Miles Jupp performed his third ever stand-up show in Glasgow, travelling through from Edinburgh, where he was a student. He honed his craft on the Scottish comedy circuit before finding success on television, film, the stage and radio. Despite being a one-man multi-media dynamo, he has found time to tour seven stand up tours. His latest, Songs of Freedom is a thoughtful and hilarious meander through subjects like hipsters, manners, identity, regrets and astronauts. Yes, he was Archie in Balamory. He was also John in The Thick of It. He gets around.
Ahead of his show at the King’s Theatre on Tuesday, we had some questions.
So, the show that you’re bringing to the Glasgow Comedy Festival, is it a stand-up show or is it a performance piece? How would you describe it?
It’s completely a stand-up show. It’s a man and a microphone talking about stuff that he hopes there’s some sort of, well, if not universal appeal then some broad appeal. It’s me banging on about stuff in a wordy fashion.
How does that fit into your life now, with radio, television, acting? How much of a stand-up are you?
Well, when I’m doing it, that’s absolutely what I’m doing. I’m not on stage doing stand-up and thinking about something else. You’re completely of the moment. But I suppose I just slip into modes. I guess it’s about being able to compartmentalise a little bit. That has been my focus. I mean this year, I’ve done 30 tour dates.
You know, putting a show together, it’s a serious undertaking, and you might take on other work at the same time and stuff. Stand-up in a way is the thing that I’ve done professionally for the longest, and I’ve been doing that since 2000 I guess.
How do you go about writing a show?
I try to write the whole thing. That doesn’t mean to say it’s got some narrative to it, but I just get lots of ideas together on scraps of paper and then you’ve got an envelope and then eventually the envelope’s full and you empty them all out and you try and work out what it all says, and then you just start writing it as a whole, really.
I know people that work on sort of 12 minute chunks at a time or whatever, I just get the whole thing. There’s an hour and 45 minutes, something like that, in this one. When that’s rooted, you can start really playing with it and going to other places. You know, that slightly infuriating thing when an ad-lib you come up with in the spur of the moment is much much funnier than a line that you spend a hour working on the language.
We were surprised to know you were from London, not that kind of Edinburgh Scottish type.
Most people do, I suppose because that’s where I started, really, all my work. I remember Frankie Boyle said to me once, “You are English, but you’re a Scottish comedian”, and at the time, thinking, “God, that’s a really nice thing to be called.”
When you moved to Edinburgh for university, how much was that a formative influence on your comedy?
It massively influenced my whole life to be honest, everything. I met my wife in Edinburgh, I’ve met most of my best friends in Edinburgh, it was a completely transformative thing for me, going from a closeted public school existence, and then suddenly being in a big city.
I could do bits and pieces at the university theatre, which was fun and fine, and I met some great people there, but then also The Stand was there in Edinburgh. I thought all right, I can go and play with the big boys.
My third or fourth gig would have been in Glasgow, and from that point onwards you’re divvying up between the two. Half your gigs in Edinburgh and half your gigs in Glasgow, although maybe the odd visit to Kirkcaldy or Perth or whatever it might be.
A lot of my first work was in Glasgow, doing Live Floor Show, and Balamory, and a play at the Citz.
What do you think of the Scottish comedy circuit?
Yeah, I mean Glasgow seems to me to be, for instance, quite an outspoken city, in a good way. People are quite candid, and they don’t just say what they mean, they say more than they mean in a way.
They really go for it, and then they can row back slightly. Edinburgh has this reputation for being very artsy, which is really built on one month of the year.
Whereas I suppose Glasgow, all year round there’s stuff going on. There’s a lot of live stuff going on. Most big cities in Scotland are university cities or towns, so that means there’s going to be some kind of events going on there.
With referendums and big questions being debated, in Scotland and across the UK, how does that leave things open for comedians? Is it a good time for social commentary and finding humour in it all?
They’re very emotive issues, and people are very serious about it. When I came to live in Scotland I didn’t really understand a great deal about sectarianism or stuff like that, or that there were people that really, really genuinely cared about the royals, or people that genuinely really didn’t.
Suddenly you think, well it’s not just making silly jokes, this is stuff that has a meaning to people. And that just makes you take it more seriously I suppose, but also it means that you do know where the hornets’ nests are. These are things that you can poke.
I chair The News Quiz [on Radio 4], we sit in a London recording studio, in front of an audience that, I would say, is not representative of our national audience really, they’re representative of the sort of people that come to those shows, so that audience that you get in the room is quite cosy, probably remain-voting, but you don’t know what the view would be of people that listen to the show in Crewe for instance, or Halifax and whatever. There are no givens. So you’ve just got to make sure that if you’re saying stuff, that there’s an intelligence behind it, and it’s not just base abuse, fun as that is.
People say it’s a rich time for satire. There’s a debate now about the difference between topical jokes and satire, and that’s fine, with topical that’s like, you can make a joke about anything. Let’s make a joke about a person who is in the news or an item that’s in the news. Whereas the point of satire, I think really satire is about exposing what is actually happening, and that’s what something like Private Eye is doing. People actually are turning to something like that, because they think, I want to know what is actually happening.
Your character from The Thick of It, John Duggan. I think John was a prototype for a certain type of media influencer these days. Or even political spokesmen.
The idea for that character was that he was working for the party conference and there is a thing whereby people get jobs, they’re civil servants, or they get jobs for the Labour Party, and after a while people realise, “oh my God they’re a fucking idiot, and we’ve employed them”, and you can’t go into HR and say “John, he’s just a fucking idiot”. He needs to do something really wrong, you can’t be fired for being annoying, or God, the world would be a different place.
So, these people, they go, “ah, right, if we put them in charge of organising the party conference we can limit the amount of damage”. And they’re away in their hermetically sealed bit, there’s three days of the year, when we’ve got to put up with them being the way they are, and we can try and limit that damage to just those three days of the year.
But he’s that sort of front-foot, enthused person who could be working for any candidate. Suddenly, we’ve had a number of leadership campaigns recently, there’s that thing where people start flag-waving and getting excited about someone who is no different from someone else.
And yet the first press conference given by a leadership candidate standing up for election is always kind of like, yeah, this person here, Angela, she’s the saviour. And you think, she’s the same person as she was yesterday, but now we’re getting excited. “She’s arriving in 10 minutes guys, everyone get tweeting!” These people are trying to create excitement continually.
Give us an idea of some of the topics that you touch on in the show.
God, well none of them are as serious as this. It’s all actually quite silly. Because I’m doing all this news stuff with The News Quiz, I’m trying to keep it a bit lighter in this stand-up show. I talk a little bit about identity, and I talk about the way people misrepresent each other, and I tell silly stories about jobs I’ve done that I shouldn’t have. A lot of it’s moaning, but in a kind of structured, hopefully constructive way. It’s just what I do really.
I was delighted to be offered the King’s Theatre. Glasgow is just such an exciting place to perform. I think I’m going to relish the evening and hopefully the audience will have fun too.
Miles Jupp Songs of Freedom
Tuesday 21 March 7.30pm