Rhod Gilbert: The Man With The Flaming Battenburg Tattoo rages at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe
The comedian who makes Basil Fawlty look like a Pilates teacher speaks to the List
This article is from 2012.
An incendiary mix of Mr Angry and Basil Fawlty, Rhod Gilbert has ranted on stage about the little things in life. Nione Meakin gets him to stay calm for a minute and consider just how much of it is an act
You might expect Rhod Gilbert to greet his tenth year on the Fringe with some degree of pride. In a decade, the 43-year-old has risen from So You Think You’re Funny finalist to playing the Edinburgh International Conference Centre via various awards, two DVDs and a Royal Variety Show performance. It’s a trajectory most would consider worthy of a pat on the back and a biscuit at the very least.
But this is Rhod Gilbert. The man is not one of life’s little sunbeams. If the ranting and raving didn’t come out in his comedy, he shudders, who knows where it would have been channeled instead? There could have been one very angry market researcher stomping around Wales. Gilbert, as fans know, can make Basil Fawlty look like a pilates teacher; Oscar The Grouch misrepresented.
While his countryman raged against the dying of the light, Gilbert has railed – with almost as much lyricism -- against misleadingly advertised mince pies, luggage carousels, electric toothbrushes and cats that look a bit like Nicholas Lyndhurst. But it was only this year he realised it was more than an act, a revelation that arose when he got a tattoo of a flaming Battenberg cake on his arm.
Though pushed into the parlour by the producers of BBC One show Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience, who told him he couldn’t possibly learn to be a tattooist without experiencing it himself, it was Gilbert’s choice to get a camp cake inked forever onto his flesh. ‘It’s the pettiest thing I’ve ever done. To prove a point about how pointless tattoos are, I got the most pointless tattoo I could think of.’ With this came the dawning realisation that he really is as argumentative and contrary as his stage alter-ego. ‘I’d denied it for ages but the tattoo demonstrated that’s exactly what I’m like in real-life. I really am that petulant.’
He sounds like he’s just discovered he has a reflection. ‘It’s been a real eye-opener. My life has been a pain in the arse because of this streak in me and I’ve always tried to bury it. Now I feel like I can start to make peace with myself.’
We talk Edinburgh: why is he still here? Isn’t a comedian who now plays conference centres too big for the Fringe? ‘I know there’s a debate about people like me and if someone said definitively that it wasn’t good I went, I’d stop. But I want to be part of it. There are people I always go and see – Josie Long, Stewart Lee, Daniel Kitson – and people who are newer, like Humphrey Ker, Adam Riches and Colin Hoult, and I’ll hopefully take a punt and go and see stuff I’ve never heard of. I’ll just respond to flyerers.’
That sounds like a statement he might live to regret. ‘Well, I know what it’s like. I’ve stood on the Royal Mile for hour after hour saying, “I’ll give you two-for-one … three-for-one … alright: six! One of you pays, six of you come in.” I’ve done it and it’s hard work.’
It was a little while ago now, but Gilbert has a good memory, especially for the bad stuff. Despite a constellation of five-star reviews, the only one he recalls with any clarity is from his second year at the Fringe, when he was in a show with Steve Hall and Greg Davies. ‘It was 2003 and one of our first forays up there and we did this little package show and someone from Fest came along and there was only this one line but they said: “Gilbert mistakes surreal comedy for talking complete bollocks and dies on his arse."’
Two days later he won the BBC New Comedy Award, something of an up-yours, surely? ‘Well, it was nice. But which of those things has stuck with me more? I’m the sort of person who notices the hole not the doughnut.’
Now he doesn’t read any of his reviews, but he admits he will spend the entirety of his ten-day run worrying and trying to avoid talking about them.
He hopes to take a break from the hoopla next year and spend some time with his old pal Davies: ‘He’s unusual because he actually seems to find me quite charming. I’ll be arguing with someone and he’ll smile and say things like, “Oh, there goes Rhod, arguing about something which he has no belief in whatsoever, taking a position he does not in any way believe; ah, it’s quite cute really."’
Off the back of their BBC Two show, World’s Most Dangerous Roads, the pair have been invited to do another TV series. ‘The BBC have commissioned it, we’re all talking about it, but no one knows what it is. We have to decide. We just need a really good idea. At the moment we’ve just got lots of bad ones. Greg wants to do more scripted things and acting whereas I want to turn up, be myself and have fun. It would be ideal if we can get paid to go round the world, having a ball.’
In the meantime, he’ll be working on that self-acceptance. ‘By the end of my stand-up,’ he says, ‘I could be cured. Wouldn’t that be an amazing journey to have been on? To finish doing stand-up as a normal, functioning member of society? I’d love that.’
Rhod Gilbert: The Man with the Flaming Battenberg Tattoo, EICC, 0844 847 1639, 15--26 Aug (not 20 & 21), 7.40pm, £20.