Rhod Gilbert

Rhod Gilbert

A former market researcher, Carmarthen-born Rhod Gilbert began his comedy career in 2002, after taking a stand-up course. That year he made the finals of the So You Think You're Funny? talent hunt at the Edinburgh Fringe, and in the next 12 months won the BBC New Comedy Award, the Paramount Gift Of The Gag competition and the Leicester Comedy Festival comedian of the year title. He was also a Chortle Award nominee for best new act, and runner-up n the Hackney Empire New Act Of The Year contest.

He made his solo Edinburgh debut in 2005 with a show called 1984, describing the misery of growing up in the fictional Welsh town of Llanbobl, whihc was nominated for the Perrier best newcomer award. That year, he also won the Chortle award for best breakthrough act.

His 2008 Edinburgh show again caught the attention of judges and was nominated for the main if.comedy award. It lead to appearances on BBC One's Live at the Apollo stand-up showcase and the 80th Royal Variety Performance.

Gilbert has also appeared on Mock The Week, and he hosts a Saturday-morning show on BBC Radio Wales. In late 2008, he fronted a series of adverts to promote Welsh tourism.

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'I was so out of my depth, the nerves were terrible'

Rhod Gilbert on his latest Work Experience challenge

Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience starts a new four-part series on BBC One Wales next week, with an episode in which he plays timpani with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Here he speaks about the exhilarating - if terrifying – experience 

Had you ever played in an orchestra before? Had you ever played the timpani before? 

Never. From the Work Experience programme, I think it is abundantly clear that I have no experience whatsoever. In fact if you’d said timpani to me I would have known roughly whereabouts in an orchestra it would have been.

 I’d know it was at the back, I’d know it was drummy, percussion type instrument but I didn’t know the kettle drums (as I would call them) were timpani.

How long did you rehearse with BBC National Orchestra of Wales? How many pieces did you learn?

Not long enough is how long I rehearsed, which will be fairly obvious for anyone who watches this programme. I had an hour with Steve on the timpani just to get a grasp of what was required of me in the piece that I would be playing,

Also Sprach Zarathustra by Strauss or 2001 Space Odyssey as the piece is more commonly known. That was the only thing I did and that was enough frankly. 

I then had a 20-minute rehearsal with the orchestra, which was not enough, but world-class musicians aren’t just knocking around Cardiff ready for you to have a jam with when you feel like it and practice you know – these are busy people. 

Rehearsals are very structured and regimented, and so I had to grab the moments that I could.  But I think on the night, despite completely missing the cue the first time, I think the second and only other time I did it was the best one I’ve done. It was the closest I was going to get to nailing it - after that little rehearsal and practice.

What was the hardest thing about the job?

The worst thing - feeling underprepared, the pressure, the nerves, not wanting to let everybody down. Slotting in to a world class orchestra, with a few hours practice is a pressured gig.

And the best?

The sheer joy of it, the sheer adrenaline. I think every comedian wants to be a rock star and that’s as close as I’ve come to feeling like a rock star because ultimately, you’re on a stage playing these enormous pieces that really get you, they get your heart going. To be in the middle of an orchestra is an incredible place to be. 

I think even sitting watching an orchestra - you don’t quite get that feeling of being in the middle of it, which is just a hugely exciting place to be.

Was there anything about the experience that particularly surprised you? 

I hadn’t given it any thought about how much rehearsal an orchestra would put into a Prom performance or something like that. I would assume weeks, day after day after day but they just rock up with the music, sit down and rehearse for six hours and then that’s it.

The day after the performance they’re on to a different thing, different city, rehearsing something else, so yeah, I was surprised; I didn’t realise it worked like that. 

When you’re doing your stand-up shows you’re on your own. How did it feel to perform as part of something so big?

It’s very easy to see with rock music and things like that, that walking out in Glastonbury in front thousands would be an exhilarating experience. I hadn’t really applied that to a classical orchestra but it was exactly the same as far as I could work out.

 I perhaps didn’t realise that, how exciting it would be – it reminded me of being on stage for stand-up. It was exhilarating and absolutely proper adrenalin-fuelled excitement – it was fabulous.

Were you nervous before a performance? And how did the nerves compare to when you go on stage to do comedy?

I get that feeling backstage, the feeling that you don’t want it to go ahead. The pacing, anxiety in your stomach, that sheer ‘What do I do with myself?’, ‘Where can I turn?’. I can’t escape these nerves - it’s very similar to being backstage at a stand-up gig. It’s just, in a stand-up gig now, I’m much more confident in what I’m doing than I was in that orchestra – I was so out of my depth, the nerves were terrible.

Have you played the timpani again since?

No, but I am playing the drums. I bought a drum kit a long time ago and never used it so it’s inspired me to dust off the covers off and get some lessons.

What else did you do for the new series of Work Experience?

I also joined the Royal Navy, became part of a BA cabin crew and gave Festival Food a go. The highlight of the Royal Navy one was the sea was calm. I was dreading it, absolutely – it’s such a rarefied experience to be on a warship like that. It’s an odd place to be, it feels so out of place so those episodes are always going to be quite epic – it’s big scale.  

Messing about with Cyrus Todiwala, the Indian chef in his East London restaurant was great. Getting proper tips and getting to eat as much Indian food cooked by a master, learning from somebody like him was a real privilege. 

The cabin crew was really surreal – very, very funny and surreal, because BA is such a weird corporate world that it’s different to anything that I’ve ever done. It’s more military than the military – everything has to be just so. I call it pernickety faff world. I felt more out of place there than anywhere else. 

The new series of Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience starts next Thursday at 9:30pm on BBC One Wales and  then on BBC iPlayer.

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Published: 15 Mar 2018

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