'I've wanted this for so long...’ | Interview with if.comedy winner Brendon Burns

'I've wanted this for so long...’

Interview with if.comedy winner Brendon Burns

Comedians, as a rule, feign indifference towards awards, fearing that blatantly chasing the glittering prize should dent their iconoclastic cool.

Not so, Brendon Burns. If accolades really are down to who wants them most, the acerbic Aussie would need planning permission to extend his mantelpiece. As it happens, it has taken him 11 years to claim Edinburgh’s most coveted accolade, and in his first interview since claiming the crown, he can’t disguise his glee.

‘I’ve wanted this for a long time,’ he says, with no attempt at fashionable apathy. ‘I want to be one of the success stories.

‘I’ve been so close, so many times. This is validation.’

Burns sees the if.comedy win as his passport off some of the less enjoyable gigs on the circuit. He’s taken great delight at cancelling all his Jongleurs gigs this autumn as he expects his first solo tour – a ‘greatest hits’ package, rather the full Edinburgh show – to sell out on the back of his high-profile victory. Then there’s TV…

‘I’ve got more career choices now,’ he says. ‘I’m talking to the right people who can make things happen.’

First, though, there are the last outings for the award-winning show, I Suppose THIS Is Offensive Now. First as part of the if.comedy awards season on October 7 in the Garrick Theatre, then another West End run in November yet to be announced.

Although he has a reputation for being offensive, Burns says that was far from his intention with the Edinburgh show – even though posters featured him in various outlandish poses: including blacking up with a bone through his nose.

‘This show is all about how inoffensive, how harmless and how pointless I am,’ he claims. ‘There was not one ounce of hate in me when I wrote this show

‘The poster wasn’t racist, nor was it taking the piss out of the people who thought it was – it was taking the piss out of people who DIDN’T think it was racist,’ he adds. That’s why it’s funny. It’s deeply offensive, that’s the point.’ Before the festival, he was told it was expecting a lot of his audience to see all these layers – but Burns claims almost everyone who came to the show understood what he was driving at.

‘Only about five people in the whole run got really upset and didn’t realise I was parodying their own sense of judgment,’ he said. ‘One old leftie in particular got really outraged, not realising it was me who was being a ridiculous person.’

‘But I was the piss out of the professionally outraged – or anyone who claims to speak for anyone else.’

He says the idea for the show came to him over a number of events, such as becoming suspicious of Arab travellers while in an airport queue in Dubai and realising his own prejudices.

Then there was the incident that caused him to leave the ITV2 spin-off show I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here Now after just thee nights – the last straw coming when he took umbrage at being asked to wear a cork hat.

‘I was completely angry and outraged at being forced to wear the cork hat – then I went to Australia and saw crowds of people wearing them, and celebrating the stereotypes, despite me being so sanctimonious.

‘The other thing was the Jade Goody furore. There seemed to be only two schools of thought: that she was wrong and evil, or that this was a case of political correctness gone mad, and that it’s OK to carry on being a cunt – Jim Davidson would an example of that “fuck ’em” attitude. But most people lie somewhere in the middle.’

It was that area Burns wanted to explore – but he also has a message for some of his fellow stand-ups, too.

‘It’s about accountability, ’ he said. ‘I get bored of comics who are quite cruel.

‘There are lots of comics doing nasty kiddie-fiddling material, but it’s not incisive nor do they have accountability for what they say. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy “wrong” jokes but some comics are totally unwilling to look at themselves.’

As well as his own experiences, he credits three comedy shows in the last year for inspiring him: ‘Glenn Wool in seeing things from a different perspective, Reginald D Hunter in having honesty and a narrative arc and We Are Klang for pure silliness,’ he says.

But his original inspiration comes from further back – pioneering black comic Flip Wilson. ‘When I was nine I saw Flip Wilson. His opening line in a Texas club to the white bandleader was: “Does your daddy know you work for a nigger?” It was electic, and I loved the way that line hung in the air, with no one sure how to react.

‘That’s what I tried to replicate in my show. Our rule was “no explaining”, so as not to ruin the journey for people. But you can’t control the reaction that way – people have their own journey. I relinquished control and made it more ambiguous and complex. But it got scary – I really was pushing every button.’

The two people who insisted on that ‘no explaining’ rule were his directors, Matt Holt and Rohan Acharya.

‘Ro and Matt made the difference between a maybe-nominated show and a winning show,’ he acknowledges. ‘A great show is 60 per cent talent, 40 per cent decisions – and they helped me make the right decisions.

‘Matt and Ro were expecting to have to fight with me over the show, but I accepted virtually everything they suggested without any argument. Why pay someone for advice then not take it?

‘And in the end, it paid off. I’m proud of the job my people did, and I’m proud of the job I did.’

  • So I Suppose THIS Is Offensive now is on at the Garrick Theatre on October 7 as part of the Intelligent Finance Award Season. The show will also be recorded for DVD – with a documentary based around Burns’ experiment getting his whole Glastonbury audience high on magic mushrooms as an extra feature. Click here for his autumn tour schedule .
Interview: Steve Bennett

Published: 11 Sep 2007

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