Interview: Comic Limmy on new short stories book

VARIOUSLY featuring death, psychosis and ‘things that are out of order’, internet star Brian Limond’s first collection of short stories is as provocative as the comedian’s Bafta Scotland winning cult TV creation, Limmy’s Show, which transfers to the stage next year. Jay Richardson meets him

Brian Limond, aka Limmy, is hoping for the same sort of success that landed him with a Scottish Bafta. Picture: Gilfeather/REX Shutterstock

At next month’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, the BBC is hoping to live stream Limmy on its iPlayer service, the first time a comedian has been afforded this honour. The potential for catastrophe feels horribly compelling. Limmy was so paralysed by fear the last time he performed a live show, he contemplated suicide as a way out.

In case you think this is getting too dark, the 40-year-old Glaswegian, real name Brian Limond, twinkles with masochistic glee at the thought of it all going wrong. “Even if it’s a disaster, it could be a textbook case of stage fright, 2015’s classic panic attack,” he grins. “As long as I can keep everything in perspective and remember the whole thing’s a bit of a joke and doesnae really matter, even if everything goes tits up, it’s still fine.

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“If the audience goes quiet and I … (he giggles disingenuously), my mouth goes all dry and I’m like, ‘I’m making a c*** of this aren’t I?’ … If naebody’s laughing, that’s funny. And exciting. I really like that sort of thing.”

Comedian Brian "Limmy" Limond. Picture: Contributed

Even more potentially exciting is his disclosure that Limmy’s Show is about to become the latest BBC Scotland comedy to transfer to a big, theatrical spectacle, following Still Game, Burnistoun and Gary: Tank Commander. Opening at the Clyde Auditorium in January, Limmy’s Show Live will include new sketches featuring some of his best-­loved characters, such as reformed heroin addict Jacqueline McCafferty, incorrigible waster Dee Dee, troubled businessman Mr Mulvaney and fantasy game host Falconhoof.

When the series ended in 2013, Limond declined the opportunity to make more one­-off specials and BBC Scotland passed on making a Falconhoof spin-off sitcom. He found himself “freewheeling” with “f*** all” on his creative horizon.

Fortunately, the sometime web developer always keeps busy and curious online, sharing his most intimate thoughts, opinions and anatomy, tweeting on his mental health, making a constant stream of Vine clips while taking the antidepressant Citalopram, mischievously trolling the pompous and challenging received wisdom across social media.

Twitter serves him as therapy and a space for humane “arson”, a chance to challenge “the f****** whip” of consensus against the individual, “where I sometimes feel as if everyone is being turned into five different types of person … snap back into your tracks!” Inspired by random thoughts and improvising around conversations, he posted a flurry of short stories and read them aloud on his webcam. Broadcasters turned a blind eye, but an enterprising editor anticipated their potential as a book. Offered a publishing deal, he thought, “Aye, I’ll enjoy knocking them out”.

We’re drinking coffee in Glasgow’s Oran Mor, and it’s here on Thursday that he’ll launch a mini-tour to coincide with the publication of Daft Wee Stories. An incident in the Glasgow venue’s toilets inspired the pungent vignette “Your Shite Is My Shite”, so it’s more or less fitting. He’s promising to read “the funnier ones and the ones where I can talk with people a bit”, sharing “interesting” insights into the stories’ origins. Even so, the tone won’t be “how this came about because I was going through a really hard time,” he jokes in a low deadpan. “I want a few chuckles.”

Unusually candid about the suicidal feelings that have dogged him since he was a teenager, Limond recalls becoming so depressed in the run-up to his last Oran Mor show, in 2008, that he was constantly envisioning killing himself.

“I got so stressed trying to make it perfect, I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to top myself’,” he recalls. “I was properly thinking about it, planning breaking up with my girlfriend, getting half the money for the house, really working it out.”

Now though, after a period on and off medication, “I’ve got this attitude that I’ll just rehearse and try and do a good job. I’ll allow myself to accept that people may not like it. It’ll be alright. If they don’t find it funny, I’ll find that funny.”

Reconstituting his strangest experiences and bleakest thoughts, Limond suggests that his sense of humour invariably seeks out “things that are well out of order.” He was merciless to his creations on Limmy’s Show, the luckless Jacqueline and feckless Dee Dee, a heightened version of his younger self when he “had nae job and was skint, staying up round the clock, watching telly and having dreams that seemed real because I was sleeping so much”.

“I loved that lifestyle. It isnae good for you, but going on and on to your pals about the adverts on daytime TV which they haven’t seen because they’ve got jobs, that’s funny.” Unsurprisingly, he foresaw the Falconhoof spin-off as being set behind the scenes of “Adventure Call” in the excruciating vein of Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Larry Sanders Show, with “the planets aligning to f*** things up” for the fantasy game host.

Similarly, there’s a whimsical but twisted fatalism running through Daft Wee Stories. One of Limmy’s Show’s most famous sketches involves him asking a train station attendant how to get to Millport; not how he can physically get there but how he can return into a faded photo and revisit a lost teenage summer. Based on a real holiday Limond took when he was 15, in which he got drunk, upset over a girl and slashed his wrist with a broken cider bottle, he revisits it again in the tale “Facebook Past”, ratcheting up the protagonist’s misfortune even further, exploiting fears about paedophilia for comic pathos. Indeed, so potent is this particular memory, and the notion of social media distorting the past, that he’s considering turning it into a novel.

Exploring the liminal twilight zone of his imagination, in his stories, like his sketches, inner thoughts and private actions are painfully exposed to public humiliation. There are doomed epiphanies, as characters seek happiness in Australia or supping water from a radiator; someone briefly challenges the universal order or peers behind the veil of existence, only to be brutally dispatched by a heart attack, cattle prod or giant alien death ray. Violence lurks on virtually every page, with delightfully sadistic twists and punchlines of bludgeoning cartoonish horror.

“I really like violence in writing and films,” Limond explains matter-of-factly. “With Limmy’s Show, I’d go back over the sketches and realise that so many ended with a guy being hit over the head. It was the same with these, I knew I had to change it up a bit. There’s quite a lot of getting hit by a train, hit by a bus, hit by a motor …” he pauses “… hit by the underground. That’s a train, but it’s a different kind of train!”

After writing, directing and starring in Limmy’s Show, Limond accepts that he’s a perfectionist with “specific tastes”. Notwithstanding his bedsit philosophising on Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe, he doesn’t like the idea of collaborating, “anything that sort of deviates” from his singular perspective. The BBC needed to “put a lot of faith” in him to deliver with ideas “that weren’t really much on paper – I’m not into funny lines as much as facial expressions and the timing of stuff, things lingering a wee bit or being a bit late.”

To protect against the complacency his cult reputation affords him, he imagines himself in his audience “being dead cynical, like a wee voice in my heid”.

But unlike most of us, who attempt to suppress the naïve, babbling Dee Dees or quick­-to­-affront Jacquelines in our minds, Limond gives his plenty of artistic licence, even mentally pre-composing arguments and escape strategies from conversations before he’s bumped into someone. “It’s almost like schizophrenia the way I get ideas about things that are not really happening and just end up focusing on them,” he says.

The story “I’ll Let You Go” pushes the hypocrisy of a throwaway remark to its logical extreme. It also reflects that “I’ve got a habit of talking like f***, right? People who like my stuff come up and they want a photo or something, they’re talking and they’re happy to see us to begin with. Then I rabbit away and they’re like ‘I’ll let you go’, as if I’m drifting around with all the time in the world. And I kind of am!

“So I start thinking ‘They’re lying to me!’ And suddenly I’m not letting either of us go!”

WE TALK about intrusive voices, those brief urges one gets to step in front of a Tube train or push someone else beneath it. Or simply to behave brazenly and bizarrely in public, to see what happens. At the benign end of such an impulse is a story like “Happy Birthday”, once again spun from Limond’s lived experience, where a familiar gesture by work colleagues emboldens a man towards the inexplicable.

But it also informs one of his favourite tales, “Sensitive Pete”, in which an impressionable soul is pranked into psychosis after seeing a series of snuff films. In the short story form, somebody dying “is a good way to end something”. Punchy and potentially shocking. But there’s also a transgression, a threshold that’s crossed.

“I’ve been like that myself,” Limond explains. “Saying, ‘I don’t want to see that’. Then I watched one of those videos. It was a press conference and a guy shot himself. I was like, ‘F****** A man, look at that!’ And I actually felt better in a way. F*** me, that guy was alive, now he’s deid. I know that sounds daft, but there he is and there he isnae. And I was like, ‘I’m still here’. Looking into his eyes, it made me feel more alive in a way.”

Instead of highlighting his “serial killer” potential, the lesson he took from the experience was once again one of perspective. “You can get too involved with all the wee things in life, but the most important thing is you’re alive and well,” he reasons.

“Reading about something horrific in the paper, it’s worse than when you can actually hear the gargling sounds. At least then you can go, right, there it is. I can do something with this rather than having it just floating around my heid.”

He’s now planning to write a collection of slightly longer, Stephen King­-style stories, with one possible idea about a dying or suicidal man “deciding who they’re going to take with them”.

“If you’ve got depression, you’re not interested in killing anyone because you’re no interested in anything,” he muses.

“But if it’s someone whose love has been murdered, and they’re angry, ‘I cannae live any more and I’m going to take a few of these f****** c**** wi’ me’, I like the idea of them just kicking about town, looking at DVDs, making up their minds about who deserves it.”

If it’s not clear yet, and without sounding too precious, Limond is seeking an enthusiastic minority to love his work rather than craving broad, mainstream recognition. “As long as I’m into it and I would come and see it, that’s fine. Because you could make something you don’t like. And then it turns out no-one else likes it either.”

He smirks, self­-consciously. “Actually, I just want to entertain people. Put that in my obituary, a final picture, all dark in the background. ‘I just want to entertain - Brian Limond 1974-2016’.”

• Daft Wee Stories by Limmy is published by Century in hardback next Thursday at £14.99. It is also available as an eBook.

• Brian Limond is at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 22 August.