Interview: Gary McNair – ‘I’ve always enjoyed the company of old people’

This article is from 2015

Interview: Gary McNair – ‘I’ve always enjoyed the company of old people’

Theatremaker follows up a great Fringe 2014 with A Gambler's Guide to Dying at the Traverse

The new show from Gary McNair explores an old man’s eccentric gambling habits. We hear how this acclaimed raconteur takes big chances on stage

Charming Glasgow based theatre-maker and performer Gary McNair often fuses the humorous with the poignant and subversive, mining comedy from unexpected places. In Crunch he encouraged people to get rid of their own money; his critically-acclaimed Donald Robertson Is Not a Stand-Up Comedian tackled childhood bullying; and more recently, anti-capitalist satire War on Christmas featured a department-store Santa Claus being met by a scabrous alcoholic who looked suspiciously like Jesus.

His new Fringe show, A Gambler’s Guide to Dying, is directed by Gareth Nicholls who has worked with McNair before, notably on Donald Robertson. The result is an affectionate, one-man monologue focusing on a grandfather who put a bet on England winning the World Cup in 1966, spurring a gambling addiction. Upon being diagnosed with cancer in 1997, he then bet everything that he would survive to see the millennium.

‘Since I’ve been a young kid, I’ve always enjoyed the company of old people,’ explains McNair. ‘They fascinate me: they’ve been in wars and shit. They know how to work a garden and my god, they’re full of stories because they don’t have their minds rotted by mobile phones and the internet. My granddad was the first old guy I met, and hanging around with him was cool. He told me stories, taught me card tricks and how to draw. That sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? That’s the thing about memories: most of them do. They end up being polarised as you filter out the mundane to remember either the best or the worst of it. He kept a bit of magic in the world for me, and I’m grateful to him for that’.

With such a rich source of storytelling in his family, it seems almost inevitable that McNair would follow that lead, but taking risks within a theatrical context is very much his own thing. ‘I’ve performed 25 minutes of bad puns to an angry mob at T in the Park. I’ve got up on a stage and asked the general public to shred their money. Some of them even did.’

But his intention is not simply knockabout or frivolous. ‘I’ve never believed in making work that has a sole purpose to be funny,’ he says. ‘The ideal is to use humour to get to something profound, challenging or political. And while I’d like to guarantee you’ll choke on your Maltesers snorting up a big laugh-bomb from a hilarious quip I’ve constructed (and I hope you will) this is quite a reflective piece; and with that, comes a certain emotional tone. Basically, I hope that any humour in this piece will help you to come along on the emotional journey’.

He cheekily acknowledges his iconoclastic approach, though, and regards himself as being in good company. ‘Dylan went electric, the Beatles went all White Album, and Britney Spears told the world to fuck itself and shaved off the blonde hair that the media had used to reduce her. With this show, I may even try to move you.’

A Gambler’s Guide to Dying, Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, 0131 228 1404, 7–30 Aug (not 10, 17, 14), various times, £18 (£8–£13). Preview 6 Aug, 9pm, £12 (£8).

A Gambler's Guide to Dying

Gary McNair presents a show about life and living, based around the story of a boy's granddad who won a fortune betting on the 1966 football World Cup and, when diagnosed with cancer, gambled it all on living to see the year 2000. Directed by Gareth Nicholls.