Phil Nichol Interview - Nearly Gay and The Naked Racist
Phil Nichol, acclaimed actor, award winning comedian, producer, presenter, writer and musician. This year, he performed his 14th solo show Phil Nichol Rants at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to rave reviews all across the board whilst also appearing in Dave Florez’s drama The Intervention. Now, six years after originally recording his two shows Nearly Gay and The Naked Racist, which were never originally released on DVD, they have both been unleashed. The shows find Phil playing on the humour of chagrin some people find on encountering people from different ethnicities or sexualities. We were keen to find out what took so long for these shows to be released and also what Phil was up to at the moment so we caught up with him for a chat:
A lot of people may not be aware that you originally turned to the performing arts thanks to none other than William Shakespeare, after watching the Tempest and going on to devise a play based on Romeo and Juliet? Why such love for Will and did you originally set out to be a serious actor rather than a comedian?
Yes. I admit it was trip to the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada that gave me the bug for acting and all things performing. You don’t get much wittier than Shakespeare. I enrolled in an acting school with the dream of someday playing in that same theatre. I fell into comedy when I met Sean Cullen and Greg Neale of Corky and the Juice Pigs fame.
I’m self-taught, however I have picked up loads of tips watching guitarist who are much better than me (that is just about all of them!). My parents bought me a guitar for my 8th birthday, which my older brother Andrew promptly took off of me and learned to play, better than me. It was another 5 years before I started to enjoy playing the bass before moving onto the guitar.
You’ve even been involved in a dance tour with Gina Lori Riley Dance Enterprises. Any thoughts of incorporating dance routines into your stand-up like Peter Kay?
I would love to try and win the Let’s Dance For Comic Relief!
Would you say Sean Cullen got you more involved in comedy or would you say it was something you already had an eye for?
Sean and I were acting students when we met and shared a love of making each other laugh. He was quite quiet and a shy person but naturally really funny with a tremendously dexterous voice. We developed our comedic skills together and bounced off one another equally.
Is there any chance of your old act the Juice Pigs reforming? What do you prefer? Solo shows or working on stage with others?
I love collaborating with people and will always strive to have a bunch of people on stage working together. To hold a crowd as a solo performer is one of the most difficult tasks known to the performer. The Juice Pigs aren’t presently discussing any sort of reformation but you never know, maybe when we are 70!
What was it that made you decide to come over to live in London in 1998?
The British comedy scene is the best in the world and I wanted to be a part of it.
How would you compare audiences in the States to over in the UK? Do you find they have the same sense of humor or do you have to change quite a bit of the material?
People are people really and if a concept is truly funny then it will likely be universal. The only tweaks I ever have to make are referential or colloquialisms. American audiences are more vocal than the British but the British have a much broader acceptance on where they will let the comedian go and what they will allow themselves to be subjected to. They will also let you know if they think that you are shit!
You have said that you felt your song-writing skills were not strong enough to withstand the music business. I’ve seen you play and don’t understand why you say that as it was my favourite part of the show. Would you never reconsider taking that up again?
No. My more serious attempts at song-writing are for me and will always stay that way.
I‘d be afraid of the mockery.
When would you say you really felt recognized as a stand-up comic?
When Shannon Cochrane and I were nominated for the Perrier Award in 2002 it came as a surprise and humbled me to be thought of in the same light as Kitson, Djalili, Fielding, Carr and Hills. That was my first acceptance that I might be in this career for life.
You did a show, the Naked Racist, convincing as many people as possible to dance naked at the end of the show. What made you come up with this idea?
I came to Edinburgh with an idea of what the story was and where it was going to go but the naked dancers came after the idea of getting the band naked and it followed that the peace protesters at the end should also come on naked. I had many regular volunteers including Leon Fleury, Pappy’s Fun Club, Janice Phayre and Phil Kay amongst others. The very last time the show was performed I was joined onstage by 112 naked protesters.
Speaking of which, you have a DVD of both Naked Racist and Nearly Gay coming out. These DVDs were filmed a while back but never released. Tell us the story behind these and what we can expect.
Two of my favourite shows, The Naked Racist and its precursor Nearly Gay filmed at the Garrick Theatre released on one DVD. Simple and fun.
Are there any unusual added extras on the DVDs we should look forward to?
No. The shows are the thing and that is what I want you to see. There will be many extras on the next DVD.
You had a great run at the Ediburgh Fringe this year. What would you say was the highlight and which shows did you enjoy?
I loved acting in Dave Florez’s original drama The Intervention every day. My favourite show was Tony Law’s Maximum Nonsense. He is a brilliant funny man with a deep rooted love of the absurd. Go and see it if it tours near you. You will not be disappointed.
Phil’s DVD Nearly Gay / The Naked Racist is available now from Amazon and will soon be available on iTunes.
He also has a string of gigs up until the end of the year and you can find out where and when he will be appearing here.