Rufus Hound: interview
The world's most famous Cheryl Cole impersonator tells Time Out about dancing, his facial-hair heroes and where his future eventually lies.
You're well-known for your trademark moustache, so much so that it's hard to imagine you ever not having had it, even as a baby. When did you first grow it and why?
'I grew it as part of a bet between me, Karl Marx and C3PO. Silly, really, as Karl already had an advantage and C3PO really didn't. Once we realised, we tried to call it off, but the golden droid was having none of it. He's such a dick. Sure, he's fun in the movies, but in real life he's a humourless bell-end.'
Top three famous moustaches you admire and why?
'Dick Dastardly - that moustache shows a real commitment, it's not easy to grow something like that, and it doesn't happen by accident. Sure he's a psycho in a car or plane but, as a facial botanist, he deserves a mention. Hulk Hogan - the man, I cannot judge. That's God's job. The myth, the legend and the 'tache are all fair game. I salute you, real American. Friedrich Nietzsche - an absolute walrus of a thing from the man who invented Superman. Zarathustra did a lot of spaking, but did he do a lot of shaving? My guess: No.'
Is it odd to think that following 'Let's Dance for Sport Relief' you are probably now the world's most famous Cheryl Cole impersonator?
'Well, to be honest, the parallels between us are so glaring that I see it as less of an oddity and more of an inevitability.'
Did you think of doing any other song or was 'Fight for This Love' your first choice?
'When they asked me to do it I was up a mountain on a family holiday and I literally just said the first song that came to mind that had a dance routine. My kid was fascinated by the song at that time, and I thought: I reckon I can make that funny. All she does in the video is a lot of posing and waving her arms around, with very short bursts of street-dancing, so I thought it'd be a piece of cake. But the choreographer had other ideas. Venomous, painful ideas. They were worried they wouldn't be able to get clearance for the song/dance/costume, but when Cheryl heard she said yes straight away, so that was it.'
Like Robert Webb the year before, your performance stood out because not only was it funny but it actually looked like you'd spent a lot of time getting it just right. Was it harder work than you anticipated?
'Yes. During the week of the dance, I lost just under a stone and had to make semi-daily visits to an osteopath.'
Cheryl was there at the final. What did she make of it?
'Cheryl made an appearance when I did the “dance of honour” on the night of “Sport Relief” itself. Nobody told me she'd be doing this so if you look back at the clip on YouTube, I get rather embarrassed by the second round of applause which I believed to be for me, but was instead for the most beloved woman in the country. She couldn't have been lovelier about it, even though she did talk to me a bit like an “X Factor”contestant. It felt comforting. I can see why Joe McElderry and Alexandra Burke flourished under her tutelage.'
As a stand-up you're far more opinionated, dark and aggressive than your lovable TV persona might suggest. Does that throw audiences who now come to see that 'nice man off the telly'?
'Yes it does, and I feel bad about that. It comes about as a result of not really knowing what I'm doing. I wasn't a very practised stand-up when I started getting TV work. All I'd done was compering. An MC's job is quite different to that of a comic. You have a responsibility to the show that you don't have as a turn. You have to be more of a people pleaser in many ways. As an act, your only real responsibility is to yourself, and all the comics I love have had a world view which they share with the audience.
'So when producers book me on TV, it's to be the nice MC guy I was when I started getting TV work - but, given free rein on a comedy stage, I'm not him. I feel that should be okay. You don't expect your mates to behave the same in front of their parents as they do when they're out with you. What you do changes with what's appropriate. I believe comedy clubs should be places where ideas can be discussed and that people know the difference between a joke and a statement of harm or intent. Increasingly, this is not the case. It makes me feel terribly sad. In the past five years, freedom of speech has been reduced to trial by tabloid. It's a disgrace.'
You do so many things, where does your heart really lie - are you more Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde?
'That, in a nutshell, is my problem. I really love stand-up, but I grew up really loving television as well. I always dreamed of hosting “Blind Date” or “Play Your Cards Right” or “Celebrity Squares” or of crafting something like the next “Brass Eye” or “The Day Today”. However, I have focused on none of these things and have instead ended up as a Jack of all trades, master of none. It's probably time I picked one and stuck to it.'