Lee Nelson creator Simon Brodkin headlines Catherington Comedy Festival with Milton Jones, Angela Barnes and more | Big Interview
He made his name as likeable chav Lee Nelson with two series of his own show on BBC3, and other characters followed like Jason Bent, a dim Premiership footballer.
There have also been a series of high profile stunts, like handing Theresa May her P45 mid-speech at the Tory party conference, gatecrashing a FIFA press conference to throw a cash at Sepp Blatter, jumping on stage with Kanye West at Glastonbury, and perhaps most audaciously interrupting Donald Trump at one of his Scottish golf courses in 2016 to hand out swastika emblazoned golf balls as part of the soon-to-be-American president’s new ‘range'.
But the comic Simon Brodkin is finally stepping out as himself. He has a new show called Troublemaker, which is going on an extensive UK tour in autumn.
Before then, though, he's previewing the show at Catherington Comedy Festival.
The new outdoor festival includes sets from big names Milton Jones, Terry Alderton, Paul Sinha, Angela Barnes and many more, as well as up-and-coming names over its three days. It has been put together and will be compered by Guide award-winning comic James Alderson.
For Simon this is a watershed moment: ‘This is a particularly exciting moment in my career because I'm moving away from doing the characters and the stunts.
‘This is my first tour as myself. Well, there was a first tour, but there was this thing called coronavirus which affected a few people, I don't know if your readers would have heard of it?
‘So that, like for so many other people in so many other fields, totally smashed that to pieces.
That previous show, 100% Simon Brodkin debuted at Edinburgh Festival in 2019, and had been due to tour, but that never happened.
‘It's like I've come back better – I've come back better with a new one, even though the first one never really got the chance to get started.’
Not the kind of comic to over-analyse what he does – at least not in interviews.
‘It's proper stand up – I'm wanting to make people laugh like a drain for as long as possible, that's always the primary objective,’ he adopts a fusty professor-type voice, ‘so I won't get too bogged down in the ins and outs of the minutiae of what I'm talking about and what I'm referring to.
‘All you need to know is that it's damn funny, it's talking about me and my life and my upbringing, getting into trouble all the time, what it's like to be a dad...
‘I talk a lot about the different stunts – particularly the Donald Trump stunt, which resulted in (American neo-Nazi and former KKK leader) David Duke and his many Trump-supporting masses throwing some disgusting online hate at me.
‘Which was a bit of a mad one,’ he adds with some rather considerable understatement.
‘And it's really fun to be able to talk out of character because you can actually talk about your own life.
I am without a character to hide behind, well, not hide behind... but it is really different.
‘Having always gone on stage in character, it is obviously still comedy. But it's like if a goalkeeper, where they've played all their life, was suddenly asked to play in midfield for a season – or the rest of their careers – let's see what happens!
‘From the outside looking in, if you don’t know anything about football, you'd go: “That's just football,” but when you're in it and you know the sport, you know it's a completely different skillset within the same arena.’
‘Especially at first, it was a really strange experience for me – just in the way I talk, the way I walk, how I hold the microphone, it all suddenly had to change.’
Earlier this month, Brodkin was instrumental in putting together Can’t Wait, a charity single in aid of Stand Up For The NHS. Written by Brodkin with musical comics Huge Davies and Bennet Kavanagh, it features a roll call of British stand-ups.
‘It was an idea put together during lockdown, when most stand up comedy wasn't possible, and it was a way of trying to say thank you to the NHS in a way that I knew – which was getting comedians together over Zoom and singing a silly song and trying to put a smile on people's faces, and obviously raising money for an amazing cause – the NHS.
‘It was a really, really cool thing to do. It's 30 of Britain's comedians – Miranda Hart, Jason Manford, Jack Dee, Jo Brand, Al Murray, Simon Brodkin – an incredible comedian,’ he deadpans, ‘Harry Hill. All singing this song about how we can't wait for all the things we're looking forward to going back to that we probably took for granted when life was normal.’
How did he get so many top names involved?
‘It was simply a bit of persistence – I felt a little bit like Bob Geldof. I was the Bob Geldof of the comedy world, and I hope to get knighted one day off the back of this...’ he laughs. ‘Nah, people were up for it, particularly the people who've got connections to the NHS – I was a doctor, so was the author of This Is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay, who's very funny, Harry Hill was a doctor, Jo Brand used to be a nurse, Nabil Abdulrashid's dad was a doctor, Tim Vine's mum was a GP’s receptionist, and there were a few others that all made it a bit more personal.’
He also mentions that it was to ‘absolve my own guilt from me for buggering off when things were more straightforward.’
After studying medicine, Brodkin was a doctor for six years. Was he ever tempted to go back during the pandemic?
‘I left about 15 years ago now. I think by staying at home I saved hundreds of lives – that's how bad a doctor I am.’
During the pandemic, with many performers seeing their income dry up, Cameo – a website offering people the chance to buy personalised video messages from their favourite actors and comics – has taken off. Brodkin is one of the comics listed on the site, and it’s been a nice little earner for the star.
‘Yeah, I've done quite a few. I like other people at first, thought: “ What is this? It's beneath me!”
‘But when you think about it, what is any bit of entertainment that you pay someone for? Whether it be on a huge scale where loads of people pay a bit of cash to see you in a show – that's obviously everyone's preferred choice. I'd rather be touring than doing Cameos, but it felt like, why not?
‘I don't think you can make a decent case against it. It's a fun way to reach out to your fans. I've not set it at some crazy price, and for the last year, it's been financially ruinous for the entire comedy industry, so I think it's actually quite a cool thing.
‘And I'm sure in a year or two, no one will think anything of it, but whenever anything new comes along, then there's always detractors.
‘But it's a cool, fun way to interact with your fans and I know it's given a load of people a load of pleasure with birthday shout outs, anniversary shout outs.
‘Kanye West obviously wanted a personalised message,’ he laughs, ‘Theresa May came in with a couple of requests.
‘It's been nice to give something back to my real fans...’
Simon did a night in Catherington last autumn – a gig he remembers fondly (there weren’t many others to choose from at the time...)
‘It's a really lovely, brilliant gig, and James is a fantastic promoter who puts on well-run events, well booked, well organised, and I am going on tour from September – so this is a lovely way of being able to build up towards that.
‘Think of this as the qualifying rounds before the World Cup proper – I'm really looking forward to it, it should be a great festival with a great vibe, and that stage is always really fun.
‘I went there a few months ago when it was freezing cold – it looked a bit like a scene from the first pandemic in 1918 when they thought the best treatment was just sitting outdoors.
‘Everyone was there huddled in all of these blankets and Thermos flasks, freezing – but all laughing and having a great time.
‘This one should be a bit warmer...’
And what of his creations – have we seen the last of Lee, Jason, et al?
‘They’re still there. And we'll see what happens… Lee has probably been hiding out in Magaluf for the last year-and-a-half, and Jason in Dubai.’
Catherington Comedy Festival runs at The Farmer Inn, Catherington, across five sessions from August 6 to 8.
Afternoon sessions cost £16, evenings £24. Individual day tickets £36, full weekend £77 and VIP passes £100.
For more information and tickets go to comedyunderthestars.co.uk.
A message from the editor, Mark Waldron.
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