy into what you’re trying to do on stage? Do you any ideas on how to keep your act fresh?
RG: All the time. I think people sometime think it’s genuine and become apathetic more than anything. Pub gigs can sometimes be a nightmare, old-hat crowds and that who don’t expect anything unconventional. I still love it though in a weird way, just pushing the boundaries of weird until someone laughs. I cope well with silence sometimes, sending the audience deeper into confusion is my forte.
I keep my act fresh by exploring new ways to deconstruct the joke I guess. I’m always coming up with new ideas, new characters, new styles of delivery. The good thing about the Scottish scene is that it’s thriving with promoters who are willing to give you stage time to try out new things, and won’t hold it against you if it goes too wrong.
They all know my act is double edged-sword, a gamble as such. When the audience don’t get it, it falls completely flat, but when they do get it, they really get it! Luckily The Laughing Penguin Final was one of those nights.
AD: I’ve seen your act a couple of times now, firstly at the Laughing Horse Free Festival with your package show All The King’s Men. How was your time in Edinburgh? Did you see anyone in Scotland and think, ‘Wow, you’re going to be big’?
RG: My time in Edinburgh was great. It really gave me the stage time to hone my act, as well as performing with Matt, Stuart, and Chris – three guys who, at the time, has won/got really far in other New Act competitions. It was a nice collection of new Scottish talent.
Edinburgh is great for seeing people as well. I got see all my favourites – Simmons, Law, McTavish etc. as well as some acts I had never seen before like Axis of Awesome, Kevin Eldon, and Greg Davies, who all blew my mind.
There are so many acts at the Fringe who I saw and thought, “You’re going to be big”. I’m not saying this just because I was in a show with them but Matt [Winning], Stuart [Mitchell], and Chris [Scoular] all have what it takes; Matt is like a young Dan Antolpolski, surreal, full of energy, intensely clever, Stuart has the work ethic of a Grand National with some of the finest comedy writing I’ve seen in my short spell as a comedian, and Chris has a great stage presence, some lovely gags, and a great comedy mind – a connoisseur of the form if you will.
Elsewhere I saw The Comedy Zone with Davey See, Naz Osmanoglu, Ivo Graham, and Josh Widdicome and you could see that they were going places a mile off. Mark Nelson is a real talent, as is James Kirk (who won So You Think You’re Funny 2010), and Ross Main. As comperes, Tony Jameson and Gus Lymburn particularly impressed me.
AD: All The King’s Men [with Matthew Winning, Stuart Mitchell and Chris Scoular] was part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival at the Espionage venue – what do you think the free shows add to the festival?
RG: They add so much to the festival, primarily a cheap foundation for lesser known acts to be the given stage time in front of an appreciative audience, expand their fanbase, and learn a thing or two in the process. I think it epitomises the festival, and the hard work you need to go through if you want to make it as a comedian.
AD: Do you think your set’s developed over the past year, especially after performing every day at Espionage?
RG: I’ve actually been going just over a year now, and I think my set has changed drastically since then. I only started tackling anti-comedy around Christmas time last year. At first I use to do a schizophrenic thing, a real nutcase on stage who hadn’t a clue. This gradually faded with time. Then I use to do a weird thing. I’d pause for ages and deliver my material in a stilted and nasal fashion. This eventually wore off, as I lost interest in the stoic style. During the festival is where I particularly took off. This one time I just decided I was going to go mental and I came out full of energy, interacted with the audience, kicked the air, took notes, pretty much did anything that popped into my head. It was the best gig of my life, and pretty much got me to my current style.
AD: So what do you personally find funny?
RG: Natural humour and anything different. I love watching a comedian and being like “how the f*ck did a human mind come up with that?!” That’s not to say I don’t appreciate more standard forms of humour, I do, it’s just a personal preference. To come back to natural humour, I really enjoy shows like The Office, and Garth Marenghi, as well as the film This Is Spinal Tap. I can’t resist the mockumentaries!
AD: Finally, when can we see Richard Gadd next in the North East, and what can we expect from you in the future?
RG: Look out for the gigs with The Laughing Penguin – I’ve got a few of those after Christmas. Got a few offers from other promoters too who say they will get me down; I just need to get on that North East forum and let them know when I’m free!
My plans for the future are just to keep gigging and finding new ways to do comedy, and expand my profile and gig with lots of new people and promoters. I imagine I’ll be at the festival in some capacity next year so look out for that.