Living to Tell the Tale: Scott Gibson interview
Scott Gibson chats about winning Best Newcomer, The Hashtag Show podcast's anniversary and defying death to pursue a career in stand-up
After picking up the Best Newcomer award at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe, Scott Gibson has no time to bask in the glow of his summer victory. There's a busy tour schedule about to begin, his podcast – The Hashtag Show – is a year old and, what's more, he's trying to hide how long he's spent playing FIFA 17 from his fiancé on the week of the game's release.
“About half-hour,” he says at first, but Gibson knows full well it's game over, so to speak, and a confession quickly follows: “Two days solid,” he admits, adding, “I'm trying to get the skill-set back before I go online and get panned by a 14-year-old sitting in China.”
His triumphant Fringe show, Life After Death, chronicles an epic stag weekend in Blackpool and the return home to Glasgow where Gibson gradually realises his 'big headache' might be symptomatic of something other than a colossal hangover. The brain haemorrhage almost kills him. For someone with such death defying experience, is playing on a games console really the best use of his time on earth?
“There are other things I could be doing,” he says, “but you need an escape from reality. You need FIFA in your life.”
There is a warmth and honesty to Gibson, it's perhaps part of his appeal that he says things more as they are rather than how we'd like them to be. When asked if his experience changed him he replies, “The reality is it's just great medical treatment from very well educated staff, or it's just luck. I mean, it has changed my life because it gave me the push I needed to do something. But, no, I don't feel as though I've changed as a person. I still have the same thoughts – I'm still grumpy, I'm still moody. If you're a horrible person before you're probably a horrible person after, and if you're a nice person the same. But it did give me that push.”
Now in his early thirties, Gibson is a familiar face to comedy audiences in Scotland but, as is often the way, he was still an unknown quantity to many at the Fringe. As such, despite the obvious merit of his show the award came as a surprise, even to Gibson himself. “If I'm honest my dream was to get enough people to see the show to break even. The only other thing I hoped is if I could get someone from Soho Theatre to see the show and if they liked it they might give me a Monday or Tuesday there.”
After his dates at Eden Court, Inverness and The Stand, Glasgow, Gibson takes Life After Death down to Soho for a run over Christmas and New Year. Not bad for someone who only dared hope to break even. “The idea of getting nominated for the award doesn't even enter your head. You never think it is going to happen to you because – rightly or wrongly – you don't think a Scottish act will ever get nominated.”
That may seem a curious remark after the 2016 Fringe, where Gibson and Richard Gadd swept Scotland to a double award win. However, it has been difficult to shake off the suspicion Scottish acts have been overlooked when three decades have passed since Arnold Brown scooped the main prize in 1987. Over these years, whether justified or not, it is unsurprising that local comedians have come to experience or view the Fringe more as an event Scotland simply hosts rather than plays a part in. Gibson has a rather more positive outlook than this, as his acceptance speech showed: “Sometimes in Scotland we think we're not part of the Fringe, bizarrely. Hopefully this will show we can be here and tell our stories.”
Yet, an outsider feeling lurked within even after his name was called out, to the point he feared his prize might jeopardise another Scot's chances. “I hoped they hadn't decided I was the Scottish act that'd win and then they wouldn't give the main award to Richard Gadd. I was just so glad when they called his name.”
While Gibson hopes the brace of awards might help begin to overturn old ideas, he does think a practical obstacle is the gap between regular gigs and the Fringe, which is perhaps slightly more pronounced in Scotland. “We're very lucky in Scotland in the circuit we have. It's a very tough place to learn stand-up, in the back of pubs and rooms that aren't designed for comedy. If you can come through it's a great base because you're right in at the deep end.” The downside to this is that it's a very different terrain to the preparation needed for August in Edinburgh. “The Fringe is a completely different beast,” he says. “You need to bring a full product to fruition.”
There can be little doubt when Gibson adds, “we have to knuckle down and make something of it,” he takes his own advice, whatever his lost FIFA hours suggest.
Alongside local comedy hero Gary Little and accomplished DJ Mallorca Lee, Gibson is also celebrating The Hashtag Show podcast's first anniversary. “It really is just three guys talking about everything and anything interspersed with music,” says Gibson. If that seems understated, the 'everything and anything' really is quite literal – previous conversations include a range of topics, including NASA, Marti Pellow or farting in a lift. “Sometimes it can go down quite an interesting path,” he says, “and other times it is just filthy; we try to let it flow as much as we can rather than having set times for things. When we've tried things like that it felt too forced. What we've been doing seems to be working so far.”
He adds: “I'd wanted to do a podcast for a long time and I thought it would be nice to have a different voice other than only comedians – it's a nice mix of music and chat.” Gibson is particularly grateful for the support Lee's fanbase has brought along with Little's and his own. “It's been good because it's brought new people to comedy. From the start we had about 2,500 listeners per episode. I thought we'd get maybe 100 people, but we've been lucky that it's gone quite well and we managed to sustain that. The podcast has helped introduce me and Gary to another audience, and I think vice-versa.”
Such has been its snowballing success the pod's live shows have sold out, with the next added in early December at Glasgow's Wild Cabaret. With such a packed schedule it seems appropriate to warn Gibson the next instalment of the all-engrossing simulation game Football Manager should be out by then. “I've lost many an hour to that,” he agrees, and soon – characteristically – he is speaking of that flawed logic we all share when trying to combat distraction: “I thought if I put it on my iPad it would cut my addiction. It just made it easier to play it so I had to delete the app.”