Hi Philip. Who are you and what do you do in comedy?
My name is Philip Simon and I'm a London(ish) based stand up comedian, writer and actor. I perform all over the UK, with the occasional gig abroad. At least, I was, until the CoronaVirus Lockdown brought an end to live comedy. Now I'm a stay-at-home dad joining the thousands of other comedians in trying to stay productive from the comfort of my own home. The two projects this has led to have been School's Out Comedy Club, a series of YouTube episodes where kids supply the jokes for me to perform, entertaining them during homeschooling. I've also fallen back on my previous experience playing Daddy Pig in the theatre production of Peppa Pig, by producing personalised Daddy Pig video messages to send to children.
Tell us about how you first became involved in the comedy world.
Having graduated from the Guildford School of Acting in 2001, I had been acting for about 10 years when I finally started listening to everyone who'd told me I was funny and I should try stand up comedy.
I'd recently finished a big theatre tour of Peppa Pig where I played Daddy Pig (you may have heard me talk about this before) and I knew of a great comedy course with The Comedy School in Camden. I did 8 weeks of workshops there, finishing with a showcase where I performed my first ever 5 minute set.
After all that time acting I had always felt comfortable performing on stage, but until I stood up there doing stand up comedy, making people laugh with jokes I'd written, I didn't know how amazing that feeling could be.
I jumped straight into the comedy circuit, gigging as much as I could. I think having had a theatre background I had already learnt the basic of stagecraft, which meant I found y feet very quickly and worked swiftly up the comedy ranks.
Tell us about your comedy favourites.
I grew up loving comedy greats like Roy Hudd, Tony Hancock, Kenneth Williams, June Whitfield, Dave Allen and Bob Monkhouse. I was a big fan of the Carry On films, and generally that era of comedy.
I know they're not always the most popular, but I love studio sitcoms such as Only Fools and Horses, Fawlty Towers, Bottom, Goodnight Sweetheart, the Hi-de-Hi franchise. More recently I'd include shows like My Family. I even got to appear in one episode (Dutch Art and Dutch Courage) back in my acting days. There are far too many to list, but I was also a big fan also of shows like Red Dwarf, so was delighted to have the chance to work with writer Rob Grant though my ongoing work with the Comedy School.
Nowadays I still love the sound of studio laughter, but have also found myself really enjoying non-audience sitcoms such as Parks & Recreation, This Country and The League of Gentlemen.
The comedy industry is competitive. Why should people pick you to work with?
It took me a long time to feel comfortable breaking free of the British way, but I now know it's ok to say out loud, I'm bloody good at what I do. I'm a funny person and I know how to write a solid joke. It's the one phrase I have ringing in my ears from the recently departed circuit comedy legend, Ian Cognito, who grabbed me (literally) after one gig and just kept saying "proper jokes, mate!"
A lot of my stand up is quite anecdotal, but a couple of years ago I realised that a lot of it is really strong one-liner jokes with a narrative built around them. This gave me the confidence to enter the UK Pun Championships for the first time in February 2020, and I was delighted to come 2nd, after a very closely fought final with the ultimate champion, Adele Ciff.
I work with a lot of other comedians of all levels, either writing for them from scratch, or helping to tweak their material. A lot of my material has made it onto shows like Mock the Week, Newsjack and Newsrevue.
I'm now also using the time in lockdown to focus on entertaining people any way I can. Whether that's jokes on social media or my comedy show for children on YouTube: bit.ly/SchoolsOutComedy.
What's the best advice you've ever been given, read or heard?
There's so many ways to get comedy wrong. It can be in the writing, or the presentation, or even in the subject matter you choose to write about. But in the end it all comes down to one thing... and this is something I tell the current students at The Comedy School when I go back to help with their training ... "don't be a dick!" That's something I heard very early on, and it makes sense. Don't be a dick!
Why be a dick? It's a very small circuit, so everyone knows everyone, and the truth will always out. Treat people the way you'd like to be treated. Don't apply for gigs you're clearly not right for. Don't get mad if you don't get the gigs you want. Pay all your acts, on time and without anyone having to chase.
The comedy industry is amazingly supportive. Some may not agree, but I came from an acting background where there was far more backstabbing and petty squabbling than there is in comedy. This is such a supportive network, where people help regardless of hierarchy. On my 2nd gig I was performing on the same stage as acts I'd seen on TV. They were receptive and welcoming and in no way dismissive of my level of experience.
Where would you like to be in 10 years' time?
I'm always fascinated by these questions as I generally say what I'd like to be doing, and someone else says, "what? You don't want to be king?" Yes, of course I want to be king, so, fine. In 10 years time I'd like to be an all-powerful and much-revered deity with my own TV show!
Failing that, I'd love to have written my own sitcom that I'm also able to perform in. I'd especially like to make it a platform for employment opportunities for friends from the circuit whose work can be appreciated, either writing, performing, producing. I love the idea of generating work with and for other people who deserve the bump, and not just those who are being heralded by the agents and PR for being fashionable.
But the main thing, and something I don't think I'd ever like to give up, is live comedy. I want to still be gigging. Maybe in arena tours, but definitely in smaller more intimate venues where I can feel closer to the audience.
If you ever get free time, how do you spend it?
What a terrible question to ask someone who is self-employed! What's free time? I'm never not working. Whether that's writing jokes (even just thinking of things to put on to paper/stage later) or hustling for work, sharing content and so on. I've always loved what I do and have never envied the 9-5ers doing the same thing day in, day out. Though now I have kids it would be nice to be in a job where I can lave the office at 5pm and not have to think about emails or spreadsheets until I'm back at my desk. To be able to enjoy a weekend and truly be present with my family.
When I am doing something for myself, I love going on bike rides, especially long challenges. Previous ones have included Buckingham Palace to Windsor Castle, London to Brighton and London to Amsterdam. The it's just the usual things really, like cooking a nice meal (something I've been able to do a lot more of since lockdown) watching boxsets. And when a babysitter is available, my first love always was the theatre. Mainly musicals if I'm being honest. I love a good sing song in the West End.
If a genie offered you one wish, what would you ask for?
If you'd have asked me that a couple of months ago I'd have said something like the kind of metabolism that meant I could eat what I want and stay in shape even though I do little to no exercise.
Something I've realised in the past few weeks of the Coronavirus lockdown, however, is the best we can all hope for is to be healthy. I've lost people in the past few weeks, and know many who are serious unwell, and I'm sure they and their families would swap every one of life's luxuries for some extra time with their loved ones.
Assuming health isn't really a wishable option though, in the light of the recent loss of income, I'd say I'd wish to have complete financial security. No debt and enough savings to help me and my friends and family in times of need, like this. Enough that if the work does dry up as unexpectedly as it has done, that I can worry less about money and focus more on what matters, such as family and community.
I'm not asking to be stinking rich, just rich enough that I wouldn't ever have to worry about providing for my family.
Oh, fine. And I'd like to be a king!
Published: Friday 28th May 2021