Mike Wilmot and ‘the way it comes out’

HE HAS been described as “raucous, offensive and downright crude”, as well as being “very, very funny, producing belly cackles of genuine mirth” - both of which quotes come from the same review by The Scotsman.

The performer in question is gruff Canadian comic Mike Wilmot who is among the featured acts at the Bulmers Galway Comedy Festival which runs from Wednesday October 26 to Monday 31.

A native of Toronto, Wilmot started performing in Britain in 1995 after establishing himself as a comic in Canada. He has since become one of the most popular comics on the live circuit and has often featured on TV shows such as Live at the Apollo and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. His credits also include acclaimed stints at such prestigious international festivals in Edinburgh, Montreal, as well as in Melbourne where he won a Barry Award in 2003.

Wilmot’s pungent brand of comedy typically includes frank, profane, and hilarious routines on sex, drink, marriage, and ageing. While he may affect the persona of a beery, sex-obsessed grouch, his combination of candour, eloquence, and sharp observation lifts his comedy above the norm.

Over a morning phone call ahead of his Galway visit, Wilmot, shared some of his thoughts on comedy, cussing, and getting older.

I start by asking him for his thoughts on the theory aired by critic Bruce Dessau, in his recent book Beyond A Joke, on the world of stand-up comedy, that comics are often drunks, depressives, drug addicts, neurotics, terrible partners, and parents, and generally the kind of people you would be well advised to avoid once they come off stage.

“I think he pretty much nailed that right on the money,” Wilmot responds wryly in his recognisably gravelly tones, “but maybe that guy was hanging around with too many of the wrong types; sure there are jerkoffs and shit comics around that are like that but I don’t hang around with them. There are plenty of comics that are happily married and well adjusted and perfectly normal.”

Wilmot has been around the comedy block quite a few times now, but who were the comics who inspired him when he was a young gun ‘learning his chops’.

“Richard Pryor and George Carlin were the two I really admired when I was young,” he replies. “I used to go out and get their records the way someone else would buy Beatles’ LPs. Other than those it would be the guys I worked alongside as I was coming up and that I still see performing today.”

The growth of the comedy business into a comedy industry has seen certain universities – such as Southampton - start to offer degree courses in comedy performance and theory. Wilmot is sceptical about what such courses really have to offer.

“I think those courses are just run by bad comics or failed comics,” he asserts. “You only really get to understand comedy by actually doing it. Comedy already has what is effectively its own school through things like open mic slots and so on where up-and- coming comics can acquire the skills they need to get on.

“Robert Mitchum once said that going to acting school was like learning how to be tall and I think you could say the same about comedy, it’s a gift you have or you don’t. I look at it as a kind of benevolent disorder, you start off as a kid enjoying making other kids laugh and then when you get bigger you find yourself wanting to do it as a career.

“As for university courses, I was once invited to address the members of one at a college in the US and I basically told ‘em all they should just quit. I don’t suppose I’ll be getting invited back there any day soon!”

As he approaches 50, Wilmot’s routines of late have increasingly featured his rueful observations on the travails of middle age and the various ways in which, to paraphrase his fellow-Canadian Leonard Cohen, ‘we ache in the places where we used to play’. Does he find any upside to getting older?

“I think the only good thing about getting older is being able to make fun of it,” he replies. “I was doing a joke the other day about how my feet have been killing me lately. I wasn’t expecting to make those kind of gags until I was in my seventies but here I am doing them 20 years earlier than I planned.”

Wilmot has made occasional forays into TV sitcoms and also played Paul Kaye’s manager in the award-winning film It’s All Gone Pete Tong, or which he received a Canadian Comedy Award. He is self-effacing about his work on the film.

“The director of Pete Tong knew me from my stand-up work which is how I got the role,” he says. “I basically just played my own manager, well it was a mix of my own manager and this guy who runs one of the comedy store venues and the rest of it was just myself. I can’t really act after all!”

Wilmot has also appeared alongside his good buddy Rich Hall in the BBC series Rich Hall’s Fishing Show and Rich Hall’s Cattle Drive. Do the duo have any plans for another series? “You never know,” Wilmot muses. “I don’t plan it but some day the phone call will come from Rich and I’m bound to say yes. I’m like his sidekick in life.”

Many of Wilmot’s routines on sex feature robust descriptions of boisterous bedroom antics with his partner of 24 years, the mother of his two daughters. I ask whether his kids were never embarrassed to hear their dad come out with these kind of stories? Funnily enough it turns out the opposite is the case.

“My daughters are both grown and left home now,” he reveals, “but I remember when one of them was 17 she snuck into one of my shows one night. I saw her afterward and she was beaming but I was mortified! I said to her ‘That woman I describe onstage, that’s not your mom!’ She just said ‘Dad! I know Mom would never let you do those things!’”

Finally, Wilmot offers his thoughts on the prolific cussing which is another hallmark of his comedy. “The bad language is just me,” he shrugs. “I don’t find it filthy per se and I don’t set out intending to offend anyone with it. That’s just the way it comes out.”

Mike Wilmot appears at Monroe’s on Friday October 28 at 8pm, alongside Ardal O’Hanlon and Paddy Courtney. He also plays Kelly’s Bar, Bridge Street, on Saturday 29 at 8.30pm, with Scott Capurro and Colin Murphy. On Sunday 30 at 8pm, he is at Campbell’s Tavern, Cloughanover, near Headford, with Chris Kent and Danny Dowling. Tickets available from www.galwaycomedyfestival.com

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