Posts ByAndy D Chambers, Author at
Matt Roper is probably best know for his creation of Wilfredo, a musical character comedy phenomenon that has gained quite the cult following on both the British comedy and music festival scene for his rather extravagant performances and Bohemian beliefs. Matt shares his North London dwelling with his guitar, camera and apparently doesn’t own a single decent pair of shoes. Having earned rave reviews all across the board at the Edinburgh Fringe, accompanied by Uncle Ignacio on the guitar, Wilfredo will be putting on a single, intimate performance at the Leicester Square Theatre. We hadn’t spoken to him since before his Edinburgh run so we were eager to find out what he’d been up to. Get ready for a grotesque, crude and utterly deluded night out in London.
Hi Matt. For the readers who don’t know, tell us all about how Wilfredo came to be?
When I was playing around on my guitar, singing ‘Woman’ by John Lennon in a silly accent. There was never any intention to create a character. It just sort of came to be and it developed while having a few laughs and not taking it at all seriously. Then I did a benefit gig for a friend and it snowballed from there.
Once again, your Fringe show was critically acclaimed. It’s been hinted that you’re a big part of the allure for many people travelling to Edinburgh. What sets you aside from the rest?
Maybe that Wilfredo has a very positive approach to life… there isn’t an ounce of cynicism. He’s tuned into a very interesting frequency that people seem drawn to. In his mind, he has a complete inability to fail. Total self-belief. Very positive. That resonates among his audience… and then there’s a punkish quality to counterbalance it that people find outrageous, I suppose. That people are willing to part with money and sit themselves right up at the front to be spat over and have abuse hurled at them for an hour… it’s amazing. They reduce themselves to a childlike state, they really do.
You are very popular amongst the ladies too. Wilfredo has had some notable affairs over the years, including Victoria Beckham and Michelle Obama. Anyone on the radar right now?
Wilfredo would probably tell you that he’s married to his career. But he’ll also slip in a bit of gossip about Angelina Jolie too. He’ll tell you all about Wilfrangelina if you’ll listen. Dita Von Teese keeps texting him but he’s keeping her on the back-burner for now. He’s keeping all his options open. You know… as he does.
I guess this is all down to your style, which is obviously very alternative. Do you ever find people not used to this are turned off by it, or do you think Wilfredo always has the ability to recruit new fans?
I think people like him on different levels for different reasons. Some are endeared by his charm, others love the music, others love the delusional aspect of him… Some people are genuinely liberated by his bad manners. The way he trims the fat and gets on with things. But there was one woman in the audience during the Edinburgh run who was sat with her husband. He couldn’t get enough of it, and was giggling like an excited schoolboy right the way through, but her… she just couldn’t take it. The husband couldn’t have cared less, but he kept patting her on the knee every now and then, reassuringly, as if to say “everything’s going to be alright”. And of course in the end, it was.
So, how did you get into comedy? And more specifically, what persuaded you to get into this particular type of comedy?
I got my proper start, or what I recognize as my proper start, by playing characters in sketches and stuff when I was about twenty years old. I’d also done some straight stand-up by that point but not more than, say, ten or fifteen minute sets. But this character, Wilfredo… there was no persuasive or contrived element to it. I wasn’t even thinking of returning to performing. I’d been away from it for a space of about five or six years, I felt very uninspired so I went off to India to think about my purpose… So after that benefit gig, when I’d got back, there was such an encouraging response to it, it was so much fun to do, so I’d pimp Wilfredo around music festivals, coming onstage very late at night. It was all so funny seeing people tripping or gurning and seeing their response to it. It was very slowly at first, in that environment. Anything goes at festivals. That’s why I love them so much. People are just open to everything and they’re in such a great place, if even just for two or three days.
I’ve spoken to a lot of other character comedians, and found that they sometimes fall into character without knowing. Has this ever happened to you?
That’s the sort of question maybe my friends could answer for you. I have noticed one or two character comics adopt one of their voices when they really want to say something directly, whereas otherwise they couldn’t, as they’re too polite. Ah… I suppose I do it myself, Wilfredo’s voice… sometimes for example when I want a cup of tea and nobody is offering. You know when you’re round at a friend’s place or whatever. Because he’s very controlling and direct. Very useful, Wilfredo, from time to time.
And what about before you did comedy full time, what were the worst jobs you had?
Data entry for the overpayments section of housing benefit at Brent Council around the end of the Nineties. I lasted about four weeks. I was also a bartender at a theatre in London for a bit, too, around the same time. All of us were treated like shit. I remember it was the premiere of a musical and Elton John was there and we were all briefed that nobody should “look at Elton” under any circumstances, as if we were all gagging to. That same night, I walked into a storeroom to find a corkscrew and found a very famous footballer being mounted by a tall blonde lady. I was very, very young and didn’t know what to do. I think I might have even apologised, then walked out of the room backwards, the way people do when they’ve just met the Queen.
Wilfredo seems to have an incredible rapport with the crowd. Is it natural talent that makes you so quick witted, or is there a new energy drink on the market that I don’t know about?
I don’t know if it’s a natural talent or an acquired skill. I owe a lot to working in front of audiences since a very young age… I’ve been up against all sorts of audiences, eventually something kicks in, some survival technique.
Wilfredo is a very emotional character. Is any of that mirrored in the man behind it, or is it a pure creation?
I think all performers are emotional people who are not afraid of showing it, which is what makes us so good at what we do but then, on the other hand, we’re so fucking socially inept. For example, I took the train to Brighton the other night for the opening of an exhibition and I nearly chewed my hand off with anxiety… I think I left London at four o’clock and I was back here in my flat by nine. I’d love to say he’s a pure creation. He’s about a ninety percent creation… such a lot of it is of my imagination, but there are parts… there are elements of myself thrown in here and there. Such as his peacenik attitude… I try at least… and his love for people. You see I genuinely do love people. Just I really, really don’t want to live with them. You know when people say it’s best when you can hold a baby and then hand it back? I feel the same way about adults too.
How do you keep shows fresh with the same character?
One of the nice things which has come from performing this character is this dedicated following, so I can elaborate on his story with each show and so the character can age and grow along with his audience.
And what would you class as Wilfredo’s greatest achievement so far?
Ah, probably playing Italy. To be able to clown around successfully without a shared language. Also Wilfredo has introduced both Jarvis Cocker and John Cooper Clarke onstage at festivals. John Cooper Clarke…. I want him on the fifty pound note. Jarvis can go on the tenner for now. I’ll get to see Jarvis more often but John Cooper Clarke can be the rare treat.
I think Wilfredo on a bank note would be an even better idea. Is that on of Wilfredo’s plans for the future?
No notes for now but there’s a documentary film – a short – which has been in production for the last few months… a sort of portrait of Wilfredo. Him in the recording studio and out and about. I’m not so interested in schlepping around the comedy circuit, people always ask me about gigging but I don’t feel it’s Wilfredo’s natural habitat really. We’ve played all kinds of places with this character. Gigs I’d never have been asked to do if I’d resigned myself to the comedy circuit, and that’s thanks to the music festival background actually, which attracts a great range of people. From that breeding ground, Wilfredo’s played all kinds of places. Artist collectives, cabarets, a gay club, even a birthing ceremony once. You can never predict it but he seems to bring out all sorts of hidden layers of people’s personalities. I’d quite like to take him to San Francisco, just to see how they respond to him, and maybe even Burning Man next year. We will see.
Obviously the character is very musically involved. Did you yourself come from a musical background?
My Dad was a stand-up and back in his day there was a huge club circuit which was focused on variety, really, so as a kid I would be taken round lots of smoky clubs and theatres. This would be in the mid-Eighties when it was all starting to die off. Singers singing all types of stuff which I would never have been exposed to otherwise. And big bands with brass sections… I would say personally I feel more of an affinity with musicians than other comedians, which I suppose is quite telling, really. Definitely musicians… and photographers too… I don’t know why that is.
You’ve met and worked with some great musicians and comedians alike. Are there any you think could rival Wilfredo in terms of obscenity?
I’m trying to think and I’m not sure. There are cabaret artists out there who are probably more aligned with the spirit of Wilfredo than the stand-ups. A critic at the Fringe described it as “almost Sadowitzian humour” which apparently is bang on in some respects. I was watching Margaret Cho recently, an American comic, and she really is outrageous like you wouldn’t believe. Beautifully obscene.
If you could go back and change anything, what would it be?
I don’t really get regretful about anything at all really… there is little point. Perhaps there are some gigs I’ve said yes to doing instead of saying no to when actually I’ve known it wasn’t quite right for the character in the first place. It’s got to be just right, otherwise there’s no point at all. Be open. But listen to your own core instincts as they’re usually right.
Who would you most like to duet with as Wilfredo?
I’d be very pleased if Morrissey would be up for a two part harmony on ‘This Charming Man’. Love Morrissey. I guested on Mike Joyce’s (ex-Smiths drummer) radio show in Manchester recently and he understood Wilfredo immediately. He couldn’t get enough of it. But then he’s a drummer, and drummers usually can’t. The drummers are always the comedy junkies…
And what about your comedy kicks? Who are your influences?
When I first came to London, at nineteen, I would spend a lot of my spare time in all of those secondhand vinyl shops in Notting Hill. I got obsessional about Monty Python, Beyond the Fringe, the Secret Policeman’s Ball… Derek and Clive… which were never played in our house growing up. It was a revelation actually. I suppose Peter Cook is my great comic hero. The ultimate satirist and improviser. Then when the League of Gentlemen came along it was like a glorious blast of fresh air. I’d waited years for that! All their characters were grotesque, and the warmth and vulnerability was all there. The way they suddenly took everything to the extremes, and then came right back to the middle again. There are contemporaries of mine who I could describe as being influential, but they get enough publicity. So fuck ‘em.
This is the second time you’ve been interviewed by PPSF. is there anything you’d like to say to the dedicated readers? Any advice to any young enthusiasts who one day hope to be as bizarre as Wilfredo?
To the potential grotesque wannabes, just to go back to the improv rule… to say ‘yes’ and just see where it takes you. I’d like to say to the readers, thank you for staying with us until the bitter end. I feel I may have gone on a bit, like Castro… I’m idealistic and I talk too fucking much… the self-proclaimed Castro of Comedy. I’m such a cunt…
Well, on that note, I think it’s best to leave it there. Thanks very much Matt.
We look forward to catching you again on the 17th of October at the Leicester Square Theatre.
Gavin Webster is one of the UK’s Top Professional Comedians, and he has steadily built his reputation on the professional comedy scene in the last two decades. Having worked with some of the best names in the business he’s making a big name for himself.
Gavin has appeared on The Eleven O’ Clock Show, Never mind the Buzzcocks, The Comedy Store amongst other TV and media work. He has his own weekly show in Newcastle, at a branch of one of the great comedy franchises ‘The Stand’. Not only that but he also wrote and starred in ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, the star studded BBC Comedy Sketch Show. A Writer, Actor, Comedian, and Voice-over artist: is there anything he can’t do?
Keen to find a bit more about the real Gavin Webster, and the man behind the mic, I, PPSF Associate Features Editor, Andy Chambers, persuaded Gavin to take five minutes out of his rather hectic schedule. Despite his many commitments, Gavin stopped for a drink and a chat in one of Newcastle’s real ale bars. Having gigged with him before, I know he can be a bit mischievous, and today is no exception.
Andy: Gavin, thanks for coming. You’ve been doing comedy for almost twenty years now. What prompted you, so long ago, to have a go at a pub in Gateshead? Did you have any comedy influences when you started taking it seriously?
Gavin: I was kind of forced into it by my mate who was really keen on us being a double act. The second comedy gig I went to, I was on. I know that’s become a cliche answer in interviews but it’s true in my case.
I kept going because I felt like I had something to say and I enjoyed it. I was influenced by all the local acts that were around at the time, most notably The Big Fun Club, Tony Mendoza, Vladimir McTavish and a very young Ross Noble.
Andy: I’ve gigged with Vlad. He’s quite special. It goes without saying you’ve worked with some of the finest in the business. Are there any acts you started out with that have made it to the same level?
Gavin: Well, in the case of Ross Noble, he went higher than everyone and is still a huge box office attraction and has been for over 10 years. Stefan Peddie is still on the local circuit and Vlad McTavish is a bit of a legend at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Andy: I do like Steffen. He’s a natural! You’ve been doing comedy professionally for a long time now. Can you remember what your worst jobs were before you finally caught a break?
Gavin: Building sites were hard. I worked in a brush factory which was particularly grim. That’s industrial brushes, not sweepy ones! I remember in one factory I worked in, I was lowering metal components into melting lead to give them a lead coating. I had to wear a mask, but the fumes were going right to my head. Apart from that, I did photocopier demonstrating, a call centre job that lasted a couple of years and delivering hire cars was my last employment.
One day, after designing a works rota without consultation, the new boss complained about me not turning in on a day when he’d scheduled me to. He was a bit of a prick and I thought ‘I’m sick of working for pricks’ so I quit and never returned to the world of work.
Andy: It must be nice! You’ve been described as a cross between Bill Hicks and Geoff off Byker Grove, yet you named your 2012 Fringe Show ‘Bill Hicks wasn’t very good’. For the readers that haven’t seen this live, tell us a bit about why you don’t like Bill Hicks.
Gavin: The show’s over now, so I can come clean. In my view, Bill Hicks wasn’t very good. I thought he was excellent. There’s still some fuckwit reviewers that didn’t get this twist.
Andy: Haha. I wish I had caught the show at the Fringe! Are there any live comics you actually can’t stand?
Gavin: Andrew Dice Clay is pish. I don’t like that Dane Cook bloke.
Andy: Agreed. Your preceding Fringe Show, in 2011, was called ‘All Young People are Cunts’. Can you give us a bit of insight into this?
Gavin: It was my disappointment with young people and their lazy culture. I went into detail about their language, their obsession with irony, with boxed sets, TV dinners and rubbishy music.
The fact that they were apolitical and decadent as well as arrogant, self righteous and generally dull. Tongue in cheek? Well, once again, one or two critics missed the point royally.
Andy: Aside from stand-up, you do have a lot of side projects. What are you busy with at the moment?
Gavin: Writing my blog, writing comedy projects, walking my dog, being a Dad, brewing beer, running my six-a-side football team and other projects that keep me sane.
Andy: Wow, you really are busy! I think I’ve probably been to most of your weekly shows at The Stand Newcastle on Sundays since you’ve started doing it. Tell the readers a little bit more about the setup for the show, and the reasons behind a show entitled ‘Northumbrian Assembly’.
Gavin: There was a campaign for a North East regional assembly a few years back, if you remember, and it was rejected. The no vote won hands down. Well, I have my own assembly every Sunday night. We keep it as Northumbrian as we possibly can: a meat draw, a comedy quiz with prizes of pease pudding, stotties and pictures of ex-Newcastle players from yesteryear. There are Northumbrian flags draped on the backdrop as well.
Andy: It certainly is a bit special Gav. I know, like me, you’re a huge Newcastle United fan. I’ve heard you run a strictly Comedians six-a-side football team every week. That might be a totally unique type of team! Who’s on the team? And are you guys any good?
Gavin: There’s myself, Andy Fury, John Whale, Kai Humphries and several others. We’re not a bad side. We’re in the second of three divisions.
I play on a Monday then walk like John Wayne for the next three days. I’m not getting any younger.
Andy: None of us unfortunately! Like a lot of pro comics, you do a lot of charity work. With so many worthy charities to support, are there any that you’re particular keen on supporting?
Gavin: Tiny Lives. They provide support for people coping with a premature birth and obviously some of the money goes to research to help keep new born prems alive. Our daughter was born prematurely. She’s fine now.
Andy: That is a really good cause. You obviously spend a lot of time on the road. What do you do in your downtime? In other words, what quietens and settles the busy mind of Gavin?
Gavin: Doing nothing is good! I watch Newcastle whenever I can as well. I do enjoy a drink. I’ve got a weakness for blended whisky and dark and red ales.
Andy: So the bar at the Stand is well funded? I hear you have a very keen interest in music in films. What in particular gets your creative juices flowing?
Gavin: I like Mike Leigh films, Ken Loach films, many more British films…the kitchen sink era…erm…screenplays written by Alan Clarke, Ken Rosenthal, Willy Russell, Alan Bleasdale and the like.
My music tastes are many and varied, but I’m a big fan of the punk/new wave era. Bands like The Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, The Stranglers, Stiff Little Fingers and many more.
The cynical attitude we comics have today all come from punk in my opinion.
Andy: Maybe your generation of comics. Many performers have little quirks, routines or particular items on their person before going on stage or whilst on stage. Do you have anything like that Gav?
Gavin: …I don’t like to have keys in my pocket when I’m on stage. Mo Farah wouldn’t have keys on him while running the 10,000 metres.
Andy: So no keys on stage, but a meat raffle is fine? Do you have any other big passions outside of comedy and media?
Gavin: …Many plans of wonderful dastardly acts but I couldn’t possibly share them. They’re top secret.
Andy: Ominous…and finally, what advice would you give to up and coming comedians who really want to make a go of it?
Gavin: Don’t listen to any advice. Generally, people who give you advice know nothing or they’re keen on giving you duff advice to try to stop you in your tracks. Make your own mistakes. Now was that genuine advice or am I trying to stop you in your tracks?!!! Who knows.
Andy: Thanks for clearing that up. Thanks for coming down Gavin.
Apart from his nationwide gigs, you can see Gavin every Sunday night at The Stand in Newcastle, Bigg Market.