Richard Blackwood: interview
Richard Blackwood had it all, and had it all taken away. He tells Time Out how having to start over has brought out the best in him.
Yours has been a career of extremes over the last 18 years, from huge highs and massive fame to some considerable lows…
'Very true. I'd only been doing stand-up for about four years when I got my break on MTV in February '97. And that was the start of everything. It all blew up for me. I was so hungry. All I could think about back then was “When am I going to be famous?” So I'm 26 going on 27, I'm presenting “MTV Select” and “Single Out” and all these shows come flooding in. Planet 24, who made the “Big Breakfast”, said to me, “We want to make you the face of Channel 4,” and - boom! - they get me my own series. By the time I turned 28, I've got two cars and a Docklands penthouse and one day I'm driving over Vauxhall Bridge, and there's a giant poster of me with the slogan “Urban Chic”. I'm blown away. But no one really prepared me for success or guided me through it. When things went downhill and I ended up going through bankruptcy, everyone thought at the time it must have been drugs, or that I must have not looked after my money, but it was actually a very small thing that turned into something very big.'
Which was what?
'I'm sitting in my house and my agent goes, “This is really happening for you. ICM in America have called and want you to go out there.” However, at that time over here, I'm still doing “The Richard Blackwood Show”, it's on its second season, doing really well, I'm still doing MTV and my music career is taking off. But I moved to the States and signed a development deal with Fox. At that time I was out of my league. I didn't get the roles I was put up for because I hadn't trained as an actor but all the time I was over there there was no money coming in and I couldn't work back in the UK because it was a holding deal. I got hit with a big tax bill that I couldn't pay:
'I had no money because a whole year I hadn't worked. And living in America you have to present this lifestyle that you're not living, yet - so you can't stay in any cheap hotel, you've got to stay in the Beverly Wilshire, which is where I was staying. I'm living this lifestyle I couldn't afford waiting for the work to come in. Eventually the tax man said, “Listen, I know you've got no money, but you're going to have to pay us soon. You're going to have to get a job or something.” So I came back, was hit with a tax bill and that was it, I was bankrupt; it just happened so quickly. In a strange way when I look back on that time I'm grateful for it, because now I'm in a better place, I'm a better stand-up and a much better actor. But at the time I felt that God hated me, it was a horrible feeling.'
How did you keep going and not be defeated by something like that?
'I guess I'm stubborn. I had to keep riding this crazy train. In the UK we're very unforgiving. I'd be walking down the street, trying to forget that I'm not feeling so good and someone would shout, “Hey, Richard, you ain't got no money! Do you want me to buy you a drink?” Then they'd have a little laugh with their friends. That kind of thing stays with you. But I was determined to not let it get to me. It's been now nine years, and I've been climbing that ladder again, doing radio and stand-up, and I just finished a play, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, and even though I didn't get to play the lead, I was the understudy for the lead. I've now done my time, I've paid my dues. I know a break is just an audition away. It's just round the corner.'
You sound remarkably philosophical…
'This is life, isn't it. Everything happens in stages? There's an old proverb, “As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end”, and that's what I think about my career. To every aspiring comedian I say: “If you're not here for the long haul, then just retire now. I know, I've been there. I know the delusions of grandeur that you will have. You just assume that you're going to do two shows and then agents will say, 'There's Hollywood, let's go.' It doesn't work like that, and if it does be very afraid, because it will only go wrong. The best way to get on is to start at the bottom and work your way up.” We live in a society now where the younger generation want to go straight in at the top, they don't understand about grafting, about learning your craft. But they'll learn, because if you want to be around for a long time that's what it takes.'
So what does success and happiness now look like to Richard Blackwood?
'It's really weird. My dreams are still the same. Ultimately I still want to do movies and blow up in America. That's my dream. But it's not for selfish gain any more - before I wanted that for myself. Now, number one, I have a son, and I want to do it for him. We've got a generation of young kids out there that are murdering and doing all kinds of evil things: they've no guidance
or mentors. But I want to show him that people can go through their down-times where people didn't care about them and come through that with hard work to be in position where everybody wants to know your name.'
After all these years, do you still enjoy making people laugh?
'Yes, absolutely. There have been moments when I wondered if this would ever come to any avail. But at the same time, when I go on stage it's like my alter ego comes out. I'm allowed to do and say anything I want to and people like it. I've never taken any form of drug, I've never really drunk to a point where I've been drunk, but I can tell you without knowing those things that making people laugh is the biggest buzz and the biggest high you could ever get.'