Image: Andy Hollingworth
Silky is a stand-up comedian from Liverpool who this year celebrates 20 years in comedy. He talks to Giggle Beats about two decades as a stand-up – from his first ever gig alongside Bill Bailey at the age of 18 to this year’s solo show, Tribute Act – as we look at the ethos behind his work, music in comedy, the Edinburgh Fringe and more.
Hi Silky. You started doing comedy at the age of 18 – how did that happen?
I was blackmailed by a friend – who thought I was funnier than I did – into entering the BBC New Comedy Award. The first gig was at St. Andrew’s in Scotland in October of ’94 – 20 years later this year. Julian Barratt was opening, Ricky Grover compering and Bill Bailey headlining – in at the deep end. It was tremendous fun.
The final was my fourth gig, and Dan Kitson was in the final; Lee Mack was in the final; Julian Barratt was in the final; Viv Gee – it was wonderful. Kind of a vintage year in that most of us are still doing comedy.
What kind of material were you doing?
I’d just had a kidney infection owing to a fall where I was sober, and managed to land on the small of my back on to a concrete step, and put one of my kidneys out of action. So there was a lot of vivid purple piss and to get that sorted out I had to by having a camera down the eye of ‘it’. They sent me a leaflet in the post to make the appointment saying useful things like, ‘If at any point you feel discomfort do let us know.’ And I thought, ‘If you’re putting a camera down there, and I feel discomfort, you’ll know when I bite you on the head.’
When did the music come in then?
I’d always played in bands – I’d always been musical – so it kind of gradually came with. The first few gigs I did I played the Celtic drum on stage. I’ve always woven it in. I’d like to do more music [on stage] – the next show is going to be about more music. I always intend to do more but I just get talking.
Even the preview you saw, the guitar was supposed to open, middle and close it and I just got carried away talking to people – so I should probably not talk to anyone until I’ve done two songs.
I suppose that comes with your background as a compere…
No, I just like talking to people!
You do seem a lot more comfortable chatting than a lot of comedians, though…
I know that it’s not about me. I mean, I can bring something to a room but everyone brings something to a room – so if you can find a sample of what the audience are bringing to the room then it enriches the gig. I don’t like it when it’s just a one-way street; you might as well put a DVD on. Everyone can be an uploader as well as a downloader.
You’re in Edinburgh in August for the Fringe – what’s your plan?
I’m doing the music for Martin Mor’s kids’ show every morning at 11am, so that’s going to be firstly a lot of fun, as he’s a funny, funny man, and it’ll be nice just playing music for an hour every day. I’m doing last year’s show, It Was This Show Or Have Kids, every day at 12.15pm on the Free Fringe, and then the rest of the day I’ll be working on ideas, honing and refining the show that I’ll do at half ten every night at The Stand. Silky: Tribute Act.
I’ve seen your new show, but tell me about it in your own words if you can…
Well, the show you’ve seen isn’t quite the show you’ll see in Edinburgh. No show is the same two nights’ running for me. I want to ideally play ten songs over an hour and talk between the songs, and at some point I’ll get there, where I’ve got ten songs in a set list, but I do really get distracted very easily by other people’s lives.
If you go to take a punt on a comedy show and someone just tells you about their life for an hour it’s a bit one-sided that conversation. It’s a bit self-indulgent. And comedians are needy at the best of times, so I need to remind myself that it’s not all about me. The best way to do that is by helping the audience to have fun with their own lives.
The new show does have a certain structure to it – the ‘Boys of Summer’ song…
Yeah, but it might not [be the focal point] by the time I get to Edinburgh with it. I know what I want to talk about, but it’s finding the words for something that can’t be expressed – and I don’t know how I’m going to do that, but I’m going to have fun trying.
Three years ago you took your first show to Edinburgh, in your 18th year as a stand-up – why did it take you so long to do a Fringe show?
I wasn’t any good before that. I think what I wanted to do was, rather than go and write a new show every year and do that, I wanted to have a familiar vibe to all the shows that’s – I suppose – my voice, if you want to sound twatty. Just get people to buy into that and then come and see what I do – and if I entertained someone last year I’m likely to entertain them again and hopefully they’ll tell their friends.
They are quite personal shows, aren’t they?
It’s got to be personal because so much of circuit comedy is just people reeling off jokes they don’t care about anymore. It’s just that these are the words they say to get their rent paid. I’m in the very fortunate position that I don’t have to do that, and I can experiment and explore and try to find different fun things to say and tit around with. It’s a very serious interview, isn’t it?
What I find quite interesting about you is that you’re very flexible as an act; you seem to be able to play pretty much any room, from a comedy club bill, to a rowdy stag party, to a theatre show. And there’s something about your turn of phrase that’s quite theatrical…
Thank you – I appreciate that. I don’t want to expand to fill the available space but I do like to play the room. I don’t want to phone in a gig – and I’m fortunate in that the gigs I play are supportive comedy environments.
You can also make a supportive comedy environment with a little bit of tweaking, and I’ve got the experience to do that – whereas someone who’s not spent 20 years eating meat in bread by neon light, and devaluating all their friendships and relationships for the love of an audience over actual kindness, might not have that experience… The losers! The jerks! Who are you with your happiness and your pension?
Your 2013 show, It Was This Show Or Have Kids, is all about that – deciding where your priorities lie between family and comedy…
What I’d like to do, ideally, is do fewer gigs for more money, but I really enjoy performing so there’s got to be a paradigm shift…
You need things that will work for you while you sleep. It’s good to have clips on YouTube, but it might not drive people to your shows – unless it goes viral. But there’s so much stuff on YouTube and people just want cats, and people falling over, and people getting a garden hose in the nut suck – and I’ll never be as funny as a garden hose to the nut sack.
Do you want mainstream success? Are you satisfied with your status in comedy?
I don’t know what my status is in comedy because I don’t talk about myself behind my back. I don’t know.
You’ve got the support of a lot of high-profile comics – John Bishop describes you as “a very, very funny fella”.
Yeah, but a lot of high-profile people said how great Hitler was – so you can’t believe people. It’s nice when they do say that, and hopefully I can use that as leverage to convince people who wouldn’t otherwise see the show to buy a ticket… It’s about building that fan base on repaid trust.
What’s happening after Edinburgh? Are you writing a new show every year now?
Pretty much, yeah. I enjoy the festival immensely; I don’t enjoy the twattery but I do enjoy the society. I enjoy the creative flux; it’s nice to be around creative people, and the ones who aren’t panicking can be exceptionally rewarding company. Because it’s very easy to get lost in the bullshit, and spend a month north of the border staring up your own arsehole with your buttocks comfortably round your own neck.
Silky: Tribute Act, The Stand 4, Edinburgh, 31 July – 24 August, 10.30pm, 8pm, edfringe.com