Limmy: Comedy 2.0

Cult internet comedian Limmy swaps screens this month for his first TV show. Euan Ferguson talks to him to find out if the future of online comedy is actually on the telly.

Feature by Euan Ferguson | 16 Dec 2008
  • Limmy

You probably know the story – Glaswegian joker sets up a website, makes a swearing xylophone and a (fake) video of him prank-calling a wee girl. Goes on to record a chart-topping podcast characterising the lowlifes of his city, receives celebrity endorsement and much critical acclaim. Result – becomes Scotland’s most exciting new comedy talent. Now, cult status guaranteed, Limmy is swapping screens for his first TV show, aired next month on the BBC. I caught up with him for a “yes or no” session to find out if the future of online comedy is actually on the telly.

Chatting one afternoon in the 13th Note, his conversation covers subjects from the Old Firm to his favourite music (Stock, Aitken and Waterman); from public hanging for neds to his favourite cakes, never stopping for breath. I end up with enough material for a biography; it’s clear he’s in possession of a runaway imagination. But like his comedy, there’s a dark, self-deprecating streak under the surface. It’s like he’s almost waiting for something to go wrong. He admits that when he was first presented with the idea of a live TV show a couple of years ago, there were some doubts. “I just feel like folk would be looking at me like that, ‘Who the fuck are you ya dick?’"

But now it’s happening. It’s a one-off with an eye to a full series, and will be a projection of his previous work from the subliminal to the ridiculous: the gritty mixture of darkly humorous characters, surreal scenarios and absurd ideas he’s become famous for. Limmy describes it as “wee observations, some sketches, but done on location, some animations, a few stupid bits and pieces. All put together, it’s just me being me.”

I’m interested to know if, for someone who has made his name on the internet, a TV show was still his ultimate goal. “I think that people who are already on the telly are like that, ‘I think we should move on to the internet,’” he says. “But I’m the opposite – that’s my job, making websites. So I want to get on good, old-fashioned telly. It’s in someone’s living room, they sit back on the couch and watch it. And a guy before the programme goes: ‘Coming up next, Limmy’s Show.’ And I’ll be like, that’s me!”

Most gigging comedians would kill for a sniff of their own TV show. With less than ten live performances under his belt, I wonder if there has there been any resentment from ‘traditional’ comics about Limmy’s unconventional rise to fame. “I’ve never heard of any,” he says. “But I could see how someone might think: Here’s me been going up and down the country, doing my best at these shows with shite crowds and having a hellish time. And that Limmy’s been doing it for a fucking year, doesn’t even take it that seriously, and he’s getting a telly programme? I’d be bitter!”

Limmy’s earned his comedy stripes elsewhere though; he started uploading his warped comic creations in 2002. He's someone who hasn’t followed the standard route of open mics and stand-up tours, so I ask him if he takes any inspiration from other comedians. Apart from brief tributes to the edgy surrealism of Chris Morris and the madcap antics of Harry Hill (before he became the new Jeremy Beadle), not really. Some of his ideas are incubated in his own sinister imagination, but many of his characters come from everyday experience, through observing the raw comic possibilities life in Glasgow throws up. The nihilistically antisocial John Paul is based on encounters with real neds, and as illustration he recounts an amusing tale about getting shot in the head by an air-rifle-toting bam: “I was like, 'Ya fucking arsehole, you could have taken my eye out!'” And the famous ‘gies yer jaiket’ plaything on his site apparently comes from a time in Glasgow when jaiket-nicking was a regular occurrence: “Back then, folk were taxing jaikets left, right and centre. It was just commonplace. Your pal would come back from the town, and he’d have his jaiket knocked. You’d just hear about it, some folk would be known for nicking jaikets.”

As on his site, the broad Glaswegian accent and Scottish-specific nature of some of the jokes could confuse unfamiliar viewers. Given that the show will reach a wider and more diverse audience, will Limmy be making any concessions to accessibility? “Part of me wonders if there's anything wrong with speaking ‘properly’ to be successful? Just to make it a bit more accessible? But then I think, This is how I speak; I wouldn’t feel right speaking any other way. It would just feel so fucking fake, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

He’s not alone there. On one level, his work is just a collection of daft videos. But look a bit deeper, and it becomes part of a new kind of Scottish narrative, one with a tell-it-like-it-is attitude: not consciously patriotic, but done with an unashamedly local accent. Limmy mentions James Kelman, who won the Booker prize with a grimly vernacular work in 1994; I think of Arab Strap, or more recently Glasvegas, who both specialise in bitterly romantic examinations of the Scottish experience. “I think in Scotland you’ve got less of a chance of being allowed to disappear up your own arse, of being a wank,” he says. “There is a tendency here for being a bit more real. Even Marti Pellow, ‘Wishing I was Lucky’ – he made up for all that by becoming a junkie.”

So what can we expect from Limmy now he’s (at least partly) fulfilled his TV ambition? “I’ve been getting this urge recently to do more serious, humourless stuff. But then I think, hang on, people see you as this funny cunt. They’ll watch it and go, 'That’s not very funny,' like I’ve failed or something. I sometimes don’t like being too serious, cause there's no fucking fun in it.” He mentions the possibility of another self-released DVD, which will be available soon after the BBC show. His last release is now rarer than a Glaswegian 60th birthday party, so keep an eye on his site to get your hands on one. “If I ever get round to finishing the fucking thing,” he adds.

Despite the success of his Edinburgh Fringe and Glasgow Comedy Festival shows, he’s not in a hurry to get back on the stage. It’s like he’s made his point, tried it out and found he can be a lot more productive in front of a camera than a crowd. “When I was doing it, I enjoyed it. But in the lead up to it, preparing for it, I just thought, I’m not doing this again. This is supposed to be a laugh, and it’s not! What if I write and write and write, and it’s shite?”

Hopefully Limmy’s Show won’t be shite when it’s screened on BBC Scotland in early January. And if you’re one of his legion of online fans - don’t worry about him logging off now he’s entered the glamorous world of television broadcasting. “Even if everything went absolutely fucking brilliant for me on TV somehow, there’s no way I’d turn my back on my internet stuff or my blog. That’s what I love.”

Limmy's Show is on BBC Scotland in early January.