It’s been a morbid time for Mitch Benn, the ‘country’s leading satirist’ (The Times); he’s turned 46 – over the hill by anyone’s standards: his personal life is in turmoil, and his childhood heroes are dropping like flies. Mitch confronts his – and your – mortality with hilarious (and tuneful) consequences. Mitch is coming to the cellar bar on Friday 26 May. To whet your appetite, here’s an interview with the man himself…
What is your brand new 2017 tour about?
Death and mortality. It’s the one thing that unites us and yet the one thing we don’t want to talk about. So I thought I’d crack a bunch of jokes and sing some songs about it.
What was the inspiration behind the name, ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’?
Aside from the obvious (if you’re an old rock bore like me) Blue Oyster Cult reference it was the fact that the slew of famous people dying last year got me thinking about my own mortality and mortality in general.
Congrats on winning Celebrity Mastermind last year, how did you face down the fear of the black chair or did you have nerves of steel?
Bizarrely I was MORE nervous watching the broadcast. I had an inexplicable fear that despite having won when we recorded the show I was going to lose when it went to air. NO idea where that came from.
You have many strings to your bow including writing two sci fi novels – have you always been a fan and were you a Trekkie or a Star Wars boffin?
As far back as I can remember I’ve always been into SF; I was into Trek BEFORE I was into Star Wars as I was watching Trek repeats on the BBC from about the age of 3 and Star Wars didn’t come out until I was nearly 8. My main thing is Doctor Who though.
Was music all around when you were growing up in Liverpool, do you come from a musical family or were your influences external?
Very musical if not professionally so, with a couple of exceptions. Don’t think I’m related to anybody who can’t play SOMETHING. And I grew up in Liverpool in the 70s, wading through the debris of the Mersey Sound and Beatlemania.
When was the moment you realised you could combine music with comedy, and more importantly, you were good at it?
I first did stand up at the age of 21 in Montréal, Canada (long story) and incorporated music and songwriting right from the get go as it never really occurred to me not to. As for whether I’m any good at it, I leave it to others to decide.
You’ve done a few shows to musical heroes such as Dylan, Elvis etc etc. Do you poke fun at them or is it your way of paying homage?
Well in the case of the radio shows I did, the ones about Dylan, Bowie and Elvis (following on from the one I did about the Beatles) it was absolutely both. You can love something while still being very aware of its more ridiculous aspects.
What’s the weirdest gig you’ve done?
Blimey, hang on… Maybe having to go on at Plymouth University’s graduation ball AFTER Electric Six while Gay Bar was still in the charts…?
Do you think Greta/Astrid will thank you for the Twitter page when she’s older?
Well it hasn’t done Greta any harm as her career is rapidly eclipsing mine. She’s doing stand up now, she’s got an acting agent… I’m immensely proud, obviously, but I have told her if she gets into Doctor Who or Game Of Thrones before I do, she’s out on the street. Yeah, she thinks I’m kidding too.
Tell me a little bit about your books Terra and Terra’s World. What are they about, what prompted you to write them, will we see anymore?
They’re about a human child who is abducted by a well-meaning alien and grows up on another planet. They’re mainly inspired by my relationship with my kids, and there WILL be a part three but I don’t know when.
When did you first think ‘Comedy – that’s the job for me’
After I’d already been doing it for about a year. In my generation you don’t find many comics who always wanted to do this when we grew up; most of us seem to have gotten side tracked into it while trying to do other things. Younger comics will have grown up in an era when comedy was seen as rather sexier so maybe more of them will have wanted to be comedians when they were kids.
Which comedian first piqued your interest, and why?
My comic “awakening” definitely came during the aftermath of the alternative “explosion” at the end of the 70s and its subsequent takeover of TV comedy (The Young Ones etc.) but weirdly the first stand up I remember admiring was Billy Connolly, who belonged to a slightly earlier generation. In fact I’ve always thought that artistically I’ve got more in common with his generation, the early 70s ex-folk club raconteurs, than with any subsequent comedy “movement”.
If you weren’t working raising the smiles, what would you be working as?
If you mean day job, not a damn clue. I’ve written books though; if I could make a living doing that I’d be happy.
Tell us about your worst gig so far
Did a Christmas gig in Romford once. Once….
…and the one which still send shivers for all the right reasons?
Maybe the first time I ever played the big comedy stage at Glastonbury in 1995.
Are there any subjects which are off limits?
No, but certain subjects are so hard to make funny it’s probably not worth trying.
Mitch Benn performs in the Cellar Bar on Friday 26 May at 8pm. For more information and to book tickets, please visit the webpage.