“My father gave me two bits of advice,” Eddy Brimson informs me. “One: Don’t work for anybody else. And two: If a woman says ‘no’, she means ‘no’. However, if you’re both naked just tell her you’re an orphan and start crying. They’re the only two bits of advice he ever gave me and they’ve 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.”
Hearing Papa Brimson’s advice in Eddy’s cockney accent – reminiscent of Michael Caine’s “work a fiddle; don’t be greedy” advice in Alfie – is making for an excellent afternoon of conversation, and I’m 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 ‘do what you muppet I’ll cut ya’ cockney geezer accent, coupled with the publicity info that he is a ‘former football hooligan’, you can’t 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 he’s 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 he’s 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 can’t help but wonder how he was ever a football hooligan. “People always say the same thing,” Eddy confesses: “‘You’re a totally different person offstage to what you are onstage.’”
The “football stuff” was just “normal, angry young lad” behaviour from a long time ago, he insists. “I was a bit of an idiot, as most people are at that age. I’ve calmed down a lot since then. I’m a lot more soft spoken. I’m quite shy in a lot of ways.” Yeah. So. How was this man ever a football hooligan? Well, Eddy’s 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 shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s also an author.
Soccer to ’em
“I usually get very bored, so I ended up writing seven books – four with my brother, and then three on my own about following England abroad – not about the football, but about the fans, because any sports fan will tell you: it’s not just about the game, it’s about everything that goes on with it.” However, as good as being a sports fan can be – going to brilliant places, being in great situations, having great fun – Eddy still managed to burn himself out and need a change of career. “I’m one of these guys who can’t work for anybody else,” he says, in keeping with his father’s advice.
Growing up watching football from the late ’70s, Eddy was in the thick of it in the late ’70s and early ’80s when being into football in England was very different to what it is now. There was a lot of “trouble”, which he likens to the ‘mods versus rockers’ clashes of the early ’60s youth subcultures: “lads” needing to join gangs, flex muscles and discover manhood. “Young lads like to belong to something so it’s very easy to get drawn into that kind of thing. And when you’re a lad, it’s exciting.” 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).
“Hillsborough wasn’t 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 didn’t really understand the problem,” Eddy says. “There 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 weren’t just idiots.”
Eddy and brother Dougie not only learnt from their experiences of hooliganism, they wrote books about them. Their first effort, Everywhere We Go, “blew the lid on what football is really about in the UK,” outlining just how organised football violence was. They also suggested ways in which the violence could be brought to an end. “Most of the stuff we suggested has been implemented,” Eddy reports. “We had meetings with people high up and said what would have stopped us, and it worked.”
Eddy’s later solo efforts – books like Tear Gas And Ticket Touts and God Save The Team – were tour diaries of his following England abroad. “They’re funny, because following football is funny. That’s why blokes do it: to have a laugh.” Literary success led Eddy to the telly, with the documentary Teargas and Tantrums. “The media have their own agendas before they set out,” 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 ‘actor’. “I’ve only ever played three things: a thug, a gay guy or a Hare Krishna,” Eddy begins, anticipating my next foolish question: “Not all three at the same time!”
Eddy made a promise to himself early on: “As soon as someone says, ‘you’ve got a bald patch at the back,’ it’s coming off.” And so it did. It was the late ’80s and Eddy was 23 when he started shaving his head, “before Right Said Fred and all that malarky”. 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 he’d actually consider calling himself an actor, Eddy got bored with it, and with presenting. And then, he says, “stand-up comedy came around – by mistake.”
Gotta be joking
“I never in a million years thought I would be a stand-up comedian,” Eddy Brimson insists. “I’m not actually a genuinely funny guy.” I beg to differ, but I’m willing to hear him out. Brimson reckons when he told his mates he was gonna do stand-up, their response was, “Ed, you ain’t funny!” Even when he’d gotten good enough to invite his martial arts dojo to come watch, the response of the dojo master was, “I’ve seen Eddy before and he’s nothing like the person you see in here; he’s actually funny onstage”. 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 he’s not afraid of an audience – as a former musician (bass player with The Morgans, one of the many mid-’90s English indie ‘bands most likely to’) he’d had a lot of stage experience. And Eddy’s 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, he’s not a naturally funny guy. “I’ve got some very, very funny mates. When we’re in the pub, they’re the ones telling the stories. I’m listening.” And yet, a situation arose that get him interested enough to consider it: “Caroline, 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, ‘Oh, you think you’re funny!’ and gave it to me as a joke. And I thought, ‘I’ll take that!’ and slipped it into my back pocket, and managed to get onto that course.”
The comedy course, taught by a ‘resting’ stand-up, essentially demonstrated a process and discipline to create humour out of everyday life. “It taught me to sit down and start scripting comedy, to get the most out of the situation – which is why I like to do stories rather than ‘gag, gag, gag’.” Lesson one was “write down ten topics that you find funny, whatever they are – farting, old people, kids – and then just write down why they’re funny.” Lesson two was “now stand up in front of the other ten people in the class and tell them.” That was the turning point: “actually being up there”. That’s how stand-up comedy is essentially different to “being funny with your mates in the pub”: being able to make strangers laugh. “When they’re not your mates, they might not get it”.
At the end of the course, the class performed before an audience of family and friends. “We all did a five-minute slot and it went really well. All of a sudden I’m the new King of Comedy: go out and do some more gigs.” Many who’ve actually done it will tell you – if they’re honest – the first gig is usually successful. You get through on fear and adrenalin. The audience, reminded by the MC that it’s the comic’s ‘first time’, go easy on you. You cane it, and you’re over the moon. Quite possibly, you convince yourself it’s a doddle and you relax before your next gig. Which is when you’re brought back down to earth. That’s certainly how it happened for Eddy. “Second 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.”
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 didn’t know laugh. And he did. “And then once it gets hold of you, that’s it. You’ve had it.”
(In)famous for 15 minutes
By “You’ve had it,” I assume Eddy means he’s utterly addicted to the ‘high’ of having an audience laugh at things you’re saying to them. It’s pretty addictive. But no, that’s not the case for Eddy. “This is quite a weird one for me,” he confesses, “because I don’t think I see it in the same way as most people. It’s a fantastic feeling, but for me it’s more a relief feeling that I’ve done what these people have paid to come and see. Don’t get me wrong – it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I was driving around this morning, thinking, ‘This is mental: I’m on the other side of the world talking to people and I’m getting paid.’ This is how I earn my living. I still don’t understand how that actually works.”
I reckon it’s from the years of football hooliganism – the ‘rush’ of surging energy of crowds united with a common mindset – 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 ‘enjoy’ those rides actually ‘enjoy’ is the cessation of fear. They are addicted to having survived it. Because Eddy admits to having nerves before every performance: “I 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!” But he won’t relax during a performance, even if, he says, he knows he’s “got the crowd by the nuts”. Instead, he’s every vigilant because the gig “could go tits-up at any moment”. It’s only after he’s 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 he’s 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. “I hadn’t even got to the mic and someone shouted out, ‘You’re gonna be shit!’” 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. “I hadn’t even started,” Eddy says, “and I had to stay up there for 15 minutes cos I thought, ‘I can’t walk off; I’ll never get a gig with that promoter’.” After he’d finished his set, Eddy walked straight out the door.
The gig was for one of the Jongleurs venues – 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. “That’s a big kick in the nuts for the career before it’s even started,” Eddy says. “I thought, ‘I’m never gonna work for them again, ever’.” Two weeks later, they called him into a meeting and said, “we’ve seen you; we know you’ve got potential and jokes, but if you can stay up for 15 minutes in front of that, then you’ve got the balls to go with it. We’d like to manage you.”
“That was it,” Eddy smiles. “Career take-off.”
Shock of the nude
The Jongleurs gig might have been the most horrible, but it wasn’t the scariest gig Eddy’s ever faced. Surprisingly – given the man’s pre-performance nerves – Eddy’s most challenging gig, instigated by a group from Boston at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, was a performance undertaken “stark bollock naked,” 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. “They were struggling to get people to do it, for obvious reasons.” That Eddy was willing to bare all before a Guilded Balloon audience of 260 people “surprised an awful lot of people”, but his thinking was, “if I can do this, I can do anything”.
So how did it turn out? “None of them were naked,” 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 he’d be the only performer actually 100 percent totally nude. Still, he got through his ten-minute set, somehow, even if it remains “the most surreal experience I ever had in my life.” Not least of all because the 260-seater venue contained an audience of merely six. With only a couple of them laughing
“One bloke was quite obviously a pervert,” Eddie recalls. “This 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, ‘Mate, there is no one within eight rows of you. Did you know people were going to be naked?’ He looked right back at me and said, ‘Oh yes!’ A proper perve! He’d just come to have a look. Fair play to him!”
Not everyone was as keen as the 65-year-old perv in the smoking jacket and cravat, though. Eddy’s wife, back in London, for example, did not take the news well. “When 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.” 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, “Why didn’t 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.” Eddy’s response? “That’s exactly why I didn’t bloody tell you! I didn’t want you lot coming around, seeing what I ain’t got!” But he’s glad he did it. “It’s one of those things. It’s a life experience, isn’t it!”
Despite the experience, and the 15 minutes of Jongleurs hell, there are, surprisingly, still aspects of performance that faze Eddy Brimson. He’s not so keen on getting heckled, for example. It doesn’t happen often, though – probably given Eddy’s physique, demeanour, subject matter and manner. But when it does get rowdy, he’s got an amazingly effective though very unorthodox ‘comeback’: “I usually go, ‘Shhhh – let’s all be quiet, then we can listen and get on with it’.” It works very well, Brimson insists: “It’s the best heckle put-down I’ve ever heard because all of a sudden everyone goes, ‘Oh, okay, what have you got to say, mate?’”
The reason it works, the reason Eddy doesn’t get heckled, is because Eddy is in control, and he lets the audience know that. That don’t necessarily consciously realise this – but the fact that potential discomfort is dispelled leaves them able to continue enjoying the show rather than interrupting it or ignoring it. Here’s an example: the first night I see Eddy Brimson, he opens with a simple statement. “I’m a rude comic,” he says. “We’re all adults, you don’t mind a bit of rude stuff.” 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. “Then if they go, ‘oooh!’ the get-out is very simple: ‘You said you didn’t mind rude stuff!’ And everyone will laugh, because it takes the blame off me. All of a sudden, the doors open and you’re in. It sets the tone and at the same time says, ‘this is a comedy club; these are jokes; let’s not take it too seriously. But you’ve let me in, so here we go.’ You’re away because everyone’s comfortable.”
Given all of that, how can anything ever go wrong on stage? This is comedy. There’s always something. “You know what it’s like,” Eddy concurs. “Every comic will tell you this: you can make 260 people laugh, but if there’s one sour-faced bastard sitting in the corner you’ll come off stage and say, ‘Did you see that geezer who wasn’t laughing…?’ Forget about the other 259. ‘Did you see that geezer…? Cheeky sod!’ And that’s 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.”
There wasn’t anything wrong the night I saw Brimson. And if there was one geezer not laughing in the Comedy Store that night, I didn’t spot him. Eddy took the stage confidently, asked us if we could handle his rudeness, did the gag, shocked us, pointed out that he’d warned us, made us laugh, won us over and took us on that journey, sharing his disdain for kids and the way they ruin parents’ lives, regretting you can no longer punch them – yours or someone else’s. A later routine had him jumping out of the bushes in a gimp mask in order to scare kids – his re-enactment involving him striking a pose somewhere between Steven Berkoff’s impersonation of a skinhead and Berkoff’s impersonation of a skinhead’s Rottweiler. Later still, he confessed his own shock, surprise and disappointment about having to come to terms with aging because – although you won’t believe it to look at him – he reckons he’s now 45 years old and feeling every year of it.
They’re 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 doesn’t hate them. He just doesn’t want any.
“I’m genuinely happily married. I’ve been married for 13 years now and my wife and I have always been in a position that we’ve never wanted kids. But I get on really well with kids: I come from a big family and all that. It’s just a decision we’ve taken, and we get a lot of pressure about it, because we’re happy together and well set-up.”
The routine about hating kids came as a reaction to comics who have kids and end up doing material about it. “I thought, ‘no, hang on, let’s have a go at this from the other angle’,” Eddy explains of his material about not having kids. “The weird thing is the amount of parents that get it. It’s not an anti-kid thing, it’s an anti-parenthood thing. So many parents come up to me at the end of gigs and say, ‘that stuff’s spot-on; you must have kids to know that stuff’, and it’s like, ‘no, I just observe how bad your life can be at times’. That’s where that all comes from.”
Kids “wind up” Eddy “something rotten” – but it’s mostly down to “bad parenting”, he reckons. “I see so much of it around. It’s there in front of you and it’s what a lot of people are thinking. Even parents think about it. Of course you can’t punch kids, but even parents get annoyed at other people’s kids.” Eddy liken kids to farts – “your own ones are great” – but he actually gets on fine with them. “People think if you haven’t got kids you can’t 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, ‘You know what, Anita? I’m gonna shoot down to the pub, have a beer and leave you to it!’”
Telling it how he sees it
Of course Eddy has an entire show about “the joys of not having children”. It’s called Kids! I Couldn’t Eat A Whole One and he hopes to tour it in Australia next year. But there's more: Kids!… 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.
“It’s about a true thing that happened to me – I was raided by the police at home once, because I was very politically active. It’s 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 didn’t do it…”
I have a
theory as to why Eddy Brimson was under suspicion: with bushier
eyebrows, he’d be a dead ringer for ‘The Hood’ – the bald villain that
features in so many episodes of The Thunderbirds.
“Could be,” Eddy says. “I’m certainly not an Osama Bin Laden look-alike.”
While the’re the two shows he’d most like to tour, it still is only the tip of iceberg, according to Eddy, who has “a lot more stories to tell”. That, he says, is why he’s a storytelling comic rather than I think that’s why I’m a storyteller rather than “a gag-merchant”: because “a lot of stuff happened”. Clearly, Eddy always has been a teller of funny stories – from his books about his life as a football hooligan, to the stand-up comedy about his life. As far as he’s concerned, his material is forever revealing itself to him. “It’s all happening in front of you. If you open your eyes, all of a sudden you see it.”