First Gig Worst Gig

Liam Withnail

Liam Withnail

It was the first of times, it was the worst of times. And surely one of the worst times for Liam Withnail was discovering he has ulcerative colitis, a deeply not-fun bowel disease, which has led to at least one lengthy hospital stay.

Still, even colitis has a silver lining and that unlikely boon is Chronic Boom, which tells Withnail's tale and won great critical acclaim at last year's Edinburgh Fringe. Now the Edinburgh resident is taking it on tour.

Actually the process of making this show was fascinating too, as - struggling to preview properly, pre-Fringe - he constructed the hour from ten distinct parts, which could be practised in club sets. Clever, but was it difficult, stitching those bits successfully?

"Generally when preparing for the Fringe there's parts of your show that will work in isolation and parts that need the context of the whole show," he says. "With this show I couldn't risk not working on parts at all, so had to make those 'show specific' parts work anywhere. It meant that those parts got a lot stronger, and I learned maybe the need for context is a bit overstated - audiences are sometimes smarter than we give them credit for.

"Not always, lots of people are of course stupid."

It certainly worked, but does raise the question: how is he looking at making shows going forward?

"My condition is ongoing, the difference in future shows I think will be that the scaffolding might not be as visible to the audience. It was done purposely in this show in order to highlight something."

Liam Withnail. Credit: Rebecca Need-Menear

Now let's look back at his own highlights - and lowlights.

First gig?

I would've been about eight years-old and I did stand-up comedy at a Haven Holiday Camp talent competition. I told a bunch of my dad's old pub jokes, and I won! First prize was another holiday, to Haven, which in retrospect is not a prize at all.

Favourite show, ever?

Probably the Enjoy An Album live show at the Edinburgh festival. Myself and Christopher Macarthur-Boyd packed out a room with podcast fans and just messed about for an hour. No script, just pure live fun.

Worst gig?

I could write a book. I had a horrible habit for saying yes to anything for many years and ended up in some daft situations. The one people often bring up is the Aberdeen Holi Mela festival, where I was booked as the entertainment for a springtime Hindu celebration.

I was given a microphone and put in the corner of a market and told to "get started" whilst people around me were buying sarees and having their eyebrows threaded. The lord provost of Aberdeen wrestled the mic off me to plug his social media. They insisted I helped with admin, and kept having to announce where you could purchase "colour bombs" for a big throwing colour event taking place outside later. I streamed the whole thing on Facebook live.

Liam Withnail. Credit: Rebecca Need-Menear

Which one person influenced your comedy life most significantly?

Jim Carrey. When I was seven, I watched Liar Liar and told my mum I wanted to be like him. She took me to a drama club the next week.

And who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?

Any comic that pretends they don't get booked because they're right wing, when actually they're just shit. There's a lot of them now.

Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?

One time I improvised a joke about Moses using a surfboard to cross the Red Sea, you need the context really to understand but I stand by my opinion that it was the best ad-lib of all time, and the crowd looked completely baffled.

Are you the public face of ulcerative colitis now, or are there other celebs in the running?

It's me and former Manchester United player Darren Fletcher. He didn't play for Man U for nearly a whole season at one point and to be fair neither did I.

Liam Withnail

Any reviews, heckles or post-gig reactions stick in the mind?

I remember gigging with James Acaster, who I hadn't met and am a huge fan of. You always want to do well in front of people you admire. A second after getting on stage someone shouted "homeless Brendan Fraser". A devastating heckle in front of an idol.

How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?

The thing about the ladder of the comedy industry is, whenever you climb up a rung, you can only see the next rung up. We never look down at all the rungs we've climbed already and never think about how the rung we're on at one point wasn't even visible.

That's a rather wanky way of saying, good, when I take a moment to think. I'm about to embark on my first ever tour, life is great, actually!


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