How We Met: Phil Nichol & Brendon Burns

'A lot of comics want to be taken seriously, and don't see the preposterousness of that notion'

Interviews,Rhiannon Harries
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:04

Brendon Burns, 39, is an Australian comedian, known for his confrontational delivery and controversial subject matter. A regular on the UK circuit for more than 15 years, in 2007 he won the if.comedy award (previously the Perrier) for his show 'So I Suppose THIS is Offensive Now'. He lives in Northamptonshire

Phil won't remember the first time we met, because I was a fan – and it makes him feel old when I say that. I was in Melbourne in 1992, I'd just started doing open spots and I'd been to see Phil's act at a pub gig the night before. They were coming out of their hotel the following day and I went, "Great show, guys!" Phil turned round and shouted "Thanks very much" and I thought, "What a nice chap!"

Then, in 1994, I moved to the UK, first stop Edinburgh Festival. I was living with a group called the Gadflys and the Scottish comedian Phil Kaye who is a really good friend of Phil's. One of the first times we met was when they went to play football one morning. They were getting thrashed when I woke up at home and saw that they'd all gone out to play without me. So I put on my kilt and ran out the apartment, screaming, Celtic warrior-style, all the way down to the meadows. I think I amused Phil in real life, which is why we became friends.

A couple of years later, Phil had nowhere to live so I put him up at my place. He was in a bit of a bad state, post-Edinburgh blues, depressed. He wasn't getting out of bed, wasn't washing. I'd worked on a farm, and one day I came back and the smell in the flat was reminiscent of chemical fertiliser. I dragged him to the bath by his ankles, showered him and gave him a pep talk.

At that point there was a lot of the Aussie still in me, maybe one of the reasons I didn't get on with a lot of people at the beginning was that I didn't really give a fuck about anyone's previous record. The whole point of getting into this job is that you don't have a boss, and sometimes guys who had been around a bit longer would act like they were your boss. Phil never behaved that way so he was able to take my advice on board. And, according to a lot of people, if Brendon Burns tells you you need to get your act together, you've really got problems.

So I got him out of his funk and then turned around and got myself an addiction and hit rock bottom. And then cleaned up, I should say for the record. He has been very nice about it. He was one of the few people I could count on to be supportive.

Phil was always a comic hero of mine and I took a lot from the way he worked. If a gig was dead, he never let the energy drop – he'd do whatever it took to shake the shit out of the crowd. Of everyone I know, he's the least afraid of looking silly. A lot of comics want to be taken seriously and don't see the pure preposterousness of that notion.

Phil Nichol, 45, is a Canadian comedian, actor and singer-songwriter. He began his career with the musical comedy trio Corky and the Juice Pigs, before beginning a solo stand-up career. He was nominated for the Perrier in 2002 and won the if.comedy award in 2006 with 'The Naked Racist'. He lives in London

The first time we met, according to Brendon, was when he waved hello to me in the street after seeing a gig. I don't remember – Brendon's memorable but he's not that memorable. We met again in the mid-1990s at the Edinburgh Festival. He was living with friends of mine in one great big crazy flat across the meadows and we all used to end up there for some extra-curricular partying.

Brendon was one of those big personalities you get around the festival. He's larger than life, even to this day, but back then he was full-on to the point of annoying people. I found him endearing and we became friends immediately and have stood by each other since.

One of the good things about this industry is that we are allowed to remain children, and Brendon is one of the biggest kids going. He comes across as being a brash, abrasive person, but that's a deliberate facade. If you know him, you know that he's one of the most gentle, compassionate and generous people you'll ever meet.

There are different ways of approaching comedy and our entire friendship group has become known for a style that discusses subjects from obtuse angles and Brendon certainly has led the way in saying the unsayable and then rationalising it to the audience to make them think about it. It's the last bastion of free speech, because it's the one place you are allowed to say things you don't mean.

We all inspired each other. There are lots of people, especially nowadays, who get into comedy to become TV presenters – there's nothing wrong with that, but there are other comedians who want to entertain and enlighten. Of all the people I know, Brendon – even when he was being the whipping boy for comedy critics for being loud and stupid – has maintained his focus on achieving respect for his style. It has come slowly but it's happening for him and that's just through slogging away.

Brendon's had difficult times – as have I – but I don't judge my friends, ever. It wouldn't change the way I feel about him if it he turned up off his tits tomorrow. I love all my friends, drunk or high or sober.

Nichol and Burns are both currently at the Edinburgh Festival ( 'Fear of Hat Loss in Las Vegas' by Brendon Burns (Bantam Press, £10.99) is out now

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