If you could buy shares in a comedian, you’d put your life savings on Nick Helm.
He’s the toast of the live circuit, beloved by comedians and audiences alike, has a string of TV and radio credits under his belt, a sitcom (or two) in the works, an upcoming album and a greatest hits tour on the way. Not bad for someone who has been doing stand-up for six years.
Part nervous breakdown, part Blackadder’s Flashheart, part rock star, completely awesome, Helm’s stock continues to rightly soar.
ShortList.com sat down with the great man to talk films – specifically comedy films. Because Helm – who had to whittle his list of five down from double-figures – loves comedy films. Just don’t ask him to choose between Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.
Before all that, however, there’s his beloved Army Of Darkness…
1) Army Of Darkness (Evil Dead 3): “I was about 13 or 14. Because it was called Evil Dead 3 I instantly thought – because I was a pussy – that I wouldn’t want to see it because I was getting it confused with the Return Of The Living Dead films, and Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead, and so on. So I forgot about it. Then I was going to go see Beauty & The Beast On Ice at Wembley Arena. I was a very unhappy child and to cheer myself up I used to watch Disney characters ice-skating. So my parents, sister and I were killing time before that, and I went to a video shop and there was a film called Army Of Darkness. I didn’t even associate it with Evil Dead. It had a tagline: “Trapped in time, surrounded by evil, low on gas.” I thought, “That’s funny,” so rented it out, watched it, and instantly had a purpose in my life. I thought it was the funniest film I’d ever seen – and I’d seen Spaceballs. I watched Army Of Darkness three times in that rental window. I was there, at Beauty & The Beast On Ice, but I was thinking of Army Of Darkness. That was officially the end of my childhood. Bruce Campbell is amazing in it and everything he says is an iconic one-liner. He has never been better before or since. When I was a certain age – when the internet wasn’t readily available – I’d Google ‘Bruce Campbell’ to see what else he’d done. I went to go see Congo at the cinema, specifically because they’d used a split-second of him in the trailer. I went, “That’s Bruce Campbell!” He turns to the camera and screams, so I went to see Congo. That’s pretty much all he does in the film, because the whole of Congo is about them trying to find Bruce Campbell in the jungle, and when they find him he’s dead. I sat through Ernie Hudson with a British accent for that. I rented out Army Of Darkness to the point where my mum didn’t have to come with me to the video shop any more, cos the guy knew I’d seen it. I’d rent it every weekend. My mum just bought it for me just so we could save some money. Then I wore the video out. Then I had to buy another video. Then I wore that out. Then I bought the 4 Front box-set. I wore that out. When I say “Wore it out,” I mean it became unusable. I don’t mean I put it on and went out. That’s a joke for you. It used to be how I worked out whether or not I liked a girl. I’d show her Army Of Darkness; if she liked it, fine. If she fell asleep in the first 10 minutes, “Fuck off.”
2) Tommy Boy (1995): [Nick spoke eloquently and knowledgably about seminal Buster Keaton classic The General for five minutes, before deciding, “You like what you like” and sticking with Tommy Boy]. My sister and I went to see Tommy Boy at the cinema. I didn’t expect anything. In actual fact, I thought it was going to be that shit film that everyone thinks it’s going to be. There was nothing else on apart from Babe. So I went to see Tommy Boy and thought I was above it, but I laughed from beginning to end until there were tears coming down my face. It was bonding for me and my sister – same as Army Of Darkness, really. Tommy Boy is amazing and much better than you think. Even Chris Farley’s facial expressions are quotable. Then you’ve got Brian Dennehy in it (as Farley’s dad), and that whole relationship with him and Farley is heart-breaking; they play that straight and it has real emotional impact. It’s also a slapstick film that should be dumb but there’s so much heart to it that it’s lovely. Then they tried to replicate it with Black Sheep, which is just one of the worst… Anyway, Tommy Boy is great. [sings Fat Guy In a Little Coat].
3) Freaked (1993): These are all between 1993 and 1997. These are all films I watched with my sister – we just went to the video shop and rented stuff out. Freaked is a film that is written and co-directed by Alex Winter, who is Bill out of Bill & Ted. It has a cameo from Keanu Reeves as Ortiz The Dog Boy, Randy Quaid as an evil, mad scientist, William Sadler – the Grim Reaper from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and the bad guy from Die Hard 2 – is in it. And it’s got Mr T as the Bearded Lady and Bobcat Goldthwaite as a man whose head is a sock puppet. It’s all a cross between the humour of Airplane or a Zucker Bros thing, with being a gross-out movie, and I think it’s brilliant. No one has heard of it or seen it, but it’s about a spoiled Hollywood actor who has to represent a toxic waste company in Mexico, and when he goes down there he gets turned into a hideous mutant freak, and has to be part of a sideshow. It’s got a really good cast, and did no business. It’s consistently funny and quotable, but no one has seen it. I think the fact it’s not popular is one of the reasons I love it so much.
4) Three Amigos (1986): It’s Chevy Chase’s best film. It’s the one time when Chevy Chase’s screen persona absolutely clicks and you can actually understand what he’s doing. There’s some films, like Caddyshack, where you’re watching him and going, “I know you’re doing something, but I’m not sure what the joke is, other than you’re Chevy Chase and I’m not.” Now, I’d get Three Amigos out on video on a Friday night and watch it then. Then I’d wake up on Saturday at 6am and watch Three Amigos again. Then I’d go round my mate’s house and watch Three Amigos again. Then it’d be on TV and the next day everyone in the fucking school playground is doing the ‘Amigos salute’. It’s amazing. There’s the scene at the campfire where they all say goodnight, then the tortoise says, “Goodnight, Ned,” and you go, “Where the fucking hell did that come from?” It’s a film that’s standard on the outside, but is actually the blueprint for other films: take Bug’s Life and Tropic Thunder. The other thing is that Martin Short is also in Three Fugitives. I just thought he was making loads of films where everything had to be “Three”. They should have put him in The Three Stooges and that would have been his “Three Trilogy”. Three Amigos is like Army Of Darkness in that there are just so many visual jokes in it, one-liners and great characters. El Guapo is amazing. That speech in This Means War (Nick’s Edinburgh-nominated 2012 show): it was so hard to write a speech that wasn’t just the El Guapo speech.
5) Groundhog Day (1993): I can’t choose between Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters. It’s like Sophie’s Choice. Actually, Sophie’s Choice – I laughed my arse off at that... I’ll say Groundhog Day. I saw it for the first time on a plane. My sister – it’s all about my sister! – had already seen it, and she turned around and told me, “This is shit. I saw this at the cinema. It was rubbish. I got so bored I walked out.” I watched it and instantly thought, this is the best Bill Murray film I’ve seen. And that was the moment I hated my sister… No. I know that Bill Murray and [director] Harold Ramis fell out over this film. Harold Ramis wanted it to be a very broad film, like Multiplicity. And Bill Murray wanted it to be a very intellectually, soul-searching and introspective movie that dealt with a lot of philosophies. That was never going to happen. But what happened was that their two styles clashed in the middle and fought with one another, and you end up with something that’s amazing. Andie McDowell has never been better. That’s not saying much. That’s not the biggest compliment. That’s like saying Andie McDowell is better in Groundhog Day than she was in Hudson Hawk. So, Ghostbusters is the film I grew up loving, but it doesn’t need my support. I didn’t realise Ghostbusters was a comedy until I was 10! It was shit-your-pants scary. The library scene? “Fuck off, dad! What are you laughing at? Fine. Laugh it up. I’m here filling my pants. Clean that up, mate. Nice one, dick-head.” At the end of Ghostbusters, you feel like you’ve been on an adventure and you feel like you want to be one of the team and you survived it; at the end of Groundhog Day, you feel like you’ve learned a life lesson.
Nick plays Udderbelly on 11 May; his album is also out on 11 May