Si Hawkins Circuit Training

Circuit Training 153: Crisis Planning, Insane Podcasts and a Bump, with Rich Wilson

Rich Wilson

The host with the most. The compere with the good hair. Rich Wilson is that rare and enviable beast, a comic who looks more comfortable onstage than your opinionated uncle does in his favourite armchair. But this self-confessed geezer's views are much less likely to ruin Christmas dinner. He's a mouthy alpha with a heart of gold. Blokey but wokey? If you must.

Rich is a good man to have onside, anyway, unfailingly watchable while also giving tosspots a verbal clip round the ear. Some of his best routines tackle the root causes of toxic masculinity/casual bigotry, while his Insane In The... podcast is all about opening up. Well, usually - at least one big name guest has gently moonwalked away from the heavy stuff.

the Aid Fundraiser Presents Laugh Till It Hurts

But why is Wilson talking to us? Because on December 12th he's at London's Comedy Store MCing Laugh Till it Hurts, in aid of the homeless charity Crisis. Rich introduces a starry line-up: Rob Beckett, Marcus Brigstocke, Simon Brodkin, Markus Birdman, Nick Helm, Esther Manito and Dane Buckley.

If that whets your appetite, in February at the Leicester Comedy Festival he's hosting a live Insane... and a new show, The Train, The Story and The Bump, which he'll also do at London's Bill Murray this Thursday. Or for long-form Rich from your favourite armchair, his special You Could Have It So Much Better is now on ITVX. The recording of that was eventful, too.

We meet Rich in his own office chair in Brighton, via Zoom - but will that be his office for much longer? Big things are afoot in the house of Wilson.

How are things going down there, Rich?

Really good, thank you - we've got a baby coming in December, so we're getting ready for that. This was supposed to be our spare room/study; now it's gonna be half the baby's room and then just the table in the corner for any work we need to do.

I saw you compere an Anglia Comedy gig recently with Kate McGann, where she did lots of revealing stuff about her partner, then you announced that her partner is you. Which was a great reveal...

It's a funny one, we notice sometimes that the room goes a bit odd if we mention it, but they were nice in Hertford. I've been out with comedians before, so I'm used to getting talked about. 'Yeah it's really funny, talk about my big nuts, I don't care...'

Is it true you recorded your special the day after your wedding?

Literally, I got the offer, Manchester at The Frog and Bucket, on this particular date. But we're getting married the day before. So I spoke to Kate and she's like, 'you have to do it.' We had a brilliant wedding, spent the night at the hotel, next morning had breakfast, packed the car up and went straight to Manchester. That's how brilliant Kate is.

Wedding admin can be incredibly stressful, let alone doing an important gig the day after. But you didn't look too wrecked.

I will be honest, my list of things that I had to do for the wedding started getting shorter and shorter; at the end all I had to worry about was the cake. And getting there. My wife used to work in events so she organised it top to bottom, and it's one of the best weddings I've ever been to. That's why I looked so good. Because I didn't have to do anything.

You Could Have Had It So Much Better. Rich Wilson

In the special you talk about breaking up with someone during lockdown, which might be more awkward in front of your new wife, if she wasn't a comedian?

I think so. But yeah, comedians - and probably you as well, because you're amongst it - your boundaries are a bit further out. So you'll be at a dinner party, you'll talk about something and you'll hear the cutlery clank - 'oh, I've gone too far.'

Kate and I, we're very open about it, we've both got history. My last partner was a relatively high profile person, so Kate already knows about that, so it's all good, everything's out. I know about Kate. She knows about me. We don't have any secrets. She knows I've been a bit of a dick in the past. She's also been a bit of a dick. And that's how it works.

Things seem nicely settled now, but as you're hosting this Crisis show soon - have you ever been homeless, or close to it?

I always had this feeling that I was going to be. Whenever I was out, I was always looking, 'you could make a little little camp there, underneath the motorway bridge.' I don't know why I was doing that; I still do it now. The chances of me being homeless are pretty slim, I'm very lucky. Even when I was married before, and we broke up, I ended up living with my eldest son for a year and a half or so. Luckily, I've got very supportive people.

I remember living in Brighton and selling my records to pay the rent, which felt a bit like 'I'm not far off here, really.' I'm sure a lot of people can see moments where life could have gone a different way.

And the way things are now - shoplifting is through the roof, because people are struggling, it's starting to affect people on all levels. We're really on the edge here, and something needs to happen, because we could all be homeless, and no one cares. Nobody gives a shit.

There was a book I read called The Grass Arena [by John Healy]. I always thought if you're going to be homeless you try to find somewhere to sleep, you may be nicking stuff, begging for money or things like that. But this book, honestly, it's brutal. It really tells the story of what it's like to be actually homeless.

Rich Wilson

What happened to him?

He was homeless for 15 years and he talks about his alcohol addiction, all the drug addiction that was around. He got banged up a few times, and then the last time he was in prison, he was taught chess by this fella, and he went on to become a chess master, he could play 15 people at once.

It's such an interesting book. It changed my outlook towards it all, it's not just a case of you haven't got anywhere to live: you're in an ecosystem where you've got to fight for your life. But the powers that be don't give a shit. They're all millionaires, they don't know what it's like to not have any money.

So when you're compering a show like this, do you address that? Or keep well away?

I don't necessarily have any material on it, I'll probably mention it at the top, then 'Right! Let's keep it light...'

Nick Helm is on too. I saw him headline the Gareth Richards benefit in Edinburgh, and he started off by taking the piss out of Gareth - they were such good mates, it was a weirdly perfect tribute.

I think it also depends on your persona. I went to Adam Bloom's comedy workshop seminar at The Bill Murray recently; I've been doing comedy 19 years but there's always things you can learn.

Adam, he's one of the most respected writers in the industry, and he talks about finding your persona, and I thought it was really interesting. If you've got that kind of persona, like Nick Helm's got, you absolutely can get away with that, because that's what he does. I don't know if it would've gone so well if I'd done it.

You in particular seem completely natural onstage, although I'm sure it's not quite that easy. Only problem, when you're compering, I've sat there wishing the other comics would get off...

It's funny with that, there have been a couple of times when acts have said 'can you keep it down a bit, don't go too mad.' I don't do it on purpose. As a compere, you're there to assist the night, you're on the side of the audience, 'We're gonna have a bloody good time.'

I've heard comperes and they're ripping it, go 'don't worry, I've got to bring another act on now, but I'll be back in a minute' - you arsehole, don't do that. But I've worked really hard to be good at it, to make it look like I'm just wandering about.

Rich Wilson

So it wasn't always like that?

I talked about this yesterday funnily enough. Someone said to me 'you're just the same offstage as you are on' - because I've gone through all the stages of trying to be other comics. I went through the Louis CK phase - not that bit - but I remember years ago, a partner of mine, Marilyn, said, 'you're enough.' And I never really knew what she meant. But now I get it.

Adam Bloom touched on it yesterday: 'you are enough.' And so now it's like I'm going through my day, being who I am, at a certain time of night someone hands me a microphone, I talk into that for 20 minutes. And then I give it back and carry on with my day.

Your podcast is interesting in that respect - it feels like a regular friendly chat, but then you'll get onto heavier stuff quite organically.

It's trying to show people basically how you do it. When you see your mate in the pub, you don't go straight in with 'so what's going on? What's your mental health like?' You'll talk about other things, gigs, music, something you did the other day, and then it evolves into more serious stuff. And that's how it's gone naturally - I didn't realise I was doing it. It just kind of happened on its own.

Some have been really personal, Eshaan Akbar, Michael Smiley, Adam Bloom - loads of them. By doing it like you're sitting in a pub or a coffee shop, stuff comes out as it would if you were just talking to your mate. I've had some people say it's a bit too heavy, I've heard some people say, 'you've got to get stuck in'. It just depends what the guest wants to do.

So you don't necessarily need to go there?

I don't want to push it, I don't want it to be too cheap. If I know that something traumatic happened in their life, I don't want to be like, 'never mind all this, I want to know about that.'

I don't want to sensationalise what's gone on, the conversation goes where it goes. They either mention it or I can go 'you've had a tricky time lately,' and then they'll either talk about it or they won't. Eleanor Tiernan actually came out on the podcast, she messaged me before: 'this is what's happening with me. And I really like your podcast, and I think it would be a perfect place for me to do it.'

Have you ever struggled to get a guest to open up?

A few yeah. We didn't get too deep with Tom Allen. But he's up in the big leagues now, he doesn't want to be too personal I guess. We had a lovely chat, it was lovely to have him on, and we're from the same area so it was nice. It wasn't till afterwards I was like, 'oh yeah, he's probably saving it for the book.'

Rich Wilson

I suppose with all of us, sometimes you're just not in the mood to talk about these things.

That's the thing, if you're in a good mood, maybe that's the last thing you want to talk about. You tend to talk about it when you've just come out of something, or you're still dealing with it, if you're in a better place.

You do a great bit in the special about geezers getting angry at gender-neutral loos, which felt quite significant - you seem like the sort of bloke people might listen to.

I'm them, I'm that person. Talking about persona yesterday, I realised I am a sort of socially aware geezer. I'm not into football and I'm not into fighting, but I know how to drive a van, I know how to fix a fence - I'm not saying it's only blokes that can do that - but our generation, I am a bit of a geezer.

That bit that I do, it starts off talking about someone being upset because trans people will be in the toilets, which comes from a place of fear, of the unknown. The punchline is a comment on the fact that more straight white men are causing issues with women, they're the sex offenders, and it's a whole comment on that. It's us, we're the problem.

That's such an interesting point that doesn't get mentioned enough, the irony of straight white men worried about trans people attacking women.

That's exactly the point we're trying to make. There's a trans activist, Danielle St James, she was on the podcast and said to me, 'do you have any idea how much money it's cost me to get to the point where I am who I truly believe I am? It's cost me thousands - you really think I'm doing this so I could just go in a toilet?' That's not what this is about.

And yeah, with everything, there's gonna be people that ruin it for everybody, but they're a tiny percentage. The rest of the people just want to be themselves. People saying 'trans people are the real problem' - no they're not, it's you, chasing after women in your van.

So what are you up to next, baby aside?

I'm working on a new show. This one's more along the sort of lines of Mike Birbiglia, The Old Man and the Pool, where I've got this one story that underpins the whole show; it links into me being a dad again at this age, being married again, after such a traumatic time that we went through, where I'm at now and where I'll end up; that's why it's called The Train, the Story and the Bump.

So can you plan ahead at the moment, with such a big life event happening?

We'll figure it out. We'll do gigs together, or we'll plan it where, you know, she's got a gig and I'll stay with the baby. We've got loads of friends around, and they'll be close by. It's going to be fine.

Published: Tuesday 28th November 2023

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