Bohemian Like Few

People only get angry about little things when something big is really wrong in their life

Feature by Diana Kiernander | 13 Oct 2006
  • Phil Nichol

Sometimes a good night's sleep is everything. In the case of Phil Nichol, winning the first ever if.commeddies award meant he could recover from Edinburgh's heady August festivities in comfort.

The replacement for the Perrier Award, given to the outstanding comedy performance at the Fringe, the if.commeddies come with a considerable cash prize. "I bought a new mattress because I've just moved flats," he says, sounding sparky rather than sleepy, as he reflects on his Edinburgh success from aboard a packed London bus.

"I've been doing this for so long, travelling around the clubs and not getting much recognition, winning was a total surprise."

Improved sleeping conditions may help Nichol out in other ways too. The underlying current of his Fringe show 'The Naked Racist' highlighted the hilarious emotional exchanges that occur between Nichol and his girlfriend when they live together in a confined space. More comfortable environs must surely equal a better, more harmonious relationship.

"People only get angry about little things when something big is really wrong in their life," he tells me, "In London especially, I see people getting mad at strangers on the street or in shops and I wonder what it is that's making them so unhappy." His strikingly sensitive take on the anguish and upset caused by modern life makes Nichol an inspiring and thoughtful comic talent. Like so many of his award-winning contemporaries, Nichol's latest performances are largely based on stories, not sketches.

"It's just what's fashionable just now on the comedy circuit, I think it'll swing round again and shows will be more sketch-based in the future," he comments.

Over the years, Nichol has worked on everything from voice-over to film, and for years he was part of a comedy trio before branching out on his own.

In his work, poignant political grumblings nestle innocently alongside everyday tales of relationship bust-ups and individual insecurities. "I'm not a very political comedian. I don't study facts and figures. But I do try to bring what's happening in the world into my work," he explains.

Nichol's private world was shaped by his upbringing in rural Canada, where he spent many of his formative years living next to a nuclear plant.

"It made me realise Canada was not a peaceful place," he recalls wearily. "There's this idea," he continues, "that Canada is somehow more relaxed than America, but I disagree. There are gangs and fighting there too."

Nichol hasn't lived in Canada for years, yet the setting seems to have cast a shadow over his latent political self, carving out a certain hippy sensibility within. A conversation with Nichol smacks of a considered, yet understated, composite of dreamy aspirations and abstract ideals.

Despite his obvious on and off-stage hope for a war-free world, and his sympathetic siding with life's angry, bewildered losers, Nichol insists he is not a hippy. "I'm not, I'm not," he repeats as we finish our chat; perhaps harrowing memories of the contradictory Canadian countryside are still all too clear.

Those familiar with Nichol's work will know some of his best material encompasses fantasies about fictitious, but fair, world leaders. Nichol, as an official 'comedy leader', makes a charmingly reluctant bohemian hero.