Dare to Dream - Nick Helm interview
- Brian Donaldson
- 26 July 2011
This article is from 2011.
The on-stage angry man is actually quite pleasant
It may surprise anyone who witnessed Nick Helm’s breakthrough Fringe last year that he is actually something of a festival veteran. Back in 1997, he made his Edinburgh debut with the first of three annual school plays while in 2001 he came up with a sketch show through which his current stage persona began to slowly emerge.
But it was those salad days of 1997 which Helm holds dearest in his festival memory bank. ‘We went to see Al Murray at the Pleasance and sat in the front row,’ he recalls through almost misty eyes. ‘I don’t think we were old enough to be there and he picked up on that and got me on stage. I saw him four years in a row and always put myself in a position where he could pick on me and if he didn’t, I felt very disappointed. He’s got me up on stage now three times. Really, anyone that complains about being picked on is pathetic.’
Certainly, there’s a bit of the Pub Landlord in Helm’s act with his no-nonsense insistence on audience participation and occasional ear-blistering levels of volume. There are songs, poetry, stand-up and a fair degree of shouting. ‘I used to go on stage and say, “Hello everyone, isn’t everything lovely?” and write about things I liked. But audiences in Edinburgh can either be apathetic or look bored or have just come in to shelter from the rain so I just started shouting at them and people laughed more at that than when I was trying to actually be funny.’
His Mr Angry persona has been developed over a number of years and while it’s not all bellowing with a fair bit of whispering thrown in, the shouting does seem to lodge itself in people’s minds. ‘Last year I did my show at the Tron and Big Value in the evening and so I was shouting every day for a month. I protect my voice offstage, but it’s not the same as having an argument: it’s all coming from my diaphragm.’
While Helm enjoys different types of comedy, he acknowledges that the greatest influence on his act comes from, at first glance, an unlikely source. ‘Alice Cooper is the greatest comedy songwriter on the planet,’ Helm maintains. ‘When I did my musical last year, we thought, “what if could do our own little Alice Cooper show with a storyline going through it?” When he first started there were bands like the Monkees and the Beatles, all these nice guys, and he thought, “What if you’re not a nice guy?” So, yes, Alice Cooper has seeped into my life. There are a lot of nice comedians and people who try to get audiences to like them and once you like them, you’re going to laugh at the jokes. But I don’t see the point in trying to get people to like me, so I shout and I’m mean and bully them. I just concentrate on being funny.’
Nick Helm: Dare to Dream, Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, 6–29 Aug (not 10, 17), 4pm, £11–£12 (£9.50–£11). Previews until 5 Aug, £6.