Kevin Eldon: interview
From TV's 'Jam' to cinema's 'Hot Fuzz' Kevin Eldon has worked on some comedy gold. Now he's stepping out on his own.
Despite having been involved in many of the most renowned British comedies of the past 20 years, the mysterious Kevin Eldon has never taken a lead role. A modest, grounded performer, he rarely puts himself centre-stage. No doubt most will recognise his rubbery face from scene-stealing performances in 'I'm Alan Partridge', 'Brass Eye' and 'Nighty Night' or his supporting roles in 'Hot Fuzz' and 'Four Lions', but as the reserved actor-comedian finally places himself in the spotlight for a debut solo show, it's surely time to match a name to the face.
Promising no more than, in his words 'Titting About', the show is a marvellous mess of delightfully barmy characters: from a hip hop pensions advisor to Eldon's most famous creation, sardonic poet Paul Hamilton. He granted Time Out a rare interview and we jumped at the opportunity to find out more about UK comedy's best kept secret…
You're 50 now - why did you decide to perform your first solo show at this stage in your career?
'I was reading a piece by this Japanese Buddhist bloke called Daisaku Ikeda who was talking about taking on a personal challenge. It just struck a chord with me. I took it as a dare! I thought it'll have to be something I find the idea of a bit daunting. Ah yes, a one-man show.'
Had you been considering performing a solo hour for a long time?
'It had been something I'd been thinking about for ages, but always on the sofa, with a big glass of red. “Hmm, yes. That would be nice. Maybe I could do a tap routine. And in the finale I'd bring a llama on. Meanwhile, here's two hours of 'Spongebob Squarepants' to get through.” A venue at the Edinburgh Fringe very kindly agreed to have me last summer so then I knew I had to come up with something.'
You've said in the past that you find performing live stressful. Why do you do it?
'I don't so much find the actual performing stressful, in fact it's a good buzz, man. It's just leading up to it. I get edgy. Not pukey-sweat-new-toilet-roll-please edgy - I just get filled with a low level of rather mournful discomfort. It's not unusual, I just whinge about it more than most people. Please don't worry about me, though, I'll be all right.'
You received huge critical acclaim for the show at the Edinburgh Fringe. Has that helped to calm the anxiety ahead of this London run?
'They were very kind, the reviewers, but oh no, it hasn't calmed anything. I'm sure I'll be longing for a Maldives beach the night before the run. But no, I'm looking forward to it. I shall do my best, Akela, I can do no more.'
In the film and TV projects you've been involved with you've played supporting character roles. Are you happier tackling these rather than leads?
'It's not so important whether it's a lead part or a support, it's whether the part's interesting and fun. Quality not quantity and all that. I'm not saying I wouldn't do a lead part, if it came up, and was good. And had me doing a stupid dance. And possibly involved me getting stuck to Scarlett Johansson in a highly probable glue mishap. Could that be arranged? Anyone?'
You've collaborated with some great names: Chris Morris, Simon Pegg, Stewart Lee… Are the people involved what attracts you to a project, or is it the writing?
'Well those chaps you cited are friends so obviously it's a lot of fun working with people I really like. And in their cases you get to do stuff that is well conceived and funny, interesting and challenging too. So it's hurrahs all round. Generally, though, it depends. There are a few jobs I've taken where I've wanted to work with a certain person I've always admired or am just curious about. Mostly, though, if something comes along that's well written I'll jump at it, given a chance.'
Are you very selective about the work you're involved with?
'I think I am quite selective. I was spoiled very early in my career by getting parts in stuff like “Big Train” and “Jam”, which I think were good quality and original. I think I'm a comedy snob: “Oh, take it away, Jeeves, it has a joke about cannabis and the munchies in it!”'
You've often been mistaken for the poet Paul Hamilton. Are you aware of his work, and what do you think of it?
'Ah yes, Hamilton. I've never told anyone this, but he's my second cousin. He does look like me, in a raddled kind of way. I think his work will still be talked about in centuries to come. I'd cheapen his words by trying to describe them with mine.'
What future projects are you working on?
'Oh, there are a few things a-cookin'. I'm in an internet viral ad next month put together by animal-rights group WSPA and some of the guys from BBC Three's “Mongrels”. It's trying to raise awareness of, and opposition to, mega-dairies. So please have a look at that and get behind it if the issue bothers you. People power, comrades! The ad's me singing an '80s power ballad with a cow. Well nang.'
'Kevin Eldon Is Titting About' is at the Soho Theatre, Feb 7-19.
For more information about WSPA's 'Not in My Cupper' campaign visit www.notinmycuppa.com