Michael has been one of the highlights of the comedy scene for many years now, as anyone who has seen him live, read his incredibly funny award winning blog, or saw his appearance on Stewart Lee’s The Alternative Comedy Experience will know. Described as “Wonderfully, cathartically funny” by Chortle, and “blisteringly funny” by Beyond The Joke, here he talks about being “The angriest man in UK comedy”, Jerk: The Musical, his podcasts with Danielle Ward and Robin Ince, and being told to fuck off by REM.
Comedy To Watch: You first performed stand up in 1991, what inspired you to do stand up, and what was your first gig like?
Michael: It was 1992 but I only did it for a few months and then quit. Didn’t do it again until ‘98. I have no memory of my first gig at all but I do know I was shit. I had a joke about Arnold Schwarzenegger washing his hair. I mean, I suppose my stuff isn’t that much deeper now really. I wanted to do stand up because I loved comedy. Then I realised after a few gigs that I hated comedy. But I met Robin Ince way back then do it was all worth it.
CTW: And how do you feel you’ve evolved as a comedian since then?
Michael: I haven’t evolved. Something else happened. I just snapped. I was doing stand up for years in a style that didn’t suit me. I was very cheery and I wanted the room to like me. As a result, I found myself hating comedy again. Then I saw and became friends with The Trap, the very best sketch group in the country. I was jealous of them because they had each other and they did what they wanted and didn’t really care what anyone else thought. It took a while after that but the jealousy got too much one Edinburgh (2008?) and I just started writing an online diary. I didn’t know what a blog was. I used it to be a cartoon version of the real me. The Fringe is bullshit and I called it and everyone who liked it out as wankers. Which they are. I love the Fringe too but, then, I’m a wanker. Anyway, that style became my Edinburgh Fringe shows from then on. And I love those shows.
CTW: You didn’t do the Edinburgh festival this year, was there a reason for this? And what are your thoughts about the festival in general?
Michael: I wanted to do something else. I’ve started it but it’ll take a while. Like I say, I love the Fringe. It’s the best thing you can do in my job. But, it’s also a village of cunts. So, you know…
CTW: Chortle describes you as “The angriest man in UK comedy”, do you think that’s a fair description? And if not, how would you describe yourself?
Michael: Ha! Well, I’m sure they had to wait for George Carlin to die before they could say that but, yes, it’s 100% accurate. Thing is, I’m only angry at the culture of not caring, really. I only hate rude people. People making unnecessary noise or Jacob Rees-Mogg telling Northern Ireland that it can go back to how it was during The Troubles. All the same to me. Just people not giving a thought for anyone else. AND THAT DRIVES ME MAD! But people think I’m rude and that’s definitely not true. Andrew O’Neill very kindly once said “Some people think you’re a bigger cunt than you are”. Nicest thing anyone has ever said about me.
CTW: In your 2015 show Tell It Like It Is, Steve, you talked about regretting meeting your heroes – could you tell us what the worst incident was?
Michael: I think being told to “fuck off” by all three members of REM, at three separate occasions, is pretty bad.
CTW: You’re a team captain on Danielle Ward’s comedy podcast Do The Right Thing, what are your favourite moments from the series?
Michael: Listening to Danielle and Margaret. They both make me laugh all the time. And if I ever say anything that makes them laugh, I get butterflies. But getting the acts we’ve had on that show and seeing them be hilarious doing a show they clearly really like is very, very satisfying. It’s a brilliant show. I wish we could put out more episodes but it’s very hard work for Ben and Danielle. But we’re on our way back. Honest.
CTW: You also co-host your own podcast, Vitrola Music, with Robin Ince – what have been the highlights of doing it?
Michael: Vitriola is amazing. We have incredibly low listening figures but those who like it really seem to love it. Getting feedback from listeners who love records we’ve recommended is amazing. And it’s spread to a small group on Twitter who often listen to albums together via tweets using the #5×1 hashtag and it’s a great way to spend an hour or so. Sitting down alone and listening to an album but really you’re talking about it and sharing your thoughts and fun facts with your new friends on Twitter. But the podcast is just a normal conversation between me and Robin that just happens to be recorded. It deserves to be a major film.
CTW: Your 2017 show Jerk: Live in London is available to listen to on Bandcamp, can you tell us a little about it?
Michael: It’s about me getting older and lots of people getting more right wing as I get older but it ends with a musical tribute to my dear departed dog, Jerk, masquerading as a tribute to David Bowie. I mean, that already sounds great, right? And it is. If I was you, I’d go to Bandcamp and buy it. It’s very funny. Honestly, hand on heart, it’s the second best show I’ve ever done.
CTW: Are you planning on doing more musicals in the future?
Michael: Well, Owen Parker wrote the excellent music for that musical and I think if I mentioned another musical to him he’d punch me in the dick.
CTW: What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Michael: My 2015 show Tell It Like It Is, Steve. I’ve supported Alexei Sayle on tour and supported Stewart Lee at the Royal Festival Hall and those times were thrilling but I think I wrote a really excellent show in 2015. It pretty much sold out it’s run at The Fringe and, afterwards, no one approached me to tour it or record it or put it on the radio and I don’t care. Fact is, that show was brilliant and I’d do it again tomorrow if anyone asked and I could remember it.
CTW: And conversely, what’s been the worst thing?
Michael: I masturbated in front of Louis CK.
CTW: If money were no object, what would you like to create?
Michael: A play. I’ve been thinking about it for years. I want to write a fake lost Beckett play but I’d have no idea what you do with a play once it’s written. Do you? Robin Ince and I did a short lost Beckett play a few years ago but I know we could do a full show of it. If anyone would like to finance this, please call me.
CTW: What would you like to see change about the current comedy scene?
Michael: I’d like to see more of me. Wouldn’t you?
CTW: Apart from stand up, writing and podcasting is there anything else you’d like to do in the comedy world?
Michael: I’d like to do way more Angry Shows with Robin. We did it for the first time in a very long time just last week and it was such fun. Nothing prepared yet we still get an hour of fresh, new shouting out of it. In fact, if you like the angry show, hassle Robin about it on Twitter. He loves it but fills his diary with pointless book tours and arena gigs. Idiot.
CTW: Can you tell us what your plans are for the future?
Michael: I’m doing stuff. No point talking about them here though. Not until they’re somewhat done. I’m starting swimming lessons next week, that I can tell you.
CTW: And finally, if you could interview yourself, what question would you most like to ask? And what would the answer be?
Michael: When are you starting swimming lessons? Next week.
Photograph (c) Steve Best.