Nick Helm: Loud, aggressive - and a big pussycat off stage

The comic's aggressive style does not match his true self, finds Gerard Gilbert

Nick Helm gig is not for the faint-hearted. Indeed the burly 33-year-old comic says he has become a favourite of stag parties – probably because, like bungee-jumping or drinking a yard of Sambuca, watching him live contains an element of risk. Stomach bulging out of his shirt, Helm has a very “intimate” style of audience participation, locking punters in a sweaty embrace, or thrusting his bearded face into theirs as he shouts “Do you like jokes?, Do you like jokes?, Do you like jokes?”.

Needless to say, he’s a pussycat in the flesh, softly spoken and thoughtful. “My rule of thumb is the nicer somebody is on stage the worse they are in real life,” he says, looking weary after meeting me straight from the train from Manchester where he’s been filming an episode of 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. In his shows he’s playing a part, he says, like his hero, mascara-abusing shock-rocker Alice Copper. “He’s a teetotal Christian golf player who gets on stage and beats up a doll.”

Indeed Helm’s aggressive assault is undercut by something more vulnerable and sensitive – he even spouts poetry. I particularly like his composition “Gin”, I say, in which he impersonates somebody in the depths of alcohol-induced self-pity – though it’s not exactly impersonation, he reveals. “That happened. A girl dumped me and I went out and drank loads of gin and burst into tears in front of her mum. Poems are [my] way of re-framing material.”

And then there are his songs: satirical ditties with titles such as “Don’t Want to Work in Admin” that began as a way of padding out his act. “I’m not a fan of comedy songs, but I had 15 minutes of material and I got booked for a 20 minute slot”, he says. His “house band”, the Helmettes, really just a revolving bunch of his mates, were a regular feature alongside him on BBC3’s Live at the Electric, and he has also played festivals such as Latitude with them.

Helm is now channelling his talents, both as comedian and songwriter, into a funny new BBC3 sitcom, Uncle, in which he plays a suicidal musician who finds himself in charge of his 12-year-old nephew. It was scripted by Oliver Refson for Baby Cow, the production company co-created by Helm’s comedy hero, Steve Coogan. “It wasn’t written for me but it was 75 per cent what I would have done,” says Helm.

Originally piloted by Channel 4, Uncle was taken up by BBC3 when Channel 4’s head of comedy, Shane Allen, moved to the corporation. However, Helm found the BBC less relaxed about some of the sweary scenes he shares with his juvenile co-lead, Elliot Speller-Gillott. “His mum was on set all the time and we had Compliance all over him,” says Helm. “There’s not much swearing, just really crazy things he [can and can’t] say – ‘wanker’ but not ‘bastard’ – and we’d do a ‘clean’ scene together, and then he’d be replaced by his mum who would wear a wig because she’s the same height as him.”

Helm plans to start writing his own sitcom in the summer, for Channel 4 this time, after he has finished filming a new show for BBC3 called Heavy Entertainment. “It’s like The Harry Hill Show or Reeves and Mortimer or Brian Conley or Les Dawson or The Tommy Cooper Hour”, he explains, not entirely successfully.

Like many comedians before him, Helm made his name in Edinburgh. He has attended the festival ever since an enlightened drama teacher took the school play there in 1997. He premiered his own play in 2006. “I spent seven years writing it,” he says. “Seven years and we got a one-star review in The Scotsman. I was gutted. And then we got rung up the next day by The Scotsman saying it was a printing error … it was meant to be two stars.” The experience prompted him to try his hand at stand-up instead. “I went from something that took seven years to write to something I could write on the bus,” he says.

It’s a decision that paid off: he has twice been nominated for an Edinburgh Comedy Award and, in 2011, he won the prize for the best joke at the festival with “I needed a password with eight characters – so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”.

His belligerent, in-your-face stage persona developed because “audiences in Edinburgh are so apathetic”, he says. “It’s their ninth show and they’ve come to see this thing and they’re just bored, and you’re going ‘why are you even here?’ Instead of just grinning and bearing it, I’d shout at them.”

What does his girlfriend think of his ranting act, I wonder? “She saw [me on stage] before she met me, and she’s actually disappointed that I’m so mild-mannered,” he replies. “No, but some people are disappointed that you’re not shouty or sweary. If I did that in real life I’d get beaten up all the time.”

‘Uncle’ begins on BBC3 on Monday 13 Jan at 10pm

Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
    Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

    They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

    A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
    David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

    Hanging with the Hoff

    Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
    Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

    Hipsters of Arabia

    Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
    The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

    The cult of Roger Federer

    What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
    Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

    Malaysian munchies

    With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
    10 best festival beauty

    Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

    Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

    A Different League

    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

    Steve Bunce on Boxing

    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf