Arts

Phill Jupitus on mixing comedy and verse at Stendhal Festival with alter-ego Porky The Poet

Comedian Phill Jupitus headlines the comedy stage at the Stendhal Festival this Saturday. He tells David Roy about mixing comedy and verse with his recently revived performing alter-ego Porky The Poet

Phill Jupitus will appear at the Stendhal Festival on Saturday night

COMEDIAN Phill Jupitus is much more than just a comic: throughout his career, the Fife-based 57-year-old has successfully turned his hand to art, poetry, comedy songs, DJ-ing and acting.

It was in the 1980s that the Isle of Wight native first built up a following as Porky The Poet, delivering politicised verse to audiences around the UK as a support act for left-leaning music stars like Billy Bragg, The Housemartins and The Style Council.

Jupitus eventually transitioned to live stand-up, officially retiring Porky in 1987. In 1996, he became a TV regular with a 19-year stint as team captain on BBC2's popular panel quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks. However, in recent times the comic has made a belated return to verse – and it's had a rejuvenating effect on his live performances.

"I think it's beholden upon a comic to be interested in what they're doing rather than just doing the same jokes in the same order every night," explains Jupitus of how he likes to mix poetry, stand-up and other stuff into his live sets these days.

"Unless I'm doing something new that excites me, I find it's very easy to get moribund and a little bit bogged down. For me, there needs to be something of a 'live event' about comedy, which is why I keep a kind of 'armoury' of directions I can go in.

"So, on the night, I allow myself to kind of read the room and see what's happening."

When Jupitus headlines the comedy bill at this weekend's Stendhal Festival in Limavady, audiences will be treated to what will be a primarily 'Porky' set.

"I'm not saying there's not comedy in it – they are funny poems," he explains. "But yeah, I like the structure of poetry at festivals. It's got a nice vibe to it."

He adds: "The two performing strands feed each other, really: the poetry feeds the stand-up, which feeds the poetry. But when I go on tour on my own, I'll go on stage and say 'the stand-up's the second part of the show, but now I'm going to do some poetry for you.

"'You may be wondering why it didn't say on the poster or in any of the publicity that I would be doing that, and that's because I wanted to sell some tickets!'

"I'm fully aware that poetry isn't a hot ticket item for people looking for stand-up, but whenever I do the poetry as part of the comedy show people always come up and tell me 'I didn't know you did that, that was a lot of fun'. So people do dig it – even if you sort of have to ambush them with it."

At Stendhal, the multi-faceted comic is also looking forward to sharing the bill with our own Kevin McAleer, with whom he shares some history.

"I did one of my first ever gigs in London with Kevin," Jupitus tells me. "It was when I first started in 1984. So to be gigging with him again some 35 years later is a bit of a treat for me. He was always a favourite of mine."

In a way then, it's fitting that Jupitus has now come full circle with his live act for the occasion.

"I'd had enough," he explains of his initial decision to retire Porky. "No-one was booking me as a poet and I'd started doing the stand-up and was getting gigs, so I just said, 'Well, I won't do the poetry anymore'.

"But then there was a lad in London called Tim Wells who does a poetry thing called Rising. He got me writing again, for their fanzine, and that got me thinking about poetry again.

"I think it was seven years ago I put together my first ever one-hour poetry show at the Edinburgh Fringe called 29 Years Too Late or something [Phill Jupitus is Porky The Poet in 27 Years On] and that really fired me up.

"It's actually quite inspirational to take the performing in a completely new direction: even though I'd done it before, what I had was all the experience of having being a stand-up and having done television for 25 years – so, suddenly, there were new skills to be brought to bear on the performance poetry side of things."

Never a man content to rest on his laurels, Jupitus also reveals that he's got back into one of his first loves – art.

"Before I did any performing or anything, I was a cartoonist," he tells me. "In the early 80s I did stuff for fanzines and occasionally Time Out and the NME, and I did some drawings for books by Billy Bragg and Attila The Stockbroker."

A recent show of his collage work in his adopted hometown of Pittenween was a complete sell-out and he's starting a four-year full-time art course at Dundee University next month.

"I'm quite looking forward to getting started with that and seeing where it takes me, because there's so much that I haven't done in art before," Jupitus enthuses.

"Also, I think that if you're 57 and you're learning new s**t, that can't be bad."

:: Phill Jupitus, Saturday August 17, Stendhal Festival, Limavady. Tickets and full programme information via Stendhalfestival.com

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