A 'Misanthropic Inner Voice' Led Phill Jupitus Back To Comedy

12 April 2019 | 4:56 pm | Maxim Boon

Phill Jupitus tells Maxim Boon about the ‘misanthropic inner voice’ that demanded he return to stand-up comedy.

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British comic Phill Jupitus has just made a comeback, which may come as a surprise to his many fans given that in his native UK he’s been an evergreen presence on TV and radio for years.

But while Juptius may be firmly ensconced on the airwaves, most notably as a team captain on the BBC’s now-wrapped pop music quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks and as a regular guest on the Stephen Fry-helmed trivia show QI, there’s one corner of his career that until 2017 had been on a hiatus for almost eight years: stand-up comedy.

Not that Jupitus had given up the stage completely. For much of the past decade he’s been a leading man (and on one occasion a leading lady) in top West End musicals including The Producers, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and in full drag as Edna Turnblad for Hairspray.

In fact, while he initially hung up the stand-up mic to host BBC Radio 6 Music’s breakfast show (late night gigs and crack o’ dawn wake-ups proved too incompatible), it was the comradery of ensemble productions that ultimately kept him away from live comedy for so long.

“Being in a theatre and working with large companies is just so different from the lone wolf world of stand-up. And it’s a very social world too, you know? You’re with other people and performing with a band, you get to sing; it’s just a world away from that very isolated world of being a solo comedian,” he explains.

“And for a really long time I enjoyed that, I enjoyed being in the group and working with an ensemble. But then there came a time when I just thought, ‘I just want to be on my own again.’ Because, there is, I think, at the core of every solo performer a deep and true vein of misanthropy that they can’t ignore. 

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"You’ve got this inner voice that demands to be heard, but it needs solitude to be able to fester and come to the fore!"

The product of that return to festering alone-time was Juplicity, a wild hybrid of a show combining several of Jupitus’ talents, including providing his own warm-up act in the guise of a character revived from his early career, Porky The Poet.

During his most recent touring, Jupitus has upped the ante as a one-man marvel, this time both in front of and behind the scenes. “On the tour I’ve just done in the UK I did everything, truly, on my own. So no tour manager or stage manager or PA or anything like that. Just me, turning up at venues at four o’clock saying, ‘Hello I’m here!’ Then getting set up and working with crews at the venues. And that’s not the norm. You usually have someone babysitting you extensively, so you never really deal with people.”

The next two years will be dominated by touring, bringing live comedy front and centre in his professional life once more. This includes an Aussie tour of his latest show Sassy Knack, building on the momentum of Juplicity’s barnstorming outing Down Under in 2017. The new set will once again feature several strings of Jupitus’ comedy bow, with more poetry, plenty of his trademark audience repartee, and “adult themes and situations but delivered childishly”.

Being such a creative polymath might seem scattergun to some, but for Jupitus, it’s the natural evolution of his life as a performer. “I love the fact I can do loads and loads of different things. As a stand-up comedian, the freedom, the latitude you have as a performer, there is no performing framework like it in terms of personal freedom in any other creative discipline. I talk to musicians, I talk to actors, and they all say they’re jealous because of the freedom you have as a stand-up. But it’s all relative, you know?

“I was working with some actors on a project and we were talking one night in the wee small hours about who had the more difficult job? And they were saying, ‘I just don’t know how you can walk out and just stand behind a mic and come up with two hours of talking, that just seems impossible.’ And I was like, ‘No no no. What’s impossible is saying the same thing, in exactly the same way, in exactly the same physical position every night. That’s impossible.’ Just the freedom you get as a comedian, there’s no other feeling like it.”