âA Funny Thing Keeps Happening In Front Of Meâ¦â
Friday, August 28, 2009
I had the pleasure chatting to Eddy Brimson early into his two-week run at the Comedy Store, and had put a truncated Q&A up on a page that now just directs traffic. Hereâs the story in full.
âMy father gave me two bits of advice,â Eddy Brimson informs me. âOne: Donât work for anybody else. And two: If a woman says ânoâ, she means ânoâ. However, if youâre both naked just tell her youâre an orphan and start crying. Theyâre the only two bits of advice he ever gave me and theyâve both stood me in very good stead over the years. The second one got me laid more times than I ever deserved to get laid.â
Hearing Papa Brimsonâs advice in Eddyâs cockney accent â reminiscent of Michael Caineâs âwork a fiddle; donât be greedyâ advice in Alfie â is making for an excellent afternoon of conversation, and Iâm not in the least bit surprised. I was, somewhat, when I first met Eddy Brimson, having only just seen him live for the first time. Because onstage, bald pate and âdo what you muppet Iâll cut yaâ cockney geezer accent, coupled with the publicity info that he is a âformer football hooliganâ, you canât help considering him a bit of a Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels-type villain. Intelligent and uncompromising, Brimson is a loud, shouty, brash lad on stage. But heâs hilarious, even at his most shocking. Initially, you expect jokes to stand over you and demand laughter with menaces. Instead, laughter flows effortlessly because each story has you seeing the world through his eyes. But heâs less boisterous in real life if you meet him backstage after a performance, his eyes shining as a truly sweet, soft-spoken and sincere bloke shakes your hand with both of his. You canât help but wonder how he was ever a football hooligan. âPeople always say the same thing,â Eddy confesses: ââYouâre a totally different person offstage to what you are onstage.ââ
The âfootball stuffâ was just ânormal, angry young ladâ behaviour from a long time ago, he insists. âI was a bit of an idiot, as most people are at that age. Iâve calmed down a lot since then. Iâm a lot more soft spoken. Iâm quite shy in a lot of ways.â Yeah. So. How was this man ever a football hooligan? Well, Eddyâs been lots of things: graphic designer, publicist for an anti-fox hunting collective, actor, television presenter, major suspect in a terrorism investigation. And with all that under his belt, it shouldnât be a surprise that heâs also an author.
Soccer to âem
âI usually get very bored, so I ended up writing seven books â four with my brother, and then three on my own about following England abroad â not about the football, but about the fans, because any sports fan will tell you: itâs not just about the game, itâs about everything that goes on with it.â However, as good as being a sports fan can be â going to brilliant places, being in great situations, having great fun â Eddy still managed to burn himself out and need a change of career. âIâm one of these guys who canât work for anybody else,â he says, in keeping with his fatherâs advice.
Growing up watching football from the late â70s, Eddy was in the thick of it in the late â70s and early â80s when being into football in England was very different to what it is now. There was a lot of âtroubleâ, which he likens to the âmods versus rockersâ clashes of the early â60s youth subcultures: âladsâ needing to join gangs, flex muscles and discover manhood. âYoung lads like to belong to something so itâs very easy to get drawn into that kind of thing. And when youâre a lad, itâs exciting.â But it got stupid when people started carrying knives. And then there were tragedies at Heysel (39 dead, over 600 injured after Liverpool supporters attacked Juventus supporters) and Hillsborough (96 dead, 766 injured from a human crush as too many fans tried to fit in too small a space).
âHillsborough wasnât to do with football violence, as such, but it kind of made people sit up and we felt at the time that something needed to be done, because they didnât really understand the problem,â Eddy says. âThere was a stereotypical image of what a football fan or a football hooligan was like and the reality of it was very different. I had my own business doing graphic design, and my brother, who was also involved in it, was a sergeant in the RAF. People who got involved in it werenât just idiots.â
Eddy and brother Dougie not only learnt from their experiences of hooliganism, they wrote books about them. Their first effort, Everywhere We Go, âblew the lid on what football is really about in the UK,â outlining just how organised football violence was. They also suggested ways in which the violence could be brought to an end. âMost of the stuff we suggested has been implemented,â Eddy reports. âWe had meetings with people high up and said what would have stopped us, and it worked.â
Eddyâs later solo efforts â books like Tear Gas And Ticket Touts and God Save The Team â were tour diaries of his following England abroad. âTheyâre funny, because following football is funny. Thatâs why blokes do it: to have a laugh.â Literary success led Eddy to the telly, with the documentary Teargas and Tantrums. âThe media have their own agendas before they set out,â he insists, so he took the opportunity of 1998 World Cup final in France to tell the real story. It became a top-selling release and led to other TV-presenting gigs. By this stage, Eddy had also established himself as an actor, having played a Hare Krishna devotee in Alas Smith And Jones and a proper scary villain on EastEnders with sundry appearances in Absolutely Fabulous, The Thin Blue Line, Hale & Pace, The Bill and Silent Witness. Although he scoffs at the term âactorâ. âIâve only ever played three things: a thug, a gay guy or a Hare Krishna,â Eddy begins, anticipating my next foolish question: âNot all three at the same time!â
Eddy made a promise to himself early on: âAs soon as someone says, âyouâve got a bald patch at the back,â itâs coming off.â And so it did. It was the late â80s and Eddy was 23 when he started shaving his head, âbefore Right Said Fred and all that malarkyâ. At that time, hardly anyone had a shaved head. So when Eddy, a martial arts enthusiast, started getting work as an extra, baldness and fitness set him up for thuggery, fight scenes and subsequent typecasting. But before the roles grew in significance to the point where heâd actually consider calling himself an actor, Eddy got bored with it, and with presenting. And then, he says, âstand-up comedy came around â by mistake.â
Gotta be joking
âI never in a million years thought I would be a stand-up comedian,â Eddy Brimson insists. âIâm not actually a genuinely funny guy.â I beg to differ, but Iâm willing to hear him out. Brimson reckons when he told his mates he was gonna do stand-up, their response was, âEd, you ainât funny!â Even when heâd gotten good enough to invite his martial arts dojo to come watch, the response of the dojo master was, âIâve seen Eddy before and heâs nothing like the person you see in here; heâs actually funny onstageâ. Anyone who actually does it will tell you: being a stand-up comic is very different to being the funny guy down at the pub. Eddy Brimson knows this. But heâs not afraid of an audience â as a former musician (bass player with The Morgans, one of the many mid-â90s English indie âbands most likely toâ) heâd had a lot of stage experience. And Eddyâs dad was a folk-singer who kept company with the likes of Jasper Carrott and Billy Connolly, so Eddy had been able to pick up the finer points of telling a good story and imbuing between-song patter with gags. Still, he insists, heâs not a naturally funny guy. âIâve got some very, very funny mates. When weâre in the pub, theyâre the ones telling the stories. Iâm listening.â And yet, a situation arose that get him interested enough to consider it: âCaroline, a friend of mine, had a leaflet she picked up at a local arts centre for a comedy course. One day in the pub, she said, âOh, you think youâre funny!â and gave it to me as a joke. And I thought, âIâll take that!â and slipped it into my back pocket, and managed to get onto that course.â
The comedy course, taught by a ârestingâ stand-up, essentially demonstrated a process and discipline to create humour out of everyday life. âIt taught me to sit down and start scripting comedy, to get the most out of the situation â which is why I like to do stories rather than âgag, gag, gagâ.â Lesson one was âwrite down ten topics that you find funny, whatever they are â farting, old people, kids â and then just write down why theyâre funny.â Lesson two was ânow stand up in front of the other ten people in the class and tell them.â That was the turning point: âactually being up thereâ. Thatâs how stand-up comedy is essentially different to âbeing funny with your mates in the pubâ: being able to make strangers laugh. âWhen theyâre not your mates, they might not get itâ.
At the end of the course, the class performed before an audience of family and friends. âWe all did a five-minute slot and it went really well. All of a sudden Iâm the new King of Comedy: go out and do some more gigs.â Many whoâve actually done it will tell you â if theyâre honest â the first gig is usually successful. You get through on fear and adrenalin. The audience, reminded by the MC that itâs the comicâs âfirst timeâ, go easy on you. You cane it, and youâre over the moon. Quite possibly, you convince yourself itâs a doddle and you relax before your next gig. Which is when youâre brought back down to earth. Thatâs certainly how it happened for Eddy. âSecond gig, in a little pub in Islington in London, audience of eight people, four of them with their back to you, not caring at all. I totally died in the arse.â
The pretenders give up at this point. Not Eddy. He was adamant that he had to prove to himself that he could make people he didnât know laugh. And he did. âAnd then once it gets hold of you, thatâs it. Youâve had it.â
(In)famous for 15 minutes
By âYouâve had it,â I assume Eddy means heâs utterly addicted to the âhighâ of having an audience laugh at things youâre saying to them. Itâs pretty addictive. But no, thatâs not the case for Eddy. âThis is quite a weird one for me,â he confesses, âbecause I donât think I see it in the same way as most people. Itâs a fantastic feeling, but for me itâs more a relief feeling that Iâve done what these people have paid to come and see. Donât get me wrong â itâs the best thing Iâve ever done. I was driving around this morning, thinking, âThis is mental: Iâm on the other side of the world talking to people and Iâm getting paid.â This is how I earn my living. I still donât understand how that actually works.â
I reckon itâs from the years of football hooliganism â the ârushâ of surging energy of crowds united with a common mindset â that diminishes the buzz of live performance. And perhaps the addictive aspect of performing, for Eddy, is more like the addictive aspect of, say, carnival rides like the rollercoaster: it is truly scary, and what people who âenjoyâ those rides actually âenjoyâ is the cessation of fear. They are addicted to having survived it. Because Eddy admits to having nerves before every performance: âI pace up and down and, without being too crass about it, go to the toilet quite a bit before a gig. It really scares me!â But he wonât relax during a performance, even if, he says, he knows heâs âgot the crowd by the nutsâ. Instead, heâs every vigilant because the gig âcould go tits-up at any momentâ. Itâs only after heâs come off stage that he can heave a sigh of relief, relax, and have a drink.
However, no matter how nervous beforehand, no matter how horrible the gig during, Eddy Brimson will deliver. He proved this not just to himself by enduring the most horrible gig heâs ever had, at the most significant point of his career. It was in front of 360 people at a big club in England. The MC had just announced him. He came on stage. âI hadnât even got to the mic and someone shouted out, âYouâre gonna be shit!ââ Somehow, the entire audience like the sound of this and managed to reach consensus in next to no time at all joining in with the chant. âI hadnât even started,â Eddy says, âand I had to stay up there for 15 minutes cos I thought, âI canât walk off; Iâll never get a gig with that promoterâ.â After heâd finished his set, Eddy walked straight out the door.
The gig was for one of the Jongleurs venues â Jongleurs being a chain of comedy clubs that still thrives in Britain. At the time, they were also a management company. So of course there were Very Important People in the audience. And Eddy wanted to impress them. Instead he clung tenaciously while an audience hated him for a quarter of an hour that seemed to last an eternity. âThatâs a big kick in the nuts for the career before itâs even started,â Eddy says. âI thought, âIâm never gonna work for them again, everâ.â Two weeks later, they called him into a meeting and said, âweâve seen you; we know youâve got potential and jokes, but if you can stay up for 15 minutes in front of that, then youâve got the balls to go with it. Weâd like to manage you.â
âThat was it,â Eddy smiles. âCareer take-off.â
Shock of the nude
The Jongleurs gig might have been the most horrible, but it wasnât the scariest gig Eddyâs ever faced. Surprisingly â given the manâs pre-performance nerves â Eddyâs most challenging gig, instigated by a group from Boston at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, was a performance undertaken âstark bollock naked,â according to Brimson. Eddy was in Edinburgh doing his own show, but this mob were inviting different performers to take part in their showcase-type revue. âThey were struggling to get people to do it, for obvious reasons.â That Eddy was willing to bare all before a Guilded Balloon audience of 260 people âsurprised an awful lot of peopleâ, but his thinking was, âif I can do this, I can do anythingâ.
So how did it turn out? âNone of them were naked,â Eddy says, a little disappointed to discover the female performers not only wore clown wigs, they also hid their nipples behind boas (perhaps this prevented him from being able to cry and declare himself an orphan?) What was more likely to reduce him to tears was the realisation that heâd be the only performer actually 100 percent totally nude. Still, he got through his ten-minute set, somehow, even if it remains âthe most surreal experience I ever had in my life.â Not least of all because the 260-seater venue contained an audience of merely six. With only a couple of them laughing
âOne bloke was quite obviously a pervert,â Eddie recalls. âThis old boy, must have been about 65 years old, cravat and smoking jacket, with his legs crossed, sitting all on his own at the front. The first thing I said to him was, âMate, there is no one within eight rows of you. Did you know people were going to be naked?â He looked right back at me and said, âOh yes!â A proper perve! Heâd just come to have a look. Fair play to him!â
Not everyone was as keen as the 65-year-old perv in the smoking jacket and cravat, though. Eddyâs wife, back in London, for example, did not take the news well. âWhen she realised I was serious, she really was not happy. But she was so far away that there was nothing she could do about it.â Apart from his missus, Eddy only told the people he was sharing a house with that he was taking the gig. Other people were disappointed when they found out, saying, âWhy didnât you tell us you were doing it? We would have come! We thought nobody was going to do that gig, otherwise we would have been there.â Eddyâs response? âThatâs exactly why I didnât bloody tell you! I didnât want you lot coming around, seeing what I ainât got!â But heâs glad he did it. âItâs one of those things. Itâs a life experience, isnât it!â
Despite the experience, and the 15 minutes of Jongleurs hell, there are, surprisingly, still aspects of performance that faze Eddy Brimson. Heâs not so keen on getting heckled, for example. It doesnât happen often, though â probably given Eddyâs physique, demeanour, subject matter and manner. But when it does get rowdy, heâs got an amazingly effective though very unorthodox âcomebackâ: âI usually go, âShhhh â letâs all be quiet, then we can listen and get on with itâ.â It works very well, Brimson insists: âItâs the best heckle put-down Iâve ever heard because all of a sudden everyone goes, âOh, okay, what have you got to say, mate?ââ
The reason it works, the reason Eddy doesnât get heckled, is because Eddy is in control, and he lets the audience know that. That donât necessarily consciously realise this â but the fact that potential discomfort is dispelled leaves them able to continue enjoying the show rather than interrupting it or ignoring it. Hereâs an example: the first night I see Eddy Brimson, he opens with a simple statement. âIâm a rude comic,â he says. âWeâre all adults, you donât mind a bit of rude stuff.â This is to prepare a cold or unfamiliar audience for a hard-hitting joke that may well be a little hard to take early on. âThen if they go, âoooh!â the get-out is very simple: âYou said you didnât mind rude stuff!â And everyone will laugh, because it takes the blame off me. All of a sudden, the doors open and youâre in. It sets the tone and at the same time says, âthis is a comedy club; these are jokes; letâs not take it too seriously. But youâve let me in, so here we go.â Youâre away because everyoneâs comfortable.â
Given all of that, how can anything ever go wrong on stage? This is comedy. Thereâs always something. âYou know what itâs like,â Eddy concurs. âEvery comic will tell you this: you can make 260 people laugh, but if thereâs one sour-faced bastard sitting in the corner youâll come off stage and say, âDid you see that geezer who wasnât laughingâ¦?â Forget about the other 259. âDid you see that geezerâ¦? Cheeky sod!â And thatâs the one you walk away thinking about. Forget the rest. We must all be depressives; there must be something wrong with us to do this.â
There wasnât anything wrong the night I saw Brimson. And if there was one geezer not laughing in the Comedy Store that night, I didnât spot him. Eddy took the stage confidently, asked us if we could handle his rudeness, did the gag, shocked us, pointed out that heâd warned us, made us laugh, won us over and took us on that journey, sharing his disdain for kids and the way they ruin parentsâ lives, regretting you can no longer punch them â yours or someone elseâs. A later routine had him jumping out of the bushes in a gimp mask in order to scare kids â his re-enactment involving him striking a pose somewhere between Steven Berkoffâs impersonation of a skinhead and Berkoffâs impersonation of a skinheadâs Rottweiler. Later still, he confessed his own shock, surprise and disappointment about having to come to terms with aging because â although you wonât believe it to look at him â he reckons heâs now 45 years old and feeling every year of it.
Theyâre great jokes. Hilarious. The funny thing is, there is so much truth to them. Hard to believe, but Eddy really is 45. The story of him leaping out of the bushes in a gimp mask to frighten the kids, is also true. What he exaggerates, to a degree, is how much he dislikes kids. He doesnât hate them. He just doesnât want any.
âIâm genuinely happily married. Iâve been married for 13 years now and my wife and I have always been in a position that weâve never wanted kids. But I get on really well with kids: I come from a big family and all that. Itâs just a decision weâve taken, and we get a lot of pressure about it, because weâre happy together and well set-up.â
The routine about hating kids came as a reaction to comics who have kids and end up doing material about it. âI thought, âno, hang on, letâs have a go at this from the other angleâ,â Eddy explains of his material about not having kids. âThe weird thing is the amount of parents that get it. Itâs not an anti-kid thing, itâs an anti-parenthood thing. So many parents come up to me at the end of gigs and say, âthat stuffâs spot-on; you must have kids to know that stuffâ, and itâs like, âno, I just observe how bad your life can be at timesâ. Thatâs where that all comes from.â
Kids âwind upâ Eddy âsomething rottenâ â but itâs mostly down to âbad parentingâ, he reckons. âI see so much of it around. Itâs there in front of you and itâs what a lot of people are thinking. Even parents think about it. Of course you canât punch kids, but even parents get annoyed at other peopleâs kids.â Eddy liken kids to farts â âyour own ones are greatâ â but he actually gets on fine with them. âPeople think if you havenât got kids you canât have a relationship with children When my goddaughter tells me she loves me, my heart strings go. But ten minutes later, if she starts playing up with her mum, I can just go, âYou know what, Anita? Iâm gonna shoot down to the pub, have a beer and leave you to it!ââ
Telling it how he sees it
Of course Eddy has an entire show about âthe joys of not having childrenâ. Itâs called Kids! I Couldnât Eat A Whole One and he hopes to tour it in Australia next year. But there's more: Kids!â¦ was a recent London show. Back in 2005 his debut Edinburgh Fringe show was called Up the Anti, and would also like to bring that show to Australia.
âItâs about a true thing that happened to me â I was raided by the police at home once, because I was very politically active. Itâs about MI-5, being under surveillance for over a year, and all the stuff that went on behind that. I was actually arrested on suspicion of terrorism. That was the charge. Obviously, I didnât do itâ¦â
I have a
theory as to why Eddy Brimson was under suspicion: with bushier
eyebrows, heâd be a dead ringer for âThe Hoodâ â the bald villain that
features in so many episodes of The Thunderbirds.
âCould be,â Eddy says. âIâm certainly not an Osama Bin Laden look-alike.â
While theâre the two shows heâd most like to tour, it still is only the tip of iceberg, according to Eddy, who has âa lot more stories to tellâ. That, he says, is why heâs a storytelling comic rather than I think thatâs why Iâm a storyteller rather than âa gag-merchantâ: because âa lot of stuff happenedâ. Clearly, Eddy always has been a teller of funny stories â from his books about his life as a football hooligan, to the stand-up comedy about his life. As far as heâs concerned, his material is forever revealing itself to him. âItâs all happening in front of you. If you open your eyes, all of a sudden you see it.â