Phil Jupitus – In Conversation

Beginning his career as a cartoonist for a local music magazine, writer and comedian Phill Jupitus has enjoyed a varied career spanning three decades.  Honing his skills as a poet, the young Phill frequently performed his growing collection of Poems in underground pubs and clubs around London. This was the 1980’s and Phill’s raw poetry captured the youth angst of the day which had more in common with Johnny Rotten than Edgar Allen Poe. Suddenly he found himself on tour with some of the biggest musical acts of the day including Billy Bragg and The Housemartins. Even now it seems incredible that poetry could be used as a supporting act for the biggest pop acts in Britain and its popularity still remains a mystery to Phill himself. Before too long, Phill began to feel comfortable on stage and developed a patter with the audience in between his poems. He then realised that his chatty conversation was proving more popular than the poems themselves which prompted him to contemplate the art of Stand Up Comedy.

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This was the era of alternative comedy and political satire was the popular dish of the day. Traditional styled jokes were considered old fashioned and something that would make your parents laugh but they certainly weren’t cool. Instead younger audiences demanded something which reflected the world they lived in. Venues including Don Ward’s Comedy Store provided such entertainment and in turn gave birth to a whole new generation of comedians. Phill was quick to develop an unconventional way of creating material by doing minimal writing and flying by the of his pants. This technique has been successful throughout his career as he finds it very difficult to make himself write and is far more comfortable when a show comes to him naturally. Such a definite comic style does not mix well with the inevitable influx of hecklers. After thirty years in Comedy, Phill has little patience with audience members who feel obliged to shout out random utterances to spoil the comedian’s set. Why should one person ruin the show for everyone else?


Television came calling in 1996 when Jupitus became a team captain alongside comedian Eddie Large on the second series of the comedy panel game Gagtag. Unbeknown to him, the panel show was a genre which Phill would become synonymous with for the next twenty years yet sadly Gagtag was cancelled after this series but it did bring Phill into contact with the great Bob Monkhouse, someone whom he admired greatly. As with most young comics, it was contacted the ultimate compliment when Bob Monkhouse said he liked your work. Not only this but he also remembered individual jokes and praised Phill on the calibre of his material. Unbeknown to Phill and many other young comics, Bob would frequently arrive at Comedy clubs in disguise and inconspicuously watch gigs from the fire exit to avoid getting noticed. A testament to the high regard which Bob held him in.


In 1996 Phill united with the comic talents of Mark Lamar and the late Sean Hughes for BBC2’s heavyweight music panel show Never Mind The Buzzcocks. A panel show surrounding pop culture was something that had never been attempted before and with it came the threat of unpredictable and sometimes controversial behaviour from popstars which the three thrived upon. The recording of each thirty minute episode could be up to two and a half hours and the editing team would then cut it down into a twenty seven minute show and insert laughs for under delivered jokes. This meant that when Phill sat down to watch an episode, it could be completely different to what he remembered filming. It’s only here when you realise and appreciate the art of an editorial production team and the massive effect editing has on the success of a programme.


Over the course of eighteen years, Phill remained a constant face on Never Mind The Buzzcocks merely missing just one episode when he was replaced by Frankie Boyle. Sean Hughes was replaced by Bill Bailey in 2002, someone whom Phill had known previously from years of working on the circuit and already had chemistry with. Having this connection, they were able to play off each other for comic effect which gave the how more of a sense of fun. More changes were on the way in 2005 as host Mark Lamar left leaving a huge void in the show. A full series of guest presenters gave Phill the opportunity to bounce off different celebrities and like all great comics, he’s at his very best when he’s completely unscripted. Together with Bill Bailey, they often ran rings around an array of famous faces and when Simon Amstall was hired as the new presenter, the madness continued and became a major factor in the show’s longevity.


Beyond panel show success, Phill has never lost his love of music. In 2002 he was selected to launch the BBC’s digital radio station 6music where he fronted the weekday breakfast show for five years. His extensive musical knowledge also made him the perfect candidate to join his BBC’s presenting team at the Glastonbury festival alongside Jo Whiley and Lauren Laverne. To broadcast live to the nation for sometimes hours at a time with the added responsibility of ensuring that you introduce the right acts at the right moment is no easy feet. Just another string to a very large bow!


Phill works to a mantra of giving everything a go once: he’s made one sitcom, chaired one panel show and presented a live breakfast show. In 2007 he put himself out of his comfort zone yet again when he auditioned for a major role in a West End musical. Originally interested in the part of Wilbur Turnblad in Hairspray, Phill was then offered to read for the drag act Edna replacing the outgoing Michael Ball. He instantly loved the role and so did the producers and for the best part of two years Phill was Edna and got the West End bug. Since Hairspray Phill has starred in a string of theatrical triumphs including The Producers alongside fellow comic Jason Manford. It’s clear that Phill is an extremely versatile performer who has grown to love the thrill of the stage lights.


Now back on the road with a brand new stand up tour Juplicity, Phill shows no sign of slowing down and his popularity amongst students and pensioners alike is as potent as ever. It was great to meet Phill Jupitus and can’t wait to see what’s next for the man of many talents.