Kim Noble: King of Pain
This article is from 2009.
He played Santa in a pop video and has a Perrier Award to his name. But Kim Noble tells Brian Donaldson that he’s far from a happy chappy
When Kim Noble last appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe, there was something strangely prophetic about one of the sequences he performed alongside his comedy partner in crime, Stuart Silver. At various moments during their 2004 show, A Man, both would be on stage but doing completely different things as though utterly oblivious to one another, whether it be Silver playing chess with a member of the front row or Noble smoking while running on a treadmill. ‘I don’t think we realised at the time how real that difference was,’ Noble tells me on the phone while recalling their evolutionary split. ‘Stuart’s had a family and doing his own thing and I’m now left alone. There was no official ruling, it was just an organic thing and I’m sure we will do stuff together again.’
Now though, and with as little fanfare as he can muster, Noble is heading Edinburghwards once more with ‘dread and trepidation’ for Kim Noble Will Die, a new solo show which caused a few ripples in the press and beyond during its first viewings at London’s Soho Theatre back in April. A ‘multimedia suicide note’ was how one critic described it while also using adjectives such as ‘remarkable’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘indefensible’. Like his previous work with Silver, it seeks to blur the boundaries between comedy and performance art, autobiography and fantasy, life and death, hysterically funny and downright sick.
At the beginning of the show, he nabs a ‘volunteer’ who spends the next hour with a bucket on his head, having Noble’s face projected on to it. Later, we see him buying a March of the Penguins DVD which he returns to the shop, the case now filled with his own 18-second cartoon version. Later still, there’s footage of self-harm, ejaculation and a nasty confrontation with a lover about a possible infidelity. More Marilyn Manson than Michael McIntyre, this stuff still sits in the comedy section of the Fringe programme, a location where Noble has always felt slightly awkward. ‘I don’t really see that I’m a comedian and I know it sounds a bit wanky but I do see myself as an artist. I do gallery shows and this is just one part of what I do. But there is humour in the show and if people don’t laugh, then I want to kill myself.’
This last statement is not followed up by the kind of appealing giggles which pepper Noble’s conversation. In April, he announced from the Soho Theatre stage that he would throw himself from Waterloo Bridge at 2am on 27 May. ‘I hope one of you will be there to stop me,’ he told an audience who didn’t know whether to laugh or call the Samaritans on his behalf. Within it’s surreal and confrontational structure, there is a show which is the most personal Noble has ever done. In 2004, he had a complete mental breakdown, and was diagnosed with manic depression. The new show tackles this, with Noble acknowledging that the intense working methods and end result of his previous work might not have helped ease his psychological problems.
‘It completely affected it, and this new show is about madness and absurdity to a certain extent. I can’t ignore that there was a dark time in my life and this show is very dark.’ Although Noble rejects any notion that he is brave for putting himself at the mercy of critics and audiences with the kind of confessional material in this show, he remains continually fearful of negative reactions. ‘I went a bit barmy about a year or so ago and couldn’t face it,’ he recalls. ‘it’s just that self-obsessed wanky performer angst thing that I’m sure a lot of people get. But I hated it so much that I didn’t want to do it again; that’s why I just wanted to do a week up in Edinburgh to avoid the hype or whatever that you get, worrying about getting nominated or the reviews.’
Reviews were always predictably split straight down the middle when it came to Noble and Silver (or nobleandsilver depending on who you read), but panel judges certainly liked them enough, awarding them the Perrier Best Newcomer in 2000. With no prizes to worry about now, perhaps an August success for Noble will be getting out of Edinburgh and this show in one piece. He talks darkly of ongoing legal processes pertaining to the show though insists that should certain aspects of the work be censored then there will be no point in carrying on with it.
During the piece’s creation, he did get in one bit of bother with London’s boys in blue. ‘Part of the show is about entertainment, so I started to stalk people who had come out of very successful entertainment shows. I’d wait outside Mamma Mia and follow a couple back to their hotel in London, filmed them for an hour when they went to dinner and back to the hotel. Then they went for a drink and spotted me filming; the police were then called.’
Noble may not be especially bothered about upsetting the bobbies, his no- punches-pulled artistic mask slips a little when recalling another segment during that 2004 show which hit a wrong and very sensitive note. ‘I really offended my mum and dad … caused them a lot of heartache actually, and I do regret that now. It was only a small bit of video but seeing that now makes me cringe a bit.’ The offending footage was a quick clip of Noble graphically asking his parents about his conception. ‘I did another piece that my mum came to that had a thing about my grandma and that really upset her, but once you’re in the moment and doing these things, something takes over and makes you know that you have to get it out or show it or do it.’
After their initial Fringe success, Noble and Silver were given their own six-part show on E4, Get Off Me, a typically anarchic swathe of comedy and art which Noble believes is now lying in a vault somewhere probably never to see the light of day on DVD. His other prominent role was as a bad Santa in the promo video for Malcolm Middleton’s ultimately futile attempt for a Christmas number one. ‘The director just phoned me up and asked if I wanted to do this pop video and I thought, “hmm, not really my thing”. But I did it in the end it was highly embarrassing, because they didn’t think I would take it as far as I did. The final video is quite tame but at times I lost it a bit and they were asking me to not do some things again. There was the killing of a pigeon at one point and they had to rein it back a bit. I’m not sure why I was picked; maybe it was that I’m a taller, less Scottish, and less successful version of him.’ And the title of that song? ‘We’re All Going to Die’. A theme might well be emerging.
Kim Noble Will Die, Assembly Rooms, 623 3030, 25–30 Aug, 6.20pm, £12–£13 (£11–£12).