Limmy on mental health, millennials and the sitcom that never happened
We had the pleasure of interviewing the polymath Scottish comedian. Surprisingly down to earth, and actually VERY funny.
We had the pleasure of interviewing the polymath Glaswegian comedian ahead of the screening of his Vines at London Short Film Festival. Surprisingly down to earth, and actually VERY funny.
Brian 'Limmy' Limond can be dispiriting to anyone who’s ever had a funny throwaway idea, a flash of inspiration for something and thought “that’d be great, if I actually did that…” but then, either through cowardice or laziness or both, decided against it. (“If only I had the time...”) Limmy is dispiriting because Limmy is someone who has constant throwaway ideas and flashes of inspiration, and then actually does them. Limmy is doubling dispiriting because – as you well know – the few times you actually bothered to follow through with your idea, it turned out fucking crap, whereas when Limmy follows through with his ideas, he always manages to execute it really fucking well. An example: an hour-long ‘Supercompilation’ of his Vines is going to be screened at the London Short Film Festival. Limmy is so good at executing his throwaway ideas that the spontaneous little 6-second skits he filmed on his phone and chucked onto the internet for a laugh are going to be screened in an actual cinema (the sold out actual Picturehouse Cinema), at an actual film festival.
“I'm expecting people to sit there and just watch it in fucking silence,” he says, optimistically.
Given that Vine is preparing to be effectively scraped into the bin of internet history as a now-defunct app and a short-lived millennial fad, what makes Limmy’s posts on the platform worthy of distinction? Picturehouse themselves plump for: “a unique and deliriously disturbing insight into the existential terrors of the 21st century, with paranoia, mental illness, sexuality, boredom and the Internet all coming under scrutiny” but, honestly, the best reason I can give as to why Limmy’s Vines ought to be preserved in an archive of culturally significant contributions to the internet, eternally stored on an indestructible server paid for by the taxpayer at great expense, is this: they’re just really fucking funny.
Vine’s beauty was in how ideally it lent itself to sketches. The imposed six-second limit forced users to strip away all the dead-weight from their skits, to get right to the heart of their punchline as efficiently as possible. You had to be funny, and you had to be funny immediately. Though it was an app which decidedly aimed itself at a generation of social media-addled teens with no attention span, who dutifully filled it with clips of themselves pranking their girlfriends and screaming in supermarkets, few understood Vine’s potential more than the 42-year-old Limond.
His output was staggeringly consistent, a singular and surreal oeuvre, a veritable mini-universe filled with deserve-their-own-sitcom-worthy recurring characters (the friendly-but-intense Plasterer, the susceptible Frosty Jack’s addict, the Cunt With That Accent and the devastatingly loveless Shag Her Arse couple); one-off wonders (Bottle of Jack, Scat and this great Apprentice joke among the highlights); perversely funny NSFW ones; ones to get you pumped for the weekend; ones where a live spider crawls into his mouth; and just others – willfully, wonderfully stupid others – where he’s pulling a silly face (Geoff) and pretending to jack off (too many to link). Frankly, you can find your own favourites by watching the Supercompilation yourself, as compiled by Limmy and as will be screened to the packed out Picturehouse Cinema.
“It is just the Vines but chronological order, so it's not like a sitcom or a film that’s got a pacing to it, it's just the order it was done,” he explains. “So I can imagine a lot of people sitting there, thinking: I've not got time to fucking laugh, because I'm still thinking about that one that was before. I can imagine there might be some bits – you know like if you see someone in the hurdles, and they trip over the first one, and it just makes them trip over the second one, the third one, and it just continually fucking stumbling... I can imagine it’s like that.”
It can be difficult to explain Limmy to the uninitiated, and – despite a growing web omnipresence that spans every site worth being on, and an acclaimed, BAFTA-winning sketch show now available on Netflix – the uninitiated do still exist. Twice I’ve mentioned his name to blank stares (“You’ve not heard of Limmy?!”) and twice they have looked up his Twitter, and twice they’ve been greeted with different selfies of the man himself, gurning with his top off, and twice they have given me a look of concern and alarm, as if I’d both revealed a very niche, very specific kink and thought they were the sort of people who’d be into it too. And it’s difficult because these encounters with him are a wildly unfair representation of his output, and completely accurate at the same time.
They’re unfair in that Limmy isn’t merely some cult internet personality with a rubber face, he’s a prolific multi-platform comedic polymath. He’s a writer, a performer, a director, an actor, a composer, a stand-up, an animator, a designer, a web-developer, an author (and, frankly, probably more) with a body of work extensive enough to make The Fall and Werner Herzog feel ashamed.
“If I see my favourite things, I’m like: could I do it like that? My favourite films; could I do that? ” he explains. “I just like it. I'm creative - and I don't mean that in a sort of [pretentious voice] 'I'm a creativeperson and other people aren't" I don't mean it that way. One of my favourite things to do is to just make things.”
The encounters are also accurate in thata middle-aged man taking to Twitter to post a gurning selfie of himself with his top off to 260,000 followers is exactly what Limmy is all about: having a laugh. He doesn’t just ‘have a laugh’ here and there like you do, having ‘a laugh’ every once in a while with your mates, or to unwind at the end of a long day – he has an insatiable appetite for Having A Laugh. Having A Laugh is what he aspires to, what he is and what defines him. He is to Having A Laugh what remaining at 50mph is to the bus in Speed. He seeks out Laughs to Have where others wouldn’t even think to look, let alone dare to go. He spends hours performing improv on webcam, taking suggestions from his assembled fans in the chat. He spends evenings pretending to be American on Xbox Live and telling every English stranger that he encounters to "speak English, you dumbass Brits, speak the language we taught you." He gets his followers to send in pictures of themselves for Photoshop ‘makeovers’ and manages to zip the impressive results back in minutes. He created an app where you can make a man fart into orbit. The night before our interview, he was up to till the small hours streaming himself making a techno remix of the Turkish Delight song.
Is there any commercial value in this stuff, or is the enjoyment of actually making all these things worth it in of itself? “There’s no commercial stuff in the music at all. It’s not gonna get printed on fucking vinyl, it's not gonna be on fucking Spotify, where you wouldn't make any money anyway. It's just for a laugh. But with all these things, like, just making things up, later on it can be useful. Because by learning how to do music, I can then make up the theme tune to Limmy's Show! So you do sorta think, what's the point in this? But then that wee hobby can get used for something later.”
But does he ever reach a point where he can’t justify the time spent? Talking about the potential of making another game beyond his seminal Jumping, he sighs that it’s unlikely, and then acts out a mock argument between his head and his heart. “What would I make it for? Just for fun? Right, because you're not going to make any money probably, so what's the point? Well, it's just for fun- Well, it's just for fun, have you not got something to get on with? You could actually pay the fucking mortgage, you could be writing the book, you could be back on the telly...”
Given his natural ability as a performer, it’s somewhat surprising to note that Limmy was late to the game, having felt that comedy was something other people got to do. For people from specific comedy backgrounds, who went to specific comedy schools “like Hogwarts.” It’s a feeling that will be familiar to anyone who has ever shelved a dream of becoming something beyond whatever they were resigned to end up as.
Originally a Flash web developer, Limmy started a company with his friend in 2001, but everything changed when he stopped drinking. “My girlfriend had asked me to go travelling, and all the times before I'd said 'Naw, what's the point?' and 'I'm gonna lose the company' and that,” he says. “Then I stopped drinking, and I felt kinda invincible. I felt really good and a lot happier and everything, and I just thought: fuck it, I'm going to leave.”
“So I left and went travelling, and I thought: what am I going to do when I get back? I'll do freelance Flash stuff. But then I thought: I want to see if can I actually come up with an idea for a comedy thing, and it was gonna be an animation, but then I heard the Ricky Gervais Podcast, and I thought: when I get back, I’m gonna make a daily podcast, with all these episodes and sketches and whatever, and put them all together, and just make a big fucking deal about it. I don’t know how to approach anyone, so I'm gonna do that until just something happens.”
Limmy’s World of Glasgowran for 12 weeks, 85 episodes and reached the top 10 in the iTunes UK podcast chart. Around the same time, one of the 150 DVDs he’d made of his early sketches (Requiem and Birthday Card) ended up at the offices of Comedy Unit. Impressed, they helped him secure stand-up gigs, which in turn impressed BBC Scotland enough to give him Limmy’s Show!
Limmy’s Show! ran for three series, scooped two BAFTAs and was, bafflingly, never shown outside of Scotland during its original run. It’s developed a ‘cult following’ since, finding fans through people discovering it on iPlayer and the clips uploaded to YouTube, but – given the clips’ subsequent popularity online – you get the sense that it might not be so ‘cult’ had it been aired across the UK while it was actually on.
It was an ambitious, original and incredible series. It shared similarities with the likes of Monkey Dust and The Armando Iannucci Show – a rare sketch show in which all of the characters seemed to inhabit the same world; which attempted to create a distinct atmosphere; and which didn’t shy away from darker, bleaker themes and melancholic moods. There are recurring characters (delusional junkie Dee Dee, reformed junkie with a chip-on-her-shoulder Jacqueline McCafferty and twisted TV medium Raymond Day); there’s a character who literally only speaks in a catchphrase and is somehow not annoying; observational humour; subversions of observational humour; slapstick; sketches which change punchlines midway through and sombre, strangely-moving sketches which don’t have any discernible punchline at all. It’s all on Netflix now, so just watch it.
But really, what’s most impressive about Limmy’s Show! is that Limmy pretty much did the whole thing himself. A TV auteur in the Dennis Waterman mould, he wrote it, starred in it, directed it, and composed the music. “I like doing things myself,” he explains. “With directing and stuff, I would never just give that to someone else, I would never say: 'here, I've written it, could you direct it? Cos I've got nae ideas about how people are gonna act...’ Naw, because when you're writing it - this is one thing I've never understood, people who write stuff but don't direct…”
He catches himself. “But then again, one of my favourite things from last year, one of my favourite things for a long, long time was that ‘San Junipero’ [an episode from series three of Black Mirror]. I really, really liked it. I can imagine Charlie Brooker’s wrote it, but does he know how to direct for that? These amazing actors. Would I know how to direct it that way? You look at it and it looks like magic to me. Look at that! It's like they've recreated fucking Tron in that wee fucking arcade in there. How the fuck do you do that without magic? I'm looking up the director and I'm like: ‘Who is he? What age is he? How do I learn that?’”
The show ended on his own terms after three series. “I thought: this is getting a bit hard now and I'm not coming up with any new recurring characters. It's not ran out yet, but I'm starting to feel like I'm running out. ‘If you did a fourth series, you'd be in fucking trouble.’ So: right, that’s it.”
The same thing happened with his Vines. “When I put the first 600 together, I thought: if I keep going, there'll be another 600 vines, and will it be as funny as this? I don't know. I don't wanna feel myself not caring as much. It just kinda demotivates you. So I think: fuck it. That happens with a lot of things, I'm might get a wee period where I do them every week, then get bored of it, then do something else.”
One of the reasons for Limmy’s enduring, increasing popularity since his show ended is due to his innate grasp on the internet. The majority of his peers still seem to use their web presences for phoned-in fanservice, mostly hackneyed topical gags and jokes which wouldn’t make the cut in a toilet book of puns. They don’t really understand it: But Limmy nails the certain conventions and behaviours specific to certain sites better than any of his more social media reticent peers. He’s done the only pitch-perfect parody of Vloggers worth watching. He streams himself playing GTA and reviewing Daft Punk. His Farting Boaby app was a cynical attempt to break the farting app market (“I thought: if I can stick some ads on it, I’ll be a millionaire. It didnae work.”) And his Twitter game is suspiciously good for someone with a blue tick and Wikipedia page...
His send-up of the self-serving genre of the inane celebrity platitude-turned-tribute Tweet, which are themselves frequently sourced at face-value across various articles, really came of age last year. It’s certainly one reason to hope for more big deaths in 2017. “The best ones, for me, are the kinda ones where it's not like David Bowie or somebody. It’s somebody like David Gest. Someone not that big that makes me laugh, because it's like ‘As if, man!’ [Journalists] just go: ‘Oh look, there's one there, they're a verified account, they must be telling the truth, stick that in’. As if anyone read that like ‘Aw, that was a really nice thing he said about David Gest!’ I don't know the guy, he was on some reality things, and it’s me saying like: ‘I just gotta say this one thing about David Gest, cos I know we’re all waiting for someone close to him…’ I like those ones. So if it's someone from like Atomic Kitten...” Is he predicting Liz McLarnon dying next year? “Oh aye! And maybe someone from Boys 2 Men.”
Does being the most internet-literate personality in his field come with its limitations? Does he ever find himself pigeon-holed into doing ‘internet’ projects, when he’d rather be doing TV? “That's exactly how I used to feel. It's the opposite for a lot of people, for telly people, who go [mock wonderment]: ‘we're moving into this new thing, called 'the internet'’. And I'm the opposite. I started as a web developer and did all that after, so it does feel like going back. I used to go: well no, I want to get on telly. Tellys are in living rooms. It's that idea of: everybody's maybe watching it. There's more chance of people watching it at the same time, and all talking about it. It's just that wee feeling of: it's on, at a certain time, in living rooms.”
He’s quite open about his desire to return to TV. At the end of Limmy’s Show!, he started pitching sitcom ideas.“They all got fucking knocked back, including Falconhoof.” Falconhoof is a Raven-meets-quiz-call host, who – despite his affable personality – always ends up infuriating his callers. “I wrote the pilot and everything. It's kinda like the Larry Sanders Show and Curb Your Enthusiasm. You'd see like a normal Falconhoof sketch at the beginning, and then behind the scenes and then his normal life, and he's like, almost kinda like me, sort of well-known to certain people, unknown to other people, and occasionally getting in the papers for something. So he might do something on Falconhoof, and there's something in the papers about complaining about weans; wee boys and lassies have been phoning up and using their maw and da's fuckin’ phone money, and it's bleeding these families dry, and it's looking bad on him personally. He's a nice sorta guy, and the bosses don't give a fuck. It gets deeper and deeper... You know like everything going wrong in Falconhoof? It goes wrong in his real life as well. But that was kinda the idea, and I wrote that and people went: ‘Ach, naw. Come on, do another Limmy's Show!’”
“People have got this idea of ‘Why don't we make these things on YouTube, or make a podcast?'” says Limmy. “Like, that's good for a fucking hobby. But how do you actually make a living out of it? If you want to make it for money, you need there to be a million views in a week, or else it's a failure. The ad revenue... you cannae live off that.”
“I feel like an old man here right, but, something's happened [to the internet] in the last few years. I don't wanna say: 'It's all that political correctness gone mad', all that shite. I'm talking about a sensitivity where if there's somebody somewhere who could be hurt by something, then somebody somewhere will make sure that the person who could be the most offended, or hurt by that, will get to know about it. See, because I'm the sort of person who hints at sick jokes, or stuff that isn't very nice because it makes me laugh, then I'll occasionally do that. And somebody will say: that's hurtful, that’s harmful.”
“But I'm not just like: ‘No, someone should be able to walk right up to another fucking person in the street and say all this stuff because that's free speech.’ I'm not like that. I wouldn't say to anyone who is going through something: ‘Aw come on, fucking laugh about it!’ That's up to them and their time and they can find whatever they want funny. I don't mind people being sensitive, and if they as an individual that's the way they are, that's fine. It's when they say ‘You shouldn’t think the way you think, you shouldn't express it like that, you should be more like me’ that I kinda don't like. ”
“It worries me, because I'm getting into writing now. I'm onto my second book which is coming out in May. They're short stories and it's sort of funny, but you know; what if I want to do something that's a bit kind of fucking horrific, and people end up going ‘you shouldnae be making light of that…’"
Limmy’s debut Daft Wee Stories came out in 2015, having started posting short stories to his website for a few years. To give you a flavour, below is one story about a woman getting smaller which reads like a perfectly weighted Norm MacDonald joke, and here’s another: “My mate Rennie shags his granda.” That’s it, the seven-word beginning to a sordid series in which a man called Rennie shags his granda in increasingly graphic and grotesque ways. It’s exactly the sort of thing he worries might come under threat due to imposed sensitivity.
“Imagine if someone wrote some kind of new Marquis de Sade thing, a miserable sorta thing,” he says. “That person should accept that people are gonna go: 'That's disgusting, roasting a family in a fire, that isn't very nice.’ But, if that's what's in someone's mind, I want to know about it. I want that person to write that book, and I want that to be sitting somewhere for anyone to read. I like that.”
He begins talking about how he’d recently been turning over ideas for a third book, a novel, every night before he’d go to sleep, and just lying there, stressed out. “And it just happened every fuckin’ night, it’s hard to get to sleep, wondering if this'll go well, that'll go well…” And then he’s not really discussing the book itself anymore, he’s giving a candid insight into his psychological state.
Limmy’s willingness to explore his mind extends to a complete fearlessness when discussing his own mental health. “I've never liked that feeling that I've got to hide something, it kinda feels like a weakness, it's like someone could reveal that for you or work it out themselves. I just like talking to people, going: this is how I feel, how do you feel?”
He talks openly and frankly, with specificity and empathy – on Twitter, in interviews, and on his webcam – about his experiences: his past suicidal tendencies, how antidepressants affected him, how he’s currently coping and how he attempts to cope. “The good thing about Twitter is that you can just talk and then people reply. You can say: 'This is what I'm thinking', like the way people used to keep a diary, and I think that's good for people. Just to write down what happened. It makes everything a bit less foggy in their mind to actually put it into words, and go 'Right, I see'.”
As a personal aside: having suffered with anxiety for well over a decade, and having long been aware of meditation and mindfulness, it took coming across Limmy’s webcam show on the subject two years to convince me to actually persevere with it. The clarity with which he could identify and relay the pernicious thought processes and behaviours he could recognise as having a dramatic affect on his moods, made me think ‘that’d be great, if I actually bothered to do that, and to learn that.’ I did, and it has been genuinely immensely helpful since.
His nightly stress over his third book was a textbook example of such a behaviour. “It's nothing I can go: ‘right, well what I'm gonna do is get a bit of pen and paper and actually work this out’. I just became aware of not actually doing anything, not taking notes or anything, not coming up with ideas, turning on your phone and writing them down, just going over the same thing again and again. It's just a fucking habit, like switching a light on and off 40 times. So when I started doing the meditating, it was such a relief for that.”
I have a technique of my own that I occasionally use to relax and de-stress: watching arbitrary tutorials on YouTube, ideally for something you don’t really having an practical use for or particularly care about. If you don’t learn anything by the end, then you’ve at least managed to divert your attention from stress for a while; but sometimes you look down and realise that you now know how to create a hideous steampunk boat in Photoshop, or a sleek brochure for a fake hotel. “There’s an idea. I'm gonna try that,” says Limmy. “Like, how do people knit? Glass blowing or Microsoft Visual Basics or something.”
One of the things which leaves Limmy baffled are the people who send in comments during his webcam shows asking how he puts his videos together, instead of just Googling it. “I like to moan about what I call 'entitled millennial cunts' and I say it in a jokey way, right. Or I'm half joking – or maybe three quarters joking – but I'm partly kinda serious. I know it's really hard for young folk now, nae fucking jobs, everything's fucking zero hours contracts, nae sort of stability, nae chance of getting a house, nae chance of fucking anything...”
He then proceeds to launch into a spiel which, to be honest, is better than Al Pacino in that bit in Any Given Sunday. If Etsy had any business nous, they would get rid of every other design on their site and just print this spiel on every item. And if you have any ounce of self-respect, you’ll read it and then follow through on your damn throwaway idea.
“See, in my day - I love starting like that, because I like sounding like a fucking old guy now - see in my fucking day, if we wanted to make a video, then you've gotta have a mini DV tape, so you've got to capture all that for starters, you've got to have a capture card in the computer - which costs a fortune or any kinda plugin thing - you've gotta capture that off the fucking tape, you've got to deinterlace the fucking thing, then you've got to put up different versions: one for the fucking modem, one for the faster connection, they all look shite. And put it where though? There's no YouTube. You've got to make up a website, you gotta register the domain, do the DNS fucking settings to point the domain name to the fucking server stuff, make sure that's all working, upload it, make the page, make sure it works on Mac, PC, this browser, Netscape, IE, fucking all this shite. You've gotta do all that, and you've gotta pay for it, you've gotta upload it on your shite slow as fuck internet connection on your shite computer, and you've gotta do it all, and if you make a mistake you're fucked. Something like that, and you've got keep registering and renewing the domain, and all that type of thing.... Now, you could probably do the whole thing on your phone. You could download an app and edit video on the phone - at the very least you can record on your phone and edit on your computer using your free fucking software, upload it to your free fucking YouTube, and they're already like ‘Aw we can stick ads on this for you, if you'd want?’ ‘Oh good, aye, alright then.’ ‘Good, where do you want the money to go?’ So easy. And it just sits there in fucking HD, forever. How do you do that? It's all fucking there. I'm looking forward to saying this to my son when he gets older. All the videos are there, if you care. That should be their new fucking rule: It’s there if you care. All the wee tutorials are there, by people who are just making tutorials just to be kinda smarter, just to help people, just to go: here's a technique you might want to know. They're all there, teaching you how to do it. Dead. Fucking. Easy. It's never been easier.”
The Vines Of Limmy + Filmmaker Q&A, part of London Short Film Festival, is taking place on 12 January, 6.30pm, Picturehouse Central - shortfilms.org.uk