Nick Helm: 'Some comedians still say it's the best thing I ever did. And that makes me fucking furious!'

This article is from 2019

Nick Helm

credit: Ed Moore

With two shows at the Fringe this year, Nick Helm plunges headlong into a no-holds barred return to Edinburgh. He discusses his terrible nerves, his TV nightmare and being a control freak over punctuation

For a man who needs to gently rest his voice and relax his body in between performances of his bombastic solo work, it's mildly concerning that Nick Helm has two shows doing full runs at this year's Fringe. Phoenix from the Flames is the first August-long stand-up show he's given us since 2013's One Man Mega Myth (his second hour to receive an Edinburgh Comedy Award nomination) while I Think, You Stink! is the resurrection of a musical horror comedy thingy he wrote and laid on in 2008 at the all-too appropriately named Bedlam Theatre.

First things first, that comma feels fairly crucial doesn't it? 'There is a comma there, yes,' freely admits Helm. 'And there's an exclamation mark. So, maybe it should be pronounced as "I Think" [pause] "YOU STINK!" I wanted to very much emphasise the point between "I Think" and "You Stink", so at the time the comma was very important because it controls the way the reader reads it. It's really just about my need to be a control freak so much that I control even the way that a stranger who has just come across a poster for a show reads and digests the info from it. Let's give it a positive spin: it's part of the creative process.'

Another positive Helm can glean from that 2008 run is that he claims (and we have no real evidence to doubt him) that I Think, You Stink! is the only show which has made him any money during the Fringe: the princely sum of £50. 'I thought that I'd like to do this horror-themed poetry show but as it all came together, I started writing more songs, so then it became more of a musical with a couple of poems in. I found it hard to describe what it was, so I started calling it an anthology horror: they're individual stories, a collection of horror scenes, songs and vignettes. I mean, it sounds wank … No one saw it in 2008, other than a handful of my real friends; some comedians still say it's the best thing I ever did. And that makes me fucking furious!!'

Being in a general state of fury is all part of Nick Helm's winning stage persona. He will rail and rant and rage one minute before being thoroughly sweet the next as he passively aggressively serenades an audience member. But the scripted anger is never too far away from the surface. 'I do get very nervous and stressed before a show, and the day of a gig can be a complete write-off. That is why my act is the way it is. I get nervous all day and bottle all this tension and then I go on stage and let it all out. I'm very loud.'

Nick Helm

credit: Ed Moore

A couple of years ago, Helm embarked on a national tour with There Is Nothing You Can Do to Me That I Haven't Already Done to Myself, a show that was as close to pure storytelling as the St Albans-born comic has come in his career. This stripped-back affair had him laying the verboseness to one side for a bit as he took a step back and produced his most personal show to date. With Phoenix from the Flames, he's promising yet more of a delve into his own personal issues, but there is one major difference.

'I tend to do shows with production numbers and costume changes and props and a set, and after the tour I did miss doing a proper old-school Edinburgh show. So this is me going back to what I started doing. What Phoenix from the Flames is really all about is me rising back from the year I've had. It's been an up and down year personally: I suffered from mental health issues and depression, but I'm now coming back to be my best self and bouncing back in an Alan Partridge-esque way. It's really a tongue in cheek look at my life.'

Helm relishes the fact that he can switch to a different creative output mode depending on how the artistic mood is taking him. As well as stand-up, he writes music (releasing albums such as Hot 'n' Heavy and Nick Helm Is Fucking Amazing), pens a bit of poetry, and does some acting (mainly in comedy stuff such as BBC Three's Uncle, Channel 4's Loaded and Sky One's The Reluctant Landlord alongside his mate Romesh Ranganathan). Though one TV gig proved to be more of a challenge than you might expect.

'I did a food show for Dave called Eat Your Heart Out and put on a lot of weight. We filmed that very intensely so you were eating meals at 9.30am, 11.30am, 2.30pm, and 5.30pm. Everyone is going "that must have been nice eating all that food?" Well, no, it was fucking miserable. Not only are you getting fatter while you're making this show, but you're being filmed as you're getting fatter; there's a camera in your face constantly while you're eating. The show is great but the process of making it was very uncomfortable; you're always full and there's always a camera on you when you're least attractive and most vulnerable.'

Asides from the horrendous nerves he experiences, getting back onto the live stage seems to certainly be pleasing Helm. 'I've had a break from stand-up and missed it. I've done some gigs to come back to it and I'm enjoying it again. I've got a pile of songs and stories over here, a pile of jokes and poems over there, and the preview process is like having a bucket of Lego and throwing it all over the floor. You can do whatever you want with all the pieces.'

Nick Helm: Phoenix from the Flames, Pleasance Dome, 3–24 Aug (not 12), 5.40pm, £12.50–£14. Previews 31 Jul–2 Aug, £6; I Think, You Stink!, Assembly Roxy, 2–24 Aug (not 12), 9.45pm, £12–£14. Previews 31 Jul & 1 Aug, £8.

Nick Helm: Phoenix from the Flames

  • 4 stars

Two-time Edinburgh Comedy Award Nominee sings songs and right wrongs after some time away from the comedy stage.

Nick Helm's I Think, You Stink!

Live Nation in association with Glorious Management Comedian Nick Helm’s musical B-movie, drive-in horror anthology tribute is risen from the grave and back at the Fringe for the first time since 2008. Join the Master of Mayhem as he drags you through a series of horrifying vignettes that take you on a journey to the…

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