Billy Kirkwood, Bruce Morton and Anna Devitt discuss their comedy careers
- Jay Richardson
- 20 February 2015
The three comedians get together before Glasgow Comedy Festival to talk laughs
To mark the Glasgow Comedy Festival turning 13, The List assembled three generations of comedians to discuss their careers. As a member of The Funny Farm, Bruce Morton is one of the Scottish comedy scene's founding fathers. Anna Devitt came to UK-wide attention in 2013 on Britain's Got Talent with Truffle, her singing belly. As well as her stand-up show, she wrote and stars in the play So Many Men: Yet None Are Mine!. The tattoo-loving Billy Kirkwood has three shows including ripping apart ‘bad movie’ Masters of the Universe with Joe Heenan. Jay Richardson hosted proceedings …
How does Glasgow compare to other comedy festivals?
Billy Kirkwood: It's got a great vibe with lots of fun gigs. Obviously you need big-name acts coming in, selling loads of tickets, but it's fantastic for local talent. There are plays, sketches, improv, so many different things in different venues. The melting pot aspect is my favourite part.
Bruce Morton: I recall [GCF director] Tommy Sheppard saying years ago, 'I'm going to put a festival on in Glasgow, what do you think?' And I thought, 'it'll be absolutely amazing if it works'. And he's been proved right. Though they're still struggling for a sponsor …
Anna Devitt: Creative Scotland ought to sponsor it. They'll sponsor Gaelic, they'll sponsor a different nationality's children, they'll sponsor paintballing. But they'll not sponsor anything to do with comedy and that's a bee in my bonnet.
BK: It would be nice to see some investment. You don't want them interfering with the content, but it'd be good to have a Scottish comedy showcase that you could take to the Adelaide Festival, for example.
Is it essentially two festivals, with Glasgow comics writing festival hours, and bigger names just scheduling their tour to arrive here in March?
BK: Jimmy Carr is supporting the festival by lending his name to it. Besides, there are lots of local comics that will sell out shows, whereas guys who've had a bit of TV exposure will sometimes only get 30 people in. I'd like to see Gary Little's face on the cover of the programme.
BM: Personally, I wouldn't go to see Jimmy Carr at the Clyde Auditorium. But if he was doing a 20-minute set at the Festival Club, I'd be delighted. The vibe you've got in The Stand, you can touch the ceiling and have a conversation in there, it's wonderful. It is a separate festival from these big, extravagant shows: no disrespect to them.
How much Glasgow-specific material do you have?
BK: I'll drop in local references wherever I play. But there's nothing worse than launching into a ten-minute bit in Newcastle before realising it's all about Glasgow.
BM: I've got bits I do here that I wouldn't do elsewhere because it's the culture I've grown up in. It's a relief to be able to talk with the cadences, rhythms and idioms of Glasgow. When I was doing the Best of Scottish at the Edinburgh Fringe one night, I overheard a woman saying to her partner, 'it's a bit Scottish, though, isn't it?' What did she think she was getting? Chinese acrobats?
BK: 'I'd like to talk to you about the Norwegian fish industry'.
AD: That would have been a good bill.
BM: Niche comedy is one of the great things that's been happening lately. There are thousands of stand-ups now, so what's great is people doing shows out of love. Improv, the re-emergence of sketch, odd little things like Joke Thieves and Jo Caulfield's storytelling nights. That's the most interesting development over the last five years.
Do you think that as live comedy fragments after the television boom, neglected audiences are beginning to find quirkier shows for themselves?
AD: That's probably true. My market is often young couples or women between the ages of 23 and 35. I don't know how much the stand-ups who do Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow speak to a younger generation.
BM: I just thought the Greater Shawlands Republic sounded funny. I mentioned it to Andy Learmonth and he came back a couple of months later, asking if I was going to do anything with this idea of a lunatic fringe party. If not, he'd like to have it. So I said 'fuck off!' Then later: 'why don't we sit down and talk?'
BK: It was great seeing you guys do the Clutha benefit. A diverse audience but you had a real connection.
BM: To be fair, quite a few didn't know what the fuck was going on.
BK: But isn't that the beauty of it: reaching new people. With my tattoo show, people who wouldn't go to a comedy gig like the idea that 'this is written just for me'. And then they might take a chance on other types of comedy.
BM: One of GSR's legacies is that we thought it would be great to replace the pound with units of currency such as the Pollok. Or the Govan. From that stupid joke, we got to thinking about Bitcoins and got a coder on-board. All we need now is an economist's advice to give it initial value and we'll see if we can get it used in shops up and down the street here. Some comics will tell you they got an award last year. Well, I created my own fucking currency!
BK: Sure, but is it glass ginger bottles?
Do you try to entertain everyone in the room? Or are you more concerned about performing your material and never mind the reception?
BK: You'd love to make everyone enjoy it. I did a sportsman’s dinner once: Pat Nevin, Jim White and Billy Kirkwood. They must have thought I was the former Rangers under-21 coach and Dundee United player. Sadly, that was my entire minute of football material.
AD: After my tummy got through Britain's Got Talent, I appeared at so many surprise 50th birthday parties it was unreal. I used to jump out of a box and sing ‘Happy Birthday’. I don't really do it anymore but I made great money. People never recognised my face, they just knew me as 'The Belly off the Telly'. So when I come out now, my mindset is that I want everyone to laugh.
Will you always be a stand-up?
BK: I've never done anything for ten years like this. I'm a realist. Do you remember that What About Dick? thing that Eric Idle did a few years ago? I always wanted to do something like that. We could do the equivalent of a murder mystery with comics from the circuit.
AD: Comedians have to be good writers and good performers, so it's obvious you can go into other avenues. I completely fell into stand-up. My whole life, I wanted to be an actress and a teacher but people started paying me, so that's how I've stayed in as long as I have. My heart is in is theatre and production. And I prefer to be in an ensemble, which is why I write plays.
BM: My short-term ambition is my band. And launching my crypto-currency on an unsuspecting Eurozone.
Anna Devitt: The Last One Standing, The State Bar, Fri 13, Sat 21 Mar; So Many Men: Yet None Are Mine!, Webster’s Theatre, Fri 13 & Sat 14 Mar; Watch Bad Movies with Great Comedians, CCA, Mon 16 Mar; The Old Pamphleteers: Life Begins at 60 (with Bruce Morton), The State Bar, Thu 19 Mar; Bruce Morton’s Greater Shawlands Republic!, The State Bar, Fri 20 Mar; Billy Kirkwood: Let’s Wreck The Place!, The Stand, Sun 22 Mar; Billy Kirkwood’s Show Me Your Tattoo 2015, The Comedian Tattoo Studio, Fri 27 Mar.