PHILL JUPITUS The X-Press interview

Phill Jupitus is comedy royalty, with a long history of making people laugh, as a comedian, performance poet, podcaster, cartoonist, actor, musician, and possibly most famously as a team captain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks for its entire run of 19 years. Returning for only his second Australian tour, Jupitus will appear at the Regal Theatre for one night only this Saturday, April 27. NATALIE GILES had a chat with him about the world and got a lowdown on the legend.

So I posted about interviewing you on Facebook and the love was real. The most commonly used word was “genius”. What inspires you to make others laugh?

Oh, that’s so lovely! But look, just think of those shows [Never Mind the Buzzcocks] as a night out with your mates. You go out with your mates and you’re funny. You’re having a laugh, you say funny things. It’s just that you don’t do it professionally and do it in front of an audience. And that’s the only difference. I just have a different brain, or maybe it’s a defense mechanism, that allows me to do it when cameras are rolling. It’s not genius [laughs].

But as for your mates, the second we’re finished, can you please do a post saying hello to each one of them personally from me?

Oh you really are as sweet as they say! How do you do comedy for years and stay so wholesome?

The thing is that I kept leaving it. Sometimes for years at a time, then I’d come back to it. And I think that’s good and healthy in the creative arts. Know when to walk away. But always come back. See, if you’re constantly trying to reinvent the wheel year after year, you’ll drive yourself mad. Go away until you miss it again and want it back. So that’s why I’ve had so many hiatuses over the years.

So what makes you come back to it then?

I get a chance to miss it! You see, I started in ’83 as a poet. And that was just a slippery slope to becoming a comedian. But that’s not as unusual as you’d think – there are so many. See, back in the day, there wouldn’t just be a bunch of comedians doing stand-up like there is now. Back then, they were more like variety gigs, really. There’d be a poet, a juggler, a music act, a magician, or something like that.

I was actually going to ask you about your formative days as political ranter Porky the Poet because that led to your involvement with anti-fascism groups. How does poetry go down with fascists?

Look, I toured with Billy Bragg and there was a miner’s strike, then Billy tried to get a broad left alliance. And I spent a lot of time working at the Labor party headquarters, for about 6 months until I realised that there’s a lot of admin in politics and it’s not that exciting, really. The thing is, when you’re 20, Natalie, you think “yeah, we can change the world,” by like, doing a gig. And you really believe that. Cos you’re a kid, and you’re a fucking idiot. You don’t realise that the practical running of the world involves a whole lot of [sighs] admin. And that takes ages, and the changes in society are not overnight. They are glacial. They take decades.

I’m talking to a woman, for the love of god. How long has it taken women – is still taking them – to just get equal pay. For the love of fucking god. It’s infuriating. So can I just apologise for the 80s? None of it fucking worked. All those rallies, all that chanting, and nothing has fucking changed. But as a qualifier for that, it was not a waste of time, it was a fucking laugh. And the thing is, if you can change one person’s perspective, you’ve achieved something. As an artist, part of your job is to offer an alternative way of seeing the world – while you’re having a laugh.

So as an old punk of the 80s, how do you feel about the resurgence of fascists coming to the fore again as they’re feeling emboldened to speak up, thanks to the internet? And how do you feel about the whole “punch a nazi” movement inspired by the likes of Richard Spencer’s assault?

The thing is that you have to resist. You’ve got to resist and they have to be challenged. You can’t be complacent. Now, I’m not a violent man, I don’t do violence, but I’ll stand in front of them and I’ll always say when it’s wrong. I’m fifty-fucking-six so I don’t have a punch left in me body. I think that we all have to look ourselves in the mirror at the end of the day, and if you can’t fucking do that with a clear conscience, well, you’re fucked aren’t you?

And as for the resurgence, I feel that there’s a number of different factors, and you can definitely lay some of the blame at the feet of the internet. These people existed in tiny little groups in isolation, and now they’re finding solidarity in other idiots who think like that from all around the world. But the left have also found our solidarity together.

Another aspect of it is the normalisation of negging, with language and opinion online. Opinions become fact now, when expressed online. Truth has been relegated to the subjective. Oh god, it actually drives me up the wall. And to be honest, Natalie, I can’t talk about politics onstage anymore, because it just gets me angry, and that’s not fun for anyone. I’ve done it before, and I just started spiralling when I was talking about the Brexit vote just after it happened. There are people who can offer a perspective in a funny way, but I just end up in a screaming rage. It’s a strange place we find ourselves in. It’s a shrinking planet – I mean, just look at us connecting across the world right now! It’s extraordinary. But, fuck it, my job at the end of the day is just to make people laugh.

On a personal note, you were featured on my favourite podcast (The Guilty Feminist), so I’m one step closer to the greatness that is Deborah Frances-White – jealous! So do you consider yourself a feminist?

She’s actually an old mate! It’s kind of weird watching a friend start a project that has just grown exponentially. And I remember getting a message from her like, six months ago and she went, “guess where I’m gigging tonight… Sydney Opera House!”

That’s one of my favourite episodes – that’s the one on empathy!

She’s so amazing. It’s just extraordinary what she’s done. And she really walks it like she talks it. She’s a remarkable woman. The thing is that she’s so busy being an activist, and she’s hilarious and she’s compassionate, and yeah, her empathy knows no bounds. When someone who properly deserves it is on the up and up, it’s just a joy. And she really does deserve it. She worked her ass off for years, and it’s paying off now. That show is enlightening, and brilliant, and funny… gosh. It’s just wonderful.

And yeah, I do consider myself a feminist, although it still makes me uncomfortable when a man interviewer asks me that [laughs]. Of course I do. It’s equal pay, it’s equal rights. There’s all manner of stuff that we were fighting for in the 80s that’s still yet to come.