Interview: Comedian Kevin Bridges- The best since Billy Connolly?

Share this article

FRIDAY night, and half a dozen good friends head up to Glasgow intent on a memorable evening – the kind that will take well into the following week to piece together, and only after the connection between the kebab stain on the best shirt, the inky blue wrist-stamp for the naff pub and the string of texts from "Alison" becomes apparent.

• Bridges has just turned 24, but is already one of the hottest Scottish comedians of all time

But, unknown to the others, one of them is already tiring of the regular stramash at just 17. He thinks he's having a reverse drowning experience, and starting to see his future flash in front of him. It's not what he wants.

"I didn't really fit in with where my mates were going," recalls Kevin Bridges, "Most of them were doing apprenticeships and everything seemed predestined. You worked away, doing your degree, then you got a job and you carried on going out every Friday night until you settled down and got married. I began to hate that scene of living just for the weekend, just for the crap nightclub."

Now we flash forward six years. Geographically it doesn't seem like Bridges has moved on very much as he tells the assembled company: "Glasgow! It's Friday night, it's f****n' pay day, here we go!" But these are his first words to the 10,000 who've packed the SECC for the recording of the first DVD in the incredible career of Britain's hottest young comedian.

The pals? Oh, he hasn't forgotten about them: Stevie Boy, Tony, George and the other electricians and brickies in his gang were all rewarded with tickets for the show and they'll probably get the DVD for Christmas as well. Falling into the trap of thinking that every Glasgow boy is a stand-up in the making, I ask if they're as funny as him. "Er … naw," he says with conviction and, of course, perfect comic timing.

Bridges – who turned 24 last week, seems older but quips that this is what a young man in Scotland looks like – has now got the career he wants: making people laugh. For his observations on the west of Scotland experience he's hailed as the best Scottish stand-up since Billy Connolly. His comedy has already taken him to 18 countries and early in the new year he'll combine working the clubs of New York and Boston with a South American adventure. Machu Picchu? To be honest, he's more excited about Argentinian football matches. Right now, though, he's in Glasgow in his Diego Maradona T-shirt, having just got back from another gig on his biggest UK tour thus far.

"Farnham. I'd never heard of it before last night. One of those satnav-resistant wee places. It was a good show but small, only 700 people.

That's still amazing, though: 700 coming out to see me. Everyone I asked seemed to be an accountant." Bridges wonders what very southern crowds get from his comedy. He's good at funny voices, including bemused English ones, real and mechanical, like the automated guy employed by Odeon who can't compute his movie choice, but says he's making an effort to speak slower. "And that must be working to an extent because when I get back to Glasgow, folk say: "Saw yooz on TV the other night, talking like a gayboy."

This is a fascinating, exciting time for Bridges. Home for him until now has been his mum and dad's but he's just bought his own flat. For his next tour it's a safe bet the likes of Farnham will have fallen off the map, its accountants forced to do the maths and conclude they've become too small. In conversation – only a handful of major sit-down interviews to date – he's still working out what he wants to say ("I hate the word 'pastiche' … do I mean 'esoteric'?"). What will he be like in 12 months' time – and more importantly, what will the act be like?

Will he still walk on stage like a ned? Will his black Slaters suit still hang on him, as in the old gag, as if he's "the accused"?

Enhancing this image some more, when he sticks out his arms to acclaim the crowd's roar, will it still seem like he's complying with polis who're about to frisk him? When he's guesting on clever parlour games like Have I Got New For You? will he still be the only one who does a footballer's wave? And when he cracks a funny will he still let slip his little schoolboy snigger?

Oh we hope so.

"Do you know what's the most amazing thing?" he says, settling down in a Merchant City pub with a Coke. "Seeing my old teachers in the front row at one of my shows. Guys who – well, they didn't expel me, but I was asked to leave school. And there they are paying good money to see a slightly more polished version of the patter with which I used to disrupt their lessons."

Bridges, a Clydebank boy, went to St Mary's Primary and St Columba's High, following big brother John, ten years older. "Same mum and dad. Folk always wonder. Typical of this day and age, but sad isn't it? John works for the Clydesdale Bank. He's got the classic lifestyle – living for the weekends – that I wanted to avoid. But he's totally content."

He says he's been looking back over his life for this chat, to try and work out where the comedy came from, but cannot come up with an unhappy childhood anecdote. Dad Andy used to work in the shipyards as a night-porter. "Then when he was teaching creative writing, these daft wee poems, he contracted rheumatoid arthritis. The funny thing was his class were all rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, so he must have caught it off them." Mum Patricia is a home help and he says of his parents: "They were always brand new when I was growing up and never argued – well obviously they did but they weren't alcoholics or anything."

The family are always telling him he's inherited Granda Tommy's mantle as the family entertainer. "I didn't know him, he died when I was four, but Mum gets awfully weepy about seeing him in me." Bridges gives the impression he's not a sentimental man – "I'm not on stage for my own self-gratification; it's my job," he'll say when asked what it's like to make a packed hall hoot with laughter – but especially for his mum, in the scene-setting footage on the DVD when he's driving round notable Glasgow locations, he includes a shot of his grandfather's graveyard.

En route to the SECC he enjoys notable Glasgow delicacies; chips and Irn-Bru. I make the mistake, as we discuss the Scottish working-class existence's potential for comedy, featuring in his gags about fried food and deep-fried violence, of using the word "exploit". He says: "I don't think I do that. It would be very easy for me to be all Scottish parochial and talk about 'bawbags' and 'daubers' but I don't." He's protective of Scotland, even finding the pride in Glasgow Airport getting its own terrorist outrage.

Typically, Bridges will be scornful of "Welcome to Glasgow" billboards showing "Nathan, sales assistant, and his friend Josh" as representative of the city now. He thinks visitors might be disappointed not to be greeted by "Wee Mental Davy, apprentice joiner, father of six, with the kids all dressed up for Granny's 30th". He strives for authenticity. "As long as it's true, as long as you're being you," he says. "I can't help where I come from."

We talk about his show-stealing TV appearances, such as the story (perfectly true) told on Would I Lie To You? about him unwittingly purchasing a horse in Bulgaria. Hilarious though this was, I felt he was mildly patronised by Rob Brydon and David Mitchell for not being quite as sophisticated as them. He doesn't think he was but admits he must be careful not to become "the panel show guy". Having turned down the chance to replace Peter Kay in a beer commercial he doesn't seem to want to become "the advert guy" either. "I know where I'm going with this whole thing," he says.

Analysing his young life some more, and having quickly moved on to beer, Bridges admits to demolishing the Wendy House at nursery and crying most days at primary school. "I was a home boy, shy and nervous." Was he a mummy's boy? "No, not that. I just hated having to be someplace. It took me ages to relax, not until secondary school, where I just mucked about. I wasn't obnoxious, just daft. I remember Mum and Dad coming back from parents' evenings and saying; 'The teachers think you're a funny guy but you need to behave.' I was like: 'What, they really think I'm funny?' I suppose the non-conformism has always been there."

The two time-honoured working-class escapes are through football and pop music. Neither of them was open to Bridges and, for a young man, he's surprisingly dismissive of both worlds. "I used to support Celtic home and away. There's half my audience gone in one sentence. But eventually I saw football for what it is. Celtic are this massive global corporation operating out of this really poor area. There's a lot of talk about the 'Celtic family' which is patronising and also hypocritical when single mums have to fork out for three new replica shirts every year. I just got disillusioned with the whole thing."

He's just as scathing of "knobs in Converse and skinny jeans" and the pop-star look he knows he'll never achieve. He makes fun of his carrying-a-bit physique in the act where he describes the ordeal of trying to purchase 36ins waist jeans, maybe 38ins, from a store staffed by "an indie-band freak-show who say 'Chillax' all the time and display the kind of energy and enthusiasm that oozes from folk who've not been punched in the face". He's self-deprecating, for sure, but there's resentfulness, too, which makes such riffing extra-funny. It was a band, though, who inspired in him the belief he could do something different, be someone.

"I was 17 and at a house-party and while everyone else was getting pissed in the other room me and Jordy were watching an Oasis DVD. Jordy's my brother's pal so at 27 he was watching Liam Gallagher, then 21, and getting all nostalgic for being that age. I thought: 'I've got four years until I'm what he deems young, plenty of time to f**k this comedy lark up. I'm gonnae go for it.'"

The party was technically an "empty", the quaint custom of teenagers whose parents are away having the house invaded. "They don't so much 'have' a party, they get one." Bridges has a wonderful routine comparing and contrasting Easter hols "empties" in Clydebank with how US high-school spring-break frivolities are depicted by Hollywood. Did he dream up the skit that night while watching Oasis and planning his future? "Not quite, but that conversation was pretty deep ... for an empty. I'm quite a deep thinker, I suppose. That probably goes back to when I was a wee worrier."

At that point he was at Stow College – "Undergraduates' motto: 'Too thick for uni, too arrogant for a call-centre'" – studying psychology. He wrote to The Stand, the Glasgow comedy club, asking for a gig. "I turned up in my best Puma T-shirt, Levi's and scrubbed-up Timberlands with a wee chain round my neck. I just looked like an apprentice." But he got asked back the following week. "I'm not bigging myself up but from the start I felt like I belonged in comedy."

For a year he managed to keep the stand-up a secret from his mates, Stevie Boy and the rest. "It was my secret world where I was meeting new friends and I liked to escape there. I had to make up excuses: an uncle's 40th, babysitting. The guys started to get suspicious – 'Hey, are you doing comedy?'; I always said no – and it was a sad day when they were finally able to out me."

Since he was the one, every Friday, who hated nightclubs – "I know why now: it was because no one could hear my jokes" – it comes as little surprise to learn that Bridges wasn't much of a ladykiller. "I never had a serious girlfriend until I was 21." Then she went to uni in Australia and when she got back he was a TV star, a regular on Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow who was telling chat host Jonathan Ross a lovely story about his dad getting all proud and emotional as he drove him home from that first gig. "Susan and I split up at the start of the year but now I don't know if that was the right thing."

His life has been transformed. With just one proper relationship to his name, he now finds himself surrounded by women gagging for a man with a GSOH. "Comics aren't like musicians who can drag groupies to a VIP party someplace swanky," he explains. "They have to head round to the bar after a gig and, standing there like the priest after the service, they can seem quite desperate – all they can offer is the local Holiday Inn Express, room 125, non-smoking. But there's action if you want it.

"Sometimes I think: 'You're way too stunning to be talking to me.' My mates think I'm daft for worrying about that but I do. In the morning you're always always mortified because you have to get off to the next gig."

Lest we wonder which "mates" he's talking about here, it's not Michael (McIntyre), Rob (Brydon) and David (Mitchell) but the original gang. Kevin Bridges loves his life right now, and for its bonkers contrasts as much as anything. One night, in the company of some of the funniest men in Britain, he can be sipping fine wine in the green room after another turn on TV. But the next he'll be back on his home patch sharing the classic 10p crisps combo of Bikers, Space Raiders and Johnny's Onion Rings and the banter will be just as good.

This is material for his act but he tries not to forget that for those he left behind, it's real life. "A couple of the guys have just become victims of the recession – bumped off so their employers don't have to pay them a man's wage. That's really tough. And if I'd done what they did, my apprenticeship would have finished about now so more than likely that would have happened to me. I'm a dead lucky b****r."

• Kevin Bridges' DVD The Story So Far: Live in Glasgow (Universal, 19.99) is out on Monday when he'll be signing copies in HMV, Buchanan Street, Glasgow from 5pm.

Back to the top of the page