Kevin Bridges interview: Cell out comedy
THE STAND-UP WHO DIES ON stage may be a hoary showbusiness cliché, but there surely can't be too many comics who have had to work a room containing more than its fair share of murderers.
Brave old Kevin Bridges must have felt intimidated when walking into Shotts Prison, with its nostalgic stench of woodwork classes, and no doubt those feelings became more intense when he was introduced to the fine art of the prison heckle. "I had some guy getting up halfway through and leaving," he tells me over an Irn-Bru at Glasgow's Central Station. "He just went back to his cell to continue with his 15-year stretch rather than listen to me."
But the inmates liked the filth in Bridges' show, and material that some of them could relate to only too well. "I was doing a routine about how someone gets six years for attempted murder while someone else gets life for murder and why should it be different just because the guy made an arse of it? And everyone's laughing and guys are pointing over at someone's table, saying 'aye that's you, you made an arse of it', as if murder is just a casual bit of banter."
In the world of contemporary stand-up comedy, there are few rules to be adhered to and even fewer taboos to shy away from. In prison, Bridges was told not to pick on the warders ("that rule lasted about a minute"), while before gigs he played for local Saudis, the advice offered was that Bin Laden and burkas should be no-go areas.
"When we were in Dubai, it was the week that the British couple got jailed for having sex on the beach. And there was thing going round that it was somehow part of Sharia law – but you can't have sex on the beach here. I've found that when you travel, people are people and funny's funny. Nationality and culture don't have too much of a part to play as long as the joke is funny. If you try to get it down to a science, you'll just drive yourself nuts."
Whether it's science or art, 22-year-old Bridges' stand-up career has been created over a relatively short period of time. Born and bred in Wet Wet Wet's backyard of Clydebank, his dry humour was cultivated once he emerged from his shell. "At primary school, I cried every day. I hated the whole idea of it. I was a home boy and very shy and nervous. There's that thing about great comedians all being emotional retards. I had the emotional retard thing in quite early. I'm still working on the great bit." Surrounding himself with good pals in secondary school and being especially bright helped him gain in confidence.
"English was my subject and I was into creative writing. A couple of my stories were used as the example, which was always a punching offence in the playground. I was also into business management."
For a moment, then, Bridges might have followed in the footsteps of another Clydebank boy, Duncan Bannatyne, but the thrill of making his peers laugh proved too strong. Following the sage advice of Frank Skinner, who kept putting off a move into stand-up until he reached 30, the 16-year-old Bridges eventually e-mailed The Stand Comedy Club at 2am, touting his wares. Thinking nothing more of it, a game of PlayStation was interrupted a few weeks later with the club phoning to offer him a spot.
"When I got the call I thought, 'Oh no, they took me seriously'. But I didn't want to turn down the spot as you don't want to be seen as the guy who messes people about. I had a few months to prepare and I didn't have a clue what I was going to say." His parents (with whom he still lives) were wholly encouraging, with his dad driving him to that first gig. "He was sitting through the first few acts just shitting himself, worrying about how he was going to pick me up if it nosedived, but it went well and I could tell he was quite choked."
Not able to take further education very seriously (he did social sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University), he recalls heading down to Newcastle to play a gig on a Tuesday and missing his lectures on the Wednesday morning.
Within a couple of years, he was in the final of the Fringe's So You Think You're Funny and later appeared on a big screen at the Assembly Rooms prior to Frankie Boyle's 2007 Fringe show, in a short piece where he played an Edinburgh tour guide who couldn't stop himself from bending the truth.
With solo sets at the Glasgow Comedy Festival under his belt and a spot on BBC1's Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow due in June, Bridges is set to plunder Edinburgh in August for a debut full run at the Pleasance Dome.
"I'd like to just travel through and go back to Glasgow at night, because as a performer I hate the whole scene. It's all very industry and Americanised and everyone's got business cards; and there's all that worry about getting three stars or four stars like it's an exam."
But whether Bridges is playing in front of locals in Saudi Arabia, convicts in Shotts or audiences in Edinburgh, he's probably ready for that test.
• Kevin Bridges plays The Stand, Edinburgh, 17 and 19 May, and The Stand, Glasgow on 31 May.
What other people are saying...
"His confidence is astonishing. His patter is crude, natural, truthful and hilarious."
– Sunday Herald
"With the folly of youth, he is somewhat formulaic in establishing his jokes about, say, the difference between genteel Edinburgh and his hard-as-nails home town. Yet already there are flashes of more inventive, incisive stuff within the set, combining social awareness, astute observations and sharp lines."
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