WHEN Brian Limond was 15 and on holiday in Millport, he got drunk, became upset over a girl and slashed one his wrists with a broken bottle of Merrydown cider.
Twenty years later, when creating the first series of his BBC Scotland comedy Limmy’s Show, he wrote a sketch in which he visits a train station and asks the woman behind the desk how he can get to Millport; not how he can travel, physically, to the seaside town, but whether there is any way to get inside a fading photo and revisit the carefree summer pleasures of his youth.
This tragicomic alchemy, this reshaping of a dark memory into a kind of melancholy whimsy, is typical of Limond’s work. To call him simply a comedian is to underestimate the complexity of what he writes and to misunderstand the neuroses driving that writing. Not that he minds being misunderstood. “I like people thinking that I’ve lost the plot,” he says.
We meet in Òran Mór, a pub and arts venue in the west end of Glasgow. Limond, who is 38, is tucked away in the corner with a pot of tea and a paper. He’s a quieter, more thoughtful, far less abrasive figure than you might expect from some of his provocative, swear-strewn sketches, especially his internet work. He came to public notice six years ago, punted in the press as Britain’s first dot-comic after filming much of his DIY comedy on a webcam. Now, with a Bafta in the bag and the third series of Limmy’s Show about to start on BBC2, he remains an online provocateur, uploading video blogs to YouTube exaggerating the real anger he feels for comic effect. He is also a compulsive user of Twitter with almost 50,000 followers. A tweet late last year in which he wished for the death of Margaret Thatcher prompted condemnation from the MP Louise Mensch. He is a gleefully accomplished wind-up artist who gets a kick from the ambiguity of his bile, unwilling to explain whether he is kidding or not.
“I’m addicted,” he says. “If they were to shut down Twitter, I would be, like, ‘What am I going to do now?’ It’s there all the time, and at any point if I’m bored, I can tweet and make a big thing happen. It’s like arson in a way. Not that I’m advocating arson. Arson’s bad. Twitter is a good form of arson.”
Boredom should not be underestimated as a motivation for Limond’s work. He has a chronic case of ennui – a kind of weary woe, a heaviness of the mind and spirit which has afflicted him since childhood. He finds normal life disappointing, lacking in spark. He often has urges to do daft, reckless things like climb scaffolding or a church steeple or hide in a hedge in the park. Or take a drink. “I feel you’re destroying yourself by trying to fit in with normality,” he says. But he doesn’t do these things. He especially doesn’t get drunk; a problem with alcohol means he has not touched a drop for eight years, not since the night he stood on the suspension bridge at Glasgow Green, planning to throw himself in the Clyde.
He doesn’t have depression, he is keen to explain. He believes he has Attention Deficit Disorder and knows he suffers from anxiety. He is starved of stimulation and finds it hard to get it from other people or from the usual cultural entertainments.
Has he ever had any kind of therapy? “No,” he replies, “but I’ve been thinking about it recently because from time to time I really do get emotionally unstable.”
How does that manifest itself? “Suicidal thoughts. For years, ever since I was a teenager, every now and again that seems a reasonable option. I’ve only been ready to do it a few times. It kind of pops up – ‘I could kill myself’. It sounds strange saying it now. I tend to get tunnel vision, and I think it’s part of a disorder or learning difficulty that I’ve always had but never had diagnosed.
“I find too many things at once, too many conversations, too many wee issues really hard to handle, and I kind of implode. I feel like backing up and getting away from everything and topping myself. I think maybe that was one of the causes of the drinking. Aye, it just manifests itself as really dark feelings and anxiety and pessimism.”
When did he last feel that way? “Yesterday. Not suicidal, but that kind of thing can happen almost daily or every few days.”
He began to have these feelings while growing up in Carnwadric, in the south of Glasgow. His father, Billy, was a joiner and artist who now works as a stage hypnotist. His mother, Jessie, died in 1995. He remembers her as funny and broad-minded; they would often sit together and watch Calamity Jane and even now he knows the words to all the songs.
“When I was a teenager, about 14 or 15, I used to cut myself up,” he says. “Not really deep. Not with a razor or anything. With Coke cans. I didn’t really know how to express my feelings. I felt I couldn’t really be myself.”
His work, then, allows for that self-expression necessary to his happiness. Although the process of writing can be difficult and fraught with crises of self-doubt, a run of good ideas can make him feel “godlike”, and the six weeks of filming for a series (he writes, directs and stars) are a real pleasure because he is in charge of a situation he can control. The work itself, which can be very funny, reflects his personality. His characters often feel angry, anxious, baffled, thwarted and eager to escape their surroundings; it is not uncommon for a sketch to end in silence with Limond staring into the camera with an expression of existential horror, Ollie Hardy meets Munch’s Scream. A key influence on his comedy is Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.
Limond is keen on the secret inner lives of men. One recurring sketch in the new series, involving the catchphrase, “Whit’s your hing?”, sees him and others confess to the kinks and fantasies they keep from their wives and girlfriends. That these range from keeping a secret hamster in the attic to spending hours hiding in a fly-tipped wardrobe does not detract from the fact that this is comedy made by a man who, quite often, finds the sober, normal life almost unbearable.
In 2010, Limond and his girlfriend Lynn became parents. They had a son. For the first year of the boy’s life, Limond found the responsibility difficult; every trip to a soft-play area was full of stress, fear that someone would spill coffee on his son or that he would get injured in some other way. “When you have your first baby, you go from your biggest care being whether your haircut is going to work out okay to ‘I could potentially cause the death of my wean and then inevitably commit suicide after it.’
“But now he’s really funny, he’s got a personality, he’s a person. I really enjoy his company, just lying about with him and having a laugh. So right now is a really good time. You feel there’s entertainment in your life every day, and somebody you love and care about and who makes you smile. That’s changed everything.”
Following this third series of Limmy’s Show, Limond would like to create a sitcom, a spin-off based around one of his popular recurring characters – waster fantasist Dee Dee, phone-in show host Falconhoof, or thin-skinned former junkie Jacqueline McCafferty. One wonders, though, whether he might not be better broadening his range and stretching his considerable abilities as an actor and writer; the new head of the National Theatre of Scotland, for instance, might do worse than commission a new work from Limond, or hire him to adapt and perform in an established play, perhaps Beckett’s Endgame, with its key line, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.”
Well, maybe. Limond, for his part, and with typical lugubrious bluntness, insists that for the moment he is sticking with the telly. “I don’t want to spread myself too thin,” he says. “I might be shite at everything.” «
Limmy’s Show, BBC2, tomorrow, 10pm. www.limmy.com