An Interview with Steve Gribbin

This weekend, Steve Gribbin will be headlining the Monkey Barrel Comedy night in Edinburgh –  the Mumble managed to catch a few words with the fellow… 


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Hiya, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
I was born & brought up in the North Liverpool suburb of Waterloo, named after the famous battle, next door to Crosby, the third most Catholic place in England! It’s also the traditional seaside destination for North Liverpoolians, although if you swim in the River Mersey you would need a Black Armband! Nowadays I live in the SE London Borough of Lewisham in a part of it called Ladyell, which is being rapidly overrun by bearded hipsters and has six artisan coffee shops to very person, and some very nice ironic Victorian moustaches

When did you first realise you were, well, funny?
It was in a Nativity play at my Junior school, St Edmund’s, Waterloo, when I was about 10 years old. I was one of the Three Shepherds, and I had a line that said “Hark! I hear The Angel of The Lord in the distance!”, but on the word “distance” my voice suddenly went up three octaves and the whole audience fell about laughing. Even though I was mortified, I can still remember the feeling that I had stumbled on something. That laughter was like catnip. Mrs O’Shaughnessy, the Drama teacher, was apoplectic with rage, which was another plus

Who are your comedy idols?
Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson and Alexei Sayle are my Comedy Holy Trinity, but I also love Steve Martin, Woody Allen, Mort Sahl, Mark Steel, Mark Thomas, Jeremy Hardy, Bill Bailey, Tim Vine, Bill Hicks, Linda Smith, Victoria Wood, Zoe Lyons, and George Formby. It was really Alexei Sayle that got me into comedy in the first place…seeing him in Edinburgh in 1982 blew my mind, he was like a coiled spring of righteous rage with all this Surrealist stuff going on as well

Your first forays into comedy began in the early 80’s SKINT VIDEO, can you tell us about the project?
Well, it wasn’t really a “project”, as such, it was just something I fell into by accident! When I was the lead singer in bands playing in Liverpool I often used to cover broken strings, false starts, endless tuning up etc…with little jokes, and I discovered that I quite enjoyed it. Skint Video started as an attempt to gain a precious Equity Card, because I really wanted to be an actor, but after I had done about 12 gigs, I thought, sod being told what to do by a poncy Director… in comedy you can do what you like, so I decided to go for it full time. We started life as a sketch duo, way back when sketches were about as fashionable as crocs are now, but we eventually developed the musical side of it as well, and began to spread our wings, touring constantly throughout Britain and Ireland. We felt part of a movement, really, “Alternative Cabaret”, which then morphed into “Alternative Comedy”, was just a reaction against all those reactionary frilly-shirted racist comics that had dominated our TV screens for decades. We saw ourselves in direct opposition to those wankers. My proudest moment as Skint Video was when Harold Pinter told us to “get the fuck out of my dressing room”, and he din’t even pause

Almost 35 years later, how has your approach to comedy changed, if at all?
Well, I still do get nervous before a performance, but now instead of ten thousand butterflies in the stomach which then turns into the obligatory pre-gig “comedy ablution”, my nervousness manifests itself in tetchiness and a sort of pre-show “trance” where I try not to think of anything, just let my mind go blank, like a contestant on “The Apprentice.” As to the writing, I just try and write something that makes me laugh, although the fervent hope is that the audience may be induced to guffaw also. The subject matter has not really changed, I am always trying to “punch up” at the rich and powerful, and Evertonians. One thing that has changed is that I am much more open to being silly and stupid onstage than I used to be. If you’re gonna be onstage, I think you should be prepared to look a prat. Luckily, my hair has decided to f*** off and give me no choice about that!

What is is about performing live you love the most – I mean 3000 gigs & counting, come on, you must love it?
The live gig is still the arena that matters, in terms of the relationship between the performer and the audience, which TV can never really capture. The feeling that anything that happens is happening right here, right now and can never be replicated, is a powerful one. It’s like the feeling you have when you are in the crowd of a huge gig, a sort of current that runs through the audience. And that laughter is STILL like catnip!

What are the differences between regional comedy & that of London?
That’s an interesting one. In the pre-alt.com days, of course, there were very strong regional differences, but I think TV and the Internet have smoothed those out to a certain extent. Where I do think it is noticeable is if a London-based comic keeps going on about “The Tube” and “Oyster Cards” in front of a Newcastle audience, then they may get a little pissed off

What does Steve Gribbin like to do when he’s not being funny?
I am a very keen swimmer, like to go every day if I can, I read a lot of books, currently reading a book about North Korea called “The Impossible State”, plus Ray Davies’s new autobiography “Americana” and a fascinating book about football called “And The Sun Now Shines”, which is brilliant. I also have my golden Labrador called Pablo, who I walk every day, although he is so badly trained that he has got me punched a few times. I also have a 6-piece Country band called The True Believers, for whom I write all the songs, sing lead and play rhythm guitar

You are soon to be headlining the Monkey Barrel in Edinburgh : have you done it before?
Yep, did it in January, and had an absolute blast!

How do you find performing at the mega-mash-up that is the Edinburgh Fringe?
It’s such a great feeling to put together a full one-hour one-person show, very artistically satisfying. But then comes the bewildering business of publicity, trying to be heard above the million and one voices of The Fringe

What have you got in store for us this year?
I shall be performing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe with a show about Britain’s Rail Network called “Shunted Again!” at Stand 5 at 3:45pm Fri 4th- Sun 27th August (excepting Monday 14th). I’ll also be touring in the Autumn with a fuller version of that show. And my band The Tue Believers will be releasing an EP in September entitled “Songs In The Key Of Heartbreak”

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