Guest Editor Andrew Maxwell interviews – well, more gossips with, really – Fringe legend Glenn Wool.
AM: Hello Glenn Wool. My name’s Andrew Maxwell and I’m the guest editor of ThreeWeeks, and that’s why I’m interviewing you. But you might know me better as your long term friend, Andrew Maxwell. I think that introduction made our relationship sound more gay than it actually is.
GW: Yes, it did a little. Thanks a lot for having me down.
AM: That’s all right. So, how long have we known each other?
GW: Ten or twelve years? It’s always hard on the international circuit because you can’t place where you’ve met people a lot of the time. You’re in different places, so you might have met someone in Australia, but if you’re not always in Australia that could be one of seven times.
AM: But largely, I would have said that our friendship, at the level of depth that it is now – this is all coming out now Glenn – would have been cemented here at the Fringe. You’ve been a regular contributor to my late night howling called ‘Full Mooners’. I’d say you, you and Craig [Campbell] and Ed [Byrne] would probably be the most regular stand up performers at it.
GW: I think that’s how you make your friends in Edinburgh, it’s just who’s on the same sleep patterns. It’s like there are two Fringes going on; there are the afternoon people who do their shows in the afternoon, and they almost have a day job really and you never see them.
AM: You’ll bump into them once in the month, and say: “I didn’t know you were here”, and the reply will simply be “kids show at eleven o’clock”, and then they’re gone. And I think it’d be fair to say that most of your actual socialising happens between and two and six in the morning. What would be the latest you’ve ever gigged here at the Fringe? I would say that you, and Ed, there’s a select group of people that are power houses late at night that can really knock it out of the park late at night.
GW: Well, here’s the thing, I was just talking to a friend about how were all getting older and I was lamenting about how I was ever able to keep up the stamina that it took and I said: “You know, I’m having a fairly sedate Festival right now and I’m certainly not using drugs”. And that’s when he went: “Oh yeah, that’s how we did it. We were on drugs!” It’s like Berry Bonds going “80 homers, in one season, how did I… oh yes!”
AM: There is undoubtedly the potential for a drug culture here, but you are just running on fumes. I mean, even if you take drugs out of the equation. When I first came to the Fringe we were too poor to be doing that sort of thing but you look back and think… well, the first season I was here, I was living with Ed Byrne and I only remember eating once. Genuinely, I only have a recollection of once when me and Ed had an eating competition. Our stomachs had shrunk so much, we sat there in the flat daring each other to each chips just seeing how many we could hold down. It is an incredible act of stamina to get through the Fringe anyway.
GW: Well, that’s what I found. It’s like, the first time you come up you can’t afford drugs, and then you’re coming up for a while and now you’re buying drugs, but they’re bad drugs; you’re paying for a scam, it’s generally glucose and some vitamins, then you get to a point we’re you can afford good drugs but by that point you’re just a little old and over it. Then you get to the point this year where you realise you can add things to your system but it’s just electrolytes, just drink Gatorade because you’re sweating so much, and take glucose tablets, ironically, which cost about 70p, two or three of those right before the show and bang, there you go.
AM: Absolutely. The other day, I was just about to go on stage and was muttering to myself: “Ah, I’d love a cup of tea”. I felt genuine shame. God, this is a new love.
GW: See, I don’t feel shame anymore because I don’t feel like there’s anything I haven’t done. There’s nothing that I haven’t taken right to the edge where you might die if you keep doing this. So, at that point, there’s no shame in a cup of tea. Maybe try to take that to the edge.
AM: Have you found that substances, including alcohol, have informed your comedy?
GW: Yeah, I think so.
AM: Do you find that with their absence, that would change you act in any way?
GW: You can do it with, you can do it without, it’s one of those things that when you think about it, in retrospect, when you get people moaning about the years that one or other addiction took from them, I don’t think you can look at it that way. I think you’re a product of all your decisions and, if you’re in a good place now then you can’t regret those things that you did in the past. Definitely. When I was married, my ex-wife made a very strong point to me after I said I found I did my best writing with a hangover. She said: “Of course you do, because you can’t do anything else”. I find when you’re in that state, your mind can’t do a hundred things at once, you just have to lie there.
AM: There is an odd thing when you come back to the Fringe and years build up and you think: “Christ, that’s seventeen years I’ve performed here”. They layer on top of each other and you feel like the memories all mesh into one and you can walk into a room and remember being in dire straits, just being really really hungover, thinking “I cannot get through this gig”, and often that actual gig is fantastic because you’ve got nowhere else to go. You’re boxed in and every little bit of your consciousness is just focused on winning that gig.
GW: Yeah, well one of the best gigs I ever had I was in Norway and I’d told some tall tales about my stature as a comic in Canada – I would have been about 22 at the time. Anyway, long story short, I booked a tour of Norway and I was out of my depth. I was booked to do an hour at these shows and I started having panic attacks, really bad panic attacks and the last night was the worst one. I was sitting in a cooler, like a walk in cooler, and I was really convinced that I was going to die. I’ve never had as good a show since, because I just thought: “Well, the heart’s still beating, maybe I have an hour of laughter, let’s go up there”.
AM: Yeah, I think it should be emphasised that this is the sort of thing that can happen. I mean, over the space of the month of the Fringe, because of the intensity and pressure, you will have one of those moments in your 25 day run. Everyone does. There is always just one moment when you are ready to crack.
The weather this year has been raining and grey and cold and I say to people in my show the reason the riots haven’t spread north is that Scotland is too damp to burn. I mean, you literally couldn’t light this place. You could have a selection of hoodies just blowing on kindle, trying to burn down Currys for a couple of days, and afterwards you’ll have to just air out Currys to dry it.
The other day I was doing that bit and there was a snotty, pissed Canadian tourist in the front row who told me to fuck off and I just lost it. You know, completely lost it. I was just like: “You have no idea, I’ve sacrificed my fucking August for this!” I was just ranting: “I could be in London getting myself a new plasma in the sunshine, and I’m here dealing with you”. Some days I find the weather, the dreadful Scottish weather, almost inspiring.
GW: I’m not a big sunshine guy so the weather never really bothers me up here. It bothers me when the crowds stay in because of it but I’d be more likely to stay home because it was sunny.
AM: You know that’s not me. Any excuse to get into my very tight, revealing, 1980s, white Jimmy Connors tennis shorts…
GW: Are there any pictures on the net? Can we dial up for those shots of you on the Dallas Cowboys cheerleading team from 1982? Did you throw the pom poms away?
AM: I didn’t throw them away. Of course I didn’t throw my pom poms away. I burnt them out. I thought you’d know this. If you’re really hardcore about your pom poming you can actually burn those things out.
GW: Ha ha, there’s just two dog-eared pom poms hanging in a Planet Hollywood, with a plaque saying some Irish guy got into the Guinness Book Of World Records with these things.
AM: He was like a living fury. Those two pom poms didn’t touch the ground for three weeks as he pommed and pommed across every county in Ireland. All 36 countries saw his fury of dance.
GW: Raising money for understanding. That’s all he’d say about it, just understanding, okay?
AM: Raising money for understanding, despite understanding everything. Understand everything. And be a big boy and accept that some of us aren’t the same, not all of us want to be in the hurling team, Lorcan.
GW: Some of us want to cheer them on.
AM: We’re both athletes. One of us is a bare knuckle boxer and one of us is a cheerleader, but they’re both sportsmen.
GW: But they only get to have the pride if they win.
AM: I’m glad we managed to do this interview without the awkward thing of… I mean God bless the Fourth Estate for disseminating some public knowledge on our shoulders, but there is nothing worse as a comedian than being asked: “So what’s your show about?”
GW: Where do you get your material from?
AM: What are your ideas all about? Tell us about your show. You instantly feel the dumbest fuck in the world.
GW: What’s the worst heckle you’ve ever had?
AM: What’s the funniest thing that’s happened while you’re on stage? And the other one that’s happened particularly since Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross got themselves caught in the shit stone: Is there anything you wouldn’t say?
GW: Something that’s not funny.
AM: With any of those questions, I just feel instantly dumb as fuck because the only people who can answer those questions are journalists, do you know what I mean. I think a funny thing and then say a funny thing and then audience go “ha ha”, and when that funny thing dies down I say another funny thing. I say 60 funny things in an hour. And, you know, if your show is clever there has to be emotional intelligence to conjure up laughter, but I can just never quite summon up what the hell the thing’s about.
GW: Yeah, it’s because it takes a long time to write a show. Even if there was a jumping off point. The easiest way is to talk about what the through line is, but if you do that you can give away the show. It’s like when you see the trailer of a movie.
AM: Yeah, you’re left thinking: “I think you just showed me all the good bits”.
GW: In sequence.
AM: Yeah, you’ve shown me all four of the car explosions and you’ve shown me Paul Hogan getting a hand job. That’s it, that’s your movie.
GW: I stopped watching those movies, man.
AM: Well, I think we successfully managed to have an interview. I think we did, we talked about our life together as long term friends…
GW: We talked about our antiquing business we have together…
AM: No, we didn’t get round to talking about how we like to antique together at the weekend in Berkhamsted but people can fill in the blanks about that.
GW: Over in the Bay Area we have a shop.
AM: I don’t know if you know about this, readers, but we are the only two dog tarot card readers in the world. Bring your dog along to our shop and we will tell your dog what its future holds. How many lovely arses your dog will get to sniff in the Bay Area.
GW: I have successfully predicted more than seven times.
AM: You can see it in the dog’s eyes.
GW: No, it’s from the cards.
AM: Yeah, it’s from the cards, or in it’s palm. Have you ever read a dog’s paw? Not easy, not easy. You can tell by that aoooah sound they make. I love that bit. I think you have to have your own dog – a cuddly dog – and you play with its paw and get your finger into that bit between the actual pads, that really fluffy bit…
AM: That’s nice. That’s not how I wanted to end the interview but screw em.
GW: You’ve been seeking that out with your hand?
AM: Yeah, oh God yeah. I’m not weird. Well, that’s a lie.
GW: Andrew, there’s no need to try and cover that up now.
AM: I think basically both of our careers have been an extended, slowly opening flowering and merely coming out of the weird closet. Hi, my name’s Andrew, this is my friend Glenn and we’re weird.
GW: Strange men.
AM: We’re strange…
GW: And we grab each other’s bellies and cartwheel around.
AM: OK, that’s more than I wanted to admit to. Well, thank you very much Glenn Wool.
Glenn Wool’s show ‘No Lands Man’ was performed at Assembly George Square during Fringe 2011.