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My So Called Life
Despite the sell-out success of the Monster tour and a shelf-load of awards for Black Books, Dylan Moran remains as steadfastly gloomy as ever about the art of stand-up comedy. “You’re standing there pandering to a couple of hundred swivel-eyed, maroon-faced, braying fucks,” he groans to Barry Glendenning.
Barry Glendenning, 14 Dec 2004
Painstakingly chiseled somewhere in a big rock, one of the immutable laws of journalism states that all articles about Dylan Moran must begin with the caveat that he is an uncooperative interviewee.
It’s something of a falsehood perpetuated by charlatans, as over the years I’ve always found the acerbic stand-up comedian and actor to be massively entertaining company as long as you don’t let yourself be intimidated by his cutting sarcasm, weary cynicism and thinly-disguised reluctance to answer questions he thinks are stupid.
Over a few drinks in the kind of metrosexual, arsehole-infested Soho watering hole that ought to be the subject of much mockery in his next stand-up act or sitcom, we talk for the guts of two hours. Half that time is spent in broody, suspicious silence, our conversation punctuated with long pauses that each of us is reluctant to break. Half the rest of our time is spent discussing things he insists have no place in a magazine and in the remaining half-hour, he provides more entertaining, laugh-out-loud soundbites than the average band of shoe-gazing indie musos will muster in a lifetime.
“Right, neither of us really wants to be here so let’s get this thing done and get on with our lives,” he announces for about the third time in an hour, pressing the record button on my tape recorder after a seam of lurid discussion about men giving each other reacharounds has been exhausted. “Ask me another question. Ask me how my West End run is going. I’ll try to stick to the subject.”
I ask him how his West End run is going.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, who cares?” he groans, rubbing his face with both hands before banging his forehead off the table in exasperation.
Our game of interrogatory dodgeball meanders aimlessly, before talk turns to Dylan’s days on the London stand-up comedy circuit, a world he insists he is happy to have left behind. “It was terrible,” he recalls. “You go mental. I used to get the shakes at the prospect of having to go out and do the clubs in London.”
Coming from a man who’s never endured the tedium of a proper job and who rocketed through the ranks compared to the vast majority of his jobbing peers, this sounds a bit mealy-mouthed. Would he care to elaborate?
“Well, I mean it’s so moronic,” he sighs. “You feel like you’re in the army. It’s drill squad stuff. You spend four years living in London, struggling to get up the ladder – and it is a struggle, whether you’re any good or not - and for what? So you can end up talking to a bunch of pissed-up loss adjusters down in Battersea, who are off their tits on over-priced margaritas which arrive in big eight-gallon jugs dispatched from some huge fucking vat out the back.
“Where’s the dignity? You’re standing there pandering to a couple of hundred swivel-eyed, maroon-faced, braying fucks. It’s gladiatorial and you’re there flailing around for the amusement of these drunken arseholes who haven’t even paid to come and see you because they’re on a work do and neither know nor care who’s on stage.”
Now we’re sucking diesel. Fans of the hit Channel 4 sitcom Black Books could be forgiven for assuming that the show’s disheveled, lazy and misanthropic protagonist, Bernard, is, if anything a watered-down alter ego of the man who both created and portrayed him so well. Having delivered three series of the critically acclaimed sitcom in between starring in movies such as The Actors and Shaun Of The Dead, his prolific output makes a mockery of the opinions of people who once laboured under the delusion that his fondness for a drink would end up putting a stop to his creative gallop. People like me, for example.
“Yeah, I have some drinks, but I don’t wake up under the optic which is what a lot of people seem to think,” he explains. “I get up and do things in the morning like every other hoor. You have to. When I was writing Black Books I’d start at 10 in the morning and sometimes I wouldn’t finish until ten at night. You just do it until the thing is done. It’s the guilt, you know. I have this huge anvil of ever-present guilt of work not done constantly creaking above my head on a rope, so inevitably you get some stuff done.”
More silence ensues, throughout which he peers at me inquisitively. “Did you really think I hung around bars all day drinking?” he eventually inquires. “Is your opinion of me that low or is it just because any time we meet we’re hanging around bars drinking? How many times have you got off your arse and written a sitcom? Eh?”
Suitably chastened, I ask if life as a thespian agrees with him.
“Well that’s just enjoyable nonsense,” he declares. “You throw on the wigs and the boots, you stomp around and say the words they told you to say. It’s a ridiculous way of earning a living when you think of it. It’s prostitution without any hands-on contact.”
Prostituting himself for less worthy causes is something Moran has always been reluctant to do. Despite the inevitable offers, he has long been conspicuous by his absence from celebrity quiz shows and vacuous lifestyle magazines. Hasn’t he ever been tempted to accept a big bag of money to grin inanely while posing in front of his new Navan-shaped swimming pool?
“Well the quiz shows just make you look like a deep-fried, battered arsehole, which I think I can do without, but I have to say I find those magazines hysterical,” he concedes. “What’s that Irish one? VIP, that’s it. It’s just nauseating. You’re flicking through it and you’re wondering: ‘Who are these people and why do they think I’m interested in what passes for their happiness?’ It’s vanity on a breath-taking scale.”
So why not lend it a touch of much-needed class? It’s money for rope, when all’s said and done.
“I don’t think be able to do it to the standard they require,” he confesses dryly. “I wouldn’t be able to stand in my gold-plated bathroom going ‘Here’s my baked bean collection and over here we have the vomitorium’. God all-fucking-mighty the whole thing is horrific. If you’ve been on television once you can make a good living selling the exclusive of your piles or your lactose intolerance. I’m bewildered by it.”
It’s time to wrap up, as Dylan has to go and “lie down” for half an hour before this evening’s show. In a neighbouring theatre, his friend and Black Books co-star Bill Bailey is also midway through a sell-out run. “We’ve considered swapping theatres some night for a laugh,” says Moran. “The problem is that I’m afraid of walking on his stage and being pelted with the ninja stars I’m fairly certain the kind of people who like him probably carry around with them at all times.”
And with that, Dylan Moran drains his glass, shakes my hand, tells the barman I’m picking up the tab and flits off into the Soho gloom … before sheepishly re-entering the bar moments later to pick up the sunglasses he’s left behind him on the table. “Tell anyone I was wearing shades in November and you’re a dead man,” he hisses, before making off into the night again.
Monster is out now on DVD, as are all three series of Black Books. Dylan Moran does not really have a Navan-shaped swimming pool.