Interview: Why Limmy's lot is more than a bunch of wee stories
Bang on time Limmy bounces up the steps of Oran Mor in Glasgow, dressed in a smart black Nike top, black and white trainers and black jeans, and delivers a firm handshake and a big smile. There’s no PR minder, there’s no point. Ask Brian “Limmy” Limond a question and you get a short story, a sketch, a free form yet punctilious almost pedantic rendering of his thought processes as he thinks aloud, considers a question from every angle, tells you what he thought, what he said, what they said, talking away before ending with a laugh and a “sorry, that was a f***ing life story.”
If you’ve read his first book Daft Wee Stories, watched his blog, read his Tweets, it’s what you’d expect. Limmy is the master of observation, curator of the commonplace, an expert in the everyday, with recognisable characters like Dee Dee the jobless stoner and recovered heroin addict Jacqueline McCafferty which he serves back up to us in slices of life, be it comedic, bleak or downright absurd. It’s everyday stuff, taken to an extreme.
“You notice things, and you say to people ‘isn’t that funny?’ And they go ‘what are you talking about? and you say ‘aw nothing’, but if you’ve got somewhere to stick it, you can make people laugh.”
Somewhere to stick it is in Tweets, on his website, in his sketch show, Limmy’s Show, and now his new book, That’s Your Lot. A follow up to Daft Wee Stories, which were indeed daft wee stories, a bunch of funny, anarchic, original tales, this one’s darker. A matt tome, with just the title written in white, there’s no cheeky photo of Limmy beaming out from the cover this time round.
“Aye, they’re no as happy as the last wans,” he says. “It’s called That’s Your Lot, because… this is going to sound wanky, but it’s kind of like the attitude of a lot of stories that are in it. It’s not appeasing, it’s not as happy and trying to cheer you up. They’re a slice of somebody’s life, with no particular punchline, no happy ending. It’s kind of like, that’s it, that’s your lot.”
And the lot of the characters in Limmy’s stories are not always happy. Some are contemplating suicide, another is sitting in his wheelie bin in the middle of the night to make a point, there’s violence and rage, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t humour too, laugh out loud moments, a grin along with the grimace, just that the overall tone tends to the dark side. But then, as Limmy says with a laugh, “that’s what I find funny”.
“It’s people’s lives not going well, wee bits o’ misery, people ending up where they don’t want to be and regretting things. And that’s life in a way, that’s yer lot.”
Citing influences like the Peggy Lee song, Is That All There Is?, a seductively nihilistic bittersweet ode to disillusionment, the short stories by Raymond Carver and John Cheever, “miserable things and relationships going wrong, and that Alice Munro story Fits [from The Progress of Love] where they’ve found a body but not told anyone yet,” Limmy admits he’s drawn to the mundanity of everyday gone awry, without the need for a punchline.
“I almost want to go one step further and write stories about someone just getting something out of a vending machine, or changing the clock on their oven, and that’s it, because all the comedy I see, I see what’s coming. I’m a bit jaded with that. I want to do something that’s, no anti-comedy, but it might not be funny at all, there might be no conclusion. I enjoy writing it and hopefully people enjoy reading it. They might go, that’s f***ing miserable, but it’s what makes me laugh.”
Limmy is the first to admit that his humour is dark and while he doesn’t seek to offend, he knows he often will, for example when he Tweeted that he was looking forward to Trump’s “assassi... inauguration”.
“People could see I was joking, well, I wasn’t really, but I’m not planning on killing him. I kind of would like it if he got assassinated in a way, but then, to some other people Trump is somebody they admire. And then there’s the MP that got murdered, Jo Cox, so people are thinking about that, so I think it’s something you should never joke about,” he says.
Despite the chances of upsetting people, Limmy is against censorship in general, and because he’s always on social media, accepts there’s an inevitability he may well offend.
“I get it, not wanting to have a free for all, a ‘let’s just offend everybody and hurt everybody’s feelings’, but you’ve got people who want to set wee rules about what you should or shouldn’t say. It’s easy to piss somebody off with the most innocent of things, and the thing with Twitter and social media stuff is you’ve got all these people who are in their different mindsets.”
That’s not to say he doesn’t censor himself at all, especially now that he has a six-year-old son with his girlfriend Lynn McGowan, a graphic designer.
“Illness or bad things happening to weans, I don’t joke about that now because the serious side of it hits me first. I’d laugh if someone else did though, and I wouldn’t be saying like you get on Twitter: ‘That’s not funny.’
“And then there’s stuff in my head I don’t say even to my girlfriend or my pals, stuff that I find funny that I wouldn’t say to anyone because they go, ‘how can you…?’”
With comedy influences including Harry Hill, Laurel and Hardy, Lee Evans and Richard Prior, Limmy is nostalgic for the sick old days.
“There used to be such a thing as a sick joke, or laughing at misfortune, because comedy and laughter are a way of coping. And there is a kind of cruelty to it, but you can separate finding something horrible funny, and what you really think of it. Some people want Grand Theft Auto banned, because they can’t differentiate between aye, I know I want to knock people down and shoot and stab and kill them and chase them about with a sword and set them on fire and I want it to be as real as possible, but I don’t want to dae it in real life. Well, I kinda dae, but no with real people.”
Writing books has liberated Limmy to be even more extreme, precisely because it’s not the internet, where people can jump on his every Tweet, and because it is under the mantle of fiction. He can write what he likes. And he does. In one of the stories, Limmy’s favourite, where a character is anal about correcting everyone’s grammar, a common enough obsession, Limmy couldn’t avoid what he describes as “the kick in the belly ending, a nice wee thrill.”
“When I typed it I felt this is f***ing terrible, but I have to, I have to, I have to.” He laughs. “And if someone says that’s out of order because something like that happened to me, I’m like, well, I need to f***ing write that, I need to.
“I love the idea that aliens could come and we’ve died out and there are artefacts of what we were like, the sort of shite that went on in our heads, rather than we bottled it all up because it would hurt people’s feelings. You can say what you want, the most horrible, hurtful things if that’s what you want, and that’s a good thing.”
Limmy’s writing career started by accident, writing stories and posting them on his website where a publisher saw them and commissioned a whole book of them. Similarly, his TV show came out of his daily podcast, Limmy’s World of Glasgow which he started in 2006 and led to the 2010 BBC sketch show series Limmy’s Show.
Raised in Carnwadric on Glasgow’s south side, 42-year-old Limmy’s mum was a volunteer in the unofficial citizens’ advice community centre and his dad was a joiner and artist. His dad was a storyteller and funny, like his mum, who died when he was 20. Today his dad comes to his shows, likes what Limmy does, but the pair of them don’t sit and giggle together says Limmy. “He’s a bit like me.
“Carnwadric wasn’t a hell hole or anything, but looking back there were stabbings and shootings and money lenders and folk taking jellies. But there were also lots of families just getting on with it. Crime, rubbish, lying about and things getting wrecked, that was normal, that’s what you joked about, it was acceptable. Whereas these days, my circles – no that I’ve got a f***ing circle, I’m just playing games online all the time – but on Twitter or whatever, these things aren’t acceptable. You get the impression I’m supposed to be like f***king middle class noo and no find these sort of things funny, but f*** it I always will, that’s how I got made.”
After school Limmy did courses in printing admin and production processes, photography, then electronic publishing and information and media technology, for which he found he had a real talent.
“Then I failed my postgrad and lost interest, I didn’t know how to get a job, didn’t know what I would work as, had no confidence at all. I thought I’m a kind of freak. For a year after I left uni I did nothing, sat on my arse like Dee Dee, just my head going to waste, doing f*** all. Then I went in a job centre to sign on and there was an ad for a course where I learn Flash animations and got a placement with a web company, then me and a couple of guys left to start our own company, then another… sorry, it’s a f***ing life story...”
Limmy launched his own website Limmy.com, putting on small animations and interactive things, making up a DVD of the videos that ended up at the BBC’s Comedy Unit and he was offered a stand-up show at Glasgow Comedy Festival in 2007. This led to the Edinburgh Fringe, then the Comedy Unit gave him a pilot, then he directed his own series.
“So anybody who feels like a bit of a nutter, weird or they talk a lot of shite, or that’s what people say about them – because that’s what people used to say about me, and I felt f***ing mental – just by chance, you can end up wi a this. That’s why you need anything that just gives people opportunities, to just accidentally fall into something they like doing or they’re good at, rather than that Tory thing of they’re all just f***ing lazy, they should get off their arses,” he says.
Politics is something Limmy lives and breathes but not in a banner-waving, party political way. A supporter of independence, he’s loath to divide his comedy constituency into the binary of Yes and No.
“Sometimes I don’t want to go on about it too much in case I put people off. If somebody’s a Tory I don’t mind them disliking me, but if somebody was like maybe a No voter and they thought I don’t like the way he goes on about vote Yes, well I don’t want to put anybody off, and I don’t want anyone to ever think any of my characters from Limmy’s Show were all Yes voters, or share my views, I want it to be neutral. And I sometimes don’t know what the f*** I’m saying. I’ve been asked on Question Time twice and knocked it back because I’ll get exposed as no having a f***ing clue. I’ll be sitting there like that, ‘I don’t know!’ I’d be saying ‘I don’t know’ through the whole thing.”
He falls silent, giving the idea consideration as he checks the number of tea bags in the pot. Two, the way he likes it.
“I suppose, I could represent people who think it’s really important then after five minutes of talking go, aggghhhh, who f***ing cares. F*** it, vote for who the f*** you want. Those people. There’s so much talking with Trump and Theresa May and Brexit and everything… aw f*** it. Agghhh.”
He switches to voice over. “Brian ran out of energy half way through the interview.”
To revive him, along with passing him the biscuits, I ask him to describe his comedy, less stressful territory.
“Dark, maybe a wee bit sadistic, not as dark as Chris Morris mind you. It’s not shock comedy. I just like things going wrong. I’m interested in things like that. If there’s a character that’s a guy that’s lazy or f***ing things up, that’s sort of based on me, and if it’s mostly men, it’s probably because I’m a guy. And I can do a lot more to men, because my comedy’s sadistic, you can’t do some of those things to women, because of all the horrible things that happen to women anyway. But you can have a woman saying to a man ‘what are you doing you idiot?’ or ‘you’ve got a thing on your face, ya tramp’, because I know lots of relationships where the woman says things like that to the man, and I like it that way.”
So is his relationship like that?
“Lynn’s almost bit more... like got mair f***ing testosterone than me, whatever it is that makes you dead decisive, she’s a lot mair assertive than me, and has a lot mair common sense,” he says, admitting he’s not the most decisive of people, except when it comes to making his TV shows, when he knows exactly what he wants.
Easy-going in person, Limmy wasn’t always so mellow, struggling with anger and depression that saw him contemplating suicide a few years back.
“It was anxiety, worrying and everything just became a f***ing chore, work, relationship stuff, or anything. When I was actually writing or making something, like Limmy’s Show, everything was fine, it was just other times, like having my son, the first couple of years was dead f***ing stressful. Lynn was obviously doing most of the work, but I’m worrying about what if this and what if that, and eventually the bottom was just going into a tiny wee spare room cupboard and greeting. I thought I’ve got to f***ing kill myself, I cannae take this any more. I was thinking what note I would write for my son so that he disnae grow up and feel guilty and all that. So I thought, this is happening, I’m planning my f***ing suicide here, and it’s no fair.”
Limmy sought medical help and after taking anti-depressants for about a year, saw the depression recede. Nowadays he uses meditation to restore his equilibrium, and relaxes by playing too much Overwatch with his son and enjoying the “brilliant because they’re shite” films of Neil Breen and anything unpredictable that piques his interest, like the latest Future Islands album.
“I sort it with my breathing if I feel myself getting worked up. I used to get very angry before, angry about somebody opening a parked car door when I’m cycling past, things like that, raging, and it would go round in my heid for weeks. I went on the pills and that just went, I lived in the moment and it was perfect for me. But there were side-effects I didn’t like, so I came off them three years ago, but tried to hold on to that feeling, and started meditating. And I just don’t get angry any mair.
“I just sort of switch aff from arguments, I don’t care because a wee part of my mind has gone like that, none of this matters, the only thing that matters is that you’re f***ing happy, because the whole thing’s kind of f***ed anyway. I was wanting to sort everything oot every wee injustice and noo I’m just mair like, see if you can just get by in this life, just being happy, just get to your death bed just having a nice wee life, just take on what you can take on, because in a billion years whatever, this is all forgotten anyway.”
Time’s up but to end I ask Limmy to tell us something nobody knows about him, a throwaway question that usually elicits a throwaway answer, like a talent for the ukelele. But Limmy doesn’t do throw away. He pauses, ponders, considers, then says.
“I had undescended testicles.”
Here we go. I laugh.
“I had to get an operation where they get pushed down from your insides into your scrotum and also there was something up with my foreskin when I was wee and I had to get it cut aff.”
OK, he’s not joking.
Now I feel terrible, but I’m still laughing and so’s he. Both of us laughing at something that’s not funny.
“And when I was young I thought this happened to everyone else too, but they just never said,” he says. “At school I always thought there was something wrong with me, until I found out it worked fine, and when it did, I thought it’s real! I’m a real person. I’m a normal person!
“There stick that in the paper: Limmy, my circumcision hell.”
OK. Limmy’s circumcision hell, there you go. That’s your lot.
That’s Your Lot by Limmy is out now, published by HarperCollins, priced £14.99. Limmy’s UK That’s Your Lot Stand Up Tour includes shows throughout Scotland, see www.facebook.com/LimmyDotCom for details