INTERVIEW: PHILL JUPITUS: Force-fed comedy

Phill Jupitus, the comedian who is one of the team captains on BBC2's ironic pop quiz, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, is the first to admit that we're in danger of overdosing on TV panel games. "If the schedulers keep going 'panel game, panel game, panel game,' then it'll become tiresome," he concedes. "They're always looking for new subjects. How long before we get a panel game about gardening? I bet even now they're trying to find three comedians who know enough about gardening. What would they call it? Never Mind the Borders?"

Often more laddish than a stag night, these type of shows have also been criticised as lazy scheduling, but Jupitus is quick to defend what he sees as the premier-league panel games: "I take a dim view of people who say these programmes are an easy option," he contends. "They've been a staple of broadcasting since the 1930s. If you find three funny people who can take on their own dynamic, they work.

"Music is an obvious subject to do," he continues. "You can have a passing interest in music, but it's very difficult to carry off a passing interest in, say, sport. People think there's something less than manly about you if you don't know the offside laws."

It always helps, Jupitus reckons, if the participants display a real enthusiasm for their subject. "Mark [Lamarr, the chairman], Sean [Hughes, the other team captain], and I all love music. We've all worked as DJs. That comes over. They recruited us for Never Mind the Buzzcocks just by examining the guest-list at every major music venue over the past 10 years. Maybe they've ended up with the biggest blaggers and freeloaders rather than music experts."

Jupitus is a behemoth of bonhomie. He must be the only friendly West Ham fan on the planet. He demonstrates a similarly easy-going persona in his live show, Jedi, Steady, Go, which he starts touring this week. "I have no axe to grind," he confirms. "I've always warmed to daftness in stand-up - people like Marty Feldman, Steve Martin, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Barry Cryer. It all goes back to the Goons."

He has come a long way since he led a double life Clark Kent would have been proud of: civil servant by day, performance poet by night. He struggled on the circuit until enlightenment came from an unlikely source. "I was doing some poetry at Leeds Poly in 1986 when James Brown - not the hardest- working man in showbiz, but the former editor of Loaded - came up to me," Jupitus recalls, before going off on one of his trademark tangents. "At the time, he was running a small fanzine called Attack on Bezag. It was a parody of Sven Hassel and was the best 30 pence you could spend in Leeds.

"So," Jupitus carries on, returning to the original story with the greatest reluctance, "he told me 'What you say between poems is so much funnier than the poems themselves. You should concentrate on that.' I'd already realised poets couldn't make any money unless they were John Hegley or Benjamin Zephaniah, so I junked poetry. Anyway, it was too constricting. As a stand-up, you're freer. My ideas were funnier than my rhymes. And, you know what?, I couldn't do a single poem about orange. So it was out with stanzas, and in with stand-up."

Stand-up gave Jupitus licence to ramble on stage as much as he does off it. "Eddie Izzard says that stand-up is like a road journey from London to Newcastle - you can take any route you like to your destination. He also gave me the advice that when you find something funny, just keep pulling at it. The audience will let you be daft, and that's when the fun happens."

As he psyches himself up for the new tour, the one thing the heavyweight Jupitus is worried about is ring-rustiness. "My stand-up has suffered because I don't do the clubs as much as I used to," he sighs. "I've lost a bit of speed. If you're gigging seven times a week, you get so hot and quick. The pewter tankard of my stand-up could stand a little buffing. This tour is merely a two-month buff."

The entire live show will be devoted to his well-documented love of Star Wars, a film he has seen more than 20 times. "I'm calling it the Tour de Force," he laughs. "This is the Special Edition, with new computer-generated gags. I'm nicking from George Lucas all down the line."

Just why is it that this one movie holds such an enduring fascination for Jupitus? "Star Wars has everything," he enthuses. "It's a classic cheap Saturday morning action-film premise. George Lucas took on the mentality of a 10-year-old boy when he made it. It's whoosh-bang, but with no Arnies or Slys or goriness or swearing or post-modern references to other films. It's two hours of non-stop action with a happy ending."

But doesn't he ever tire of talking about nothing else for a whole hour? Apparently not. "It's a valid subject because it's the most successful film of all time, and it's very much in the public consciousness at the moment," Jupitus argues. "If Eddie Izzard can do the Bible, the most successful book, I think I can do the most successful film. It's also about having the big brass balls to get up there and talk about just one thing for an hour. Imagine George Lucas is 35, fat, and living in Essex. He's had a couple of lagers and he's down the pub telling his mates about Star Wars. That's my take on it."

And, amazing as it sounds, people really respond to it. "All I have to do is make a noise like a Wookie and people laugh," Jupitus observes, scarcely able to believe it himself.

After the two-month tour and the latest series of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Jupitus acknowledges that he will be ready for a break. "So, if anyone knows of any remote tribes in the Kalahari looking for a hefty helper..."

In the meantime, he promises: "If I hear of a gardening panel game, I'll let you know."

'Never Mind the Buzzcocks' is on Fridays at 9.30pm on BBC2. Phill Jupitus's 'Jedi, Steady, Go' Tour opens at Ipswich Corn Exchange (01473 215544) on 5 Mar and continues at Farnham Maltings (01252 726234) on 6 Mar

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