Marcus Brigstocke: 'I'm the most interesting subject I have at the moment'
The comedian talks, for the first time, about why he's mining his life for laughs
Heard the one about the comedian who nearly died after ballooning to 25 stone, before being exposed as a philanderer in an affair that ended his marriage? You soon will.
The comedian and satirist Marcus Brigstocke is to articulate his many demons - latterly his tryst with a soap actress that wrecked 12 years of matrimony - under the glare of stage lights. Brigstocke is writing a stand-up show, provisionally titled Je M'accuse - I am Marcus, which will see the wreckage of his personal life laid out before live audiences.
In crossing the Rubicon of bringing the personal on stage, Brigstocke, comedy establishment after a career that has traversed radio, television, film, theatre and print, may be accused of profiting from his mistakes.
He says he is anxious not to hurt those involved by belittling the consequences of actions which he admits ended his 12 year marriage to wife Sophie, with whom he has two children - but says it is time for honesty.
So why the change for someone who has pointedly avoided his own multifarious past and gravitated toward intelligent sketches from God to establishment designed to be provocative and insightful?
“I have taken the view there are a lot more interesting subjects than me - but not at the moment,” he says in a candid admission of his failings.
“There are things I feel ashamed of, I am now a person who had an affair, however I am happy with my girlfriend and my kids are happy and here we all are.”
The most unpalatable material, he recognises, is the affair. “There are things about what happened, you can see I'm nervous and emotional about the whole thing,” he says. “I said to my wife this is what happened and I'm very sorry, we tried to put things back together but it became clear it wasn't going to work. Then you have to deal with the consequences of the choices you have made.”
Brigstocke - in trade mark jeans, specs and lumberjack shirt - speaks intensely but in measured tones, building layers of logic on to his fluctuating emotions as he navigates to a conclusion.
He is particularly relieved he and his former wife are on amicable terms and the children, aged 10 and seven, are settled. “I think I'm being a much better dad to them now than I was for a while there,” he says.
The infidelity began when Brigstocke and former Emmerdale actress Hayley Tamaddon, who won the Dancing on Ice show in 2010, toured the country with the Monty Python musical Spamalot.
“Everything hit me as it happened, the full consequences hit you a while afterwards. But it happened in the moment you know, I don't escape into alcohol or drugs so I am quite aware of the choices I make.”
The reason Brigstocke now avoids drugs and alcohol is because it, along with compulsive eating, nearly killed him. It is hard to imagine that aged 17, Brigstocke, today a lean and lofty 6ft 2in, rose to a morbidly obese 25 stone before losing half his body weight in seven months after rehab. The drugs, mainly marijuana and solvents, were not as serious as his compulsion to eat. “Every mealtime is still hard for me” he says, “my natural inclination is to eat until I burst”. But despite being keen not to be seen as “the go to guy for eating disorders” he feels his experience and talent allows him to use comedy for enlightenment.
“At the risk of tempting fate here, drink and drugs were quite easy [to give up].
"I don't drink because the potential consequences in the days when I think 'maybe I could a glass of red wine is civilised' for me are so massive that I sort of think why would I run that kind of risk.
"Eating is different; it's dirty, it's horrible - you do it on your own and you wear it. [With] alcohol and drugs, you have moments of sobriety, [but] you don't stop being fat. You wear it; everyone can see it - it is a brand… an overcoat of shame for everyone to see.
"You despise yourself, you make promises to yourself, you say 'I had a bad day, that was bad but that means this is baseline and I can start', then you go and break those promises and do it again, and worse.
"Eating disorders are more pervasive and subtle [than alcohol and drugs] and availability and acceptability are much higher... the ”high“ comes from the totally full-up feeling ”It is an anaesthetic. You lie like a python digesting what you have, it slows your brain down and you are physically inert. Numb and dull, that is the feeling you get."
Making fun of something so serious will be challenging, he says, but some things lend themselves.
"I fell over a lot when I lost weight, my brain still thought I still needed to pump 40 litres blood into the legs because I was a big lad, so when I went running up stairs from the Tube I would get dizzy and fall over."
The rehab came after he was expelled from boarding schools - once for setting goal posts alight - which he hated, and probably saved his life.
Teetotal for 20 years, today he channels his addictive behaviour into snowboarding. And, undoubtedly a rich vein of material, before reincarnation as a comedian was at various times a Goth, drama student at Bristol University, dancer at a nightclub, an oil rig worker and chief beverage operator in the little chef.
Brigstocke is obviously a good communicator, but he masters affable and honesty in a disarming manner - for instance when speaking about his best friend and "soulmate" James Ross who encouraged him to perform, and got him his first gig in 1995, but died in 2006 from a heart condition.
"I miss him and when I think about him, every day in some form or another, you feel said for a while then another thing comes along, like now when I'm thinking about him, and I'll smile again," Brigstocke says.
"Telling stories about him on stage was a weird thing. It made me feel very emotional, but not all of those emotions were sad, it was a mixture. There was sadness and missing him and longing and all those things, but also joy that he and I were able to create together all these things that hundreds of people are now laughing at."
Brigstocke will use the new material later this year, but next gig is this Wednesday when he appears at the annual War on Want comedy gig at the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London, with other big name comedians. The charity, which fights poverty in developing countries, is a cause Brigstocke has supported for many years.
"They are really nice because loads of big name comics come and do their best 15 minutes and from my point of view, I get to see comedy my mates; we don't see each other because we are all on the road," he says.
There is also a six part series on BBC which will mash his current stand-up show, the Brig Society, into a radio format.
Touring can bring different challenges each day, Brigstocke says, illustrating just that point with a tale of a gig last week in Hoddeston where a man offered to fight him. "It was weird, he started off being charming and then he was utterly foul and horrible," he says. "I offered to repay him the cost of his ticket if he went home, but he sat back down."
He has also now reached a point where his politics is attacked from all sides - he isn't a member of any party though is a climate campaigner and once did a Green Party fundraiser because he wanted its now MP Caroline Lucas to enter Parliament.
"People on the right call me a “pinky-communist” while those on the left say I have sold out and encapsulate 'everything that has gone wrong,'" he says, adding he is not trying to fit anywhere. "[Thatcher's death] was an absolute nightmare. It really divided audiences between a small number of people who desperately wanted me to jump up and down on her grave, which didn't interest me in the slightest, and some others who said a great leader has died," adding her legacy was worth debating.
"The Brig Society discusses the extent to which the ism [Thatcherism] has traction, private enterprise, greed, selfishness, passion, empathy,“ he says.
Next week's 40th birthday, on May 8, will be celebrated with a meal at top restaurant with friends "Fuck the eating disorder, it will be a one off and it will be very special".
The landmark, he admits, has made him reflect informed his evolved view on making his comedy personal.
"I am not racked with self-loathing. Some issues of guilt and shame, but I'm a pretty good guy,“ he says. "Guilt is feeling bad about what you have done, shame is feeling bad about who you are - all it is, is muddling up things you have done with who you are."
He admits he still needs the fix of "approval from a live audience" and hopes his trusted mix of honesty and humour will provide the on-stage catharsis.
"All my shows are therapy, trying to navigate interesting subjects so I can work them out and to be honest and say some things are beyond the wit of this man," he says. "But I want to do this show, I'm ready for it. I have had a traumatic number of years, but weirdly I'm in a good place. The worst things that could have happened have happened and I'm alright. My kids are alright and I'm still managing to do the things that are important."
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