When Bennett Met Rhod, Again
I first met Rhod Gilbert several years ago when we worked together on the Television programmes Glee Time and Stand Up If You’re Welsh. Since then he has gone on to star in, amongst other things, Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and the Apprentice: You’re Fired. He has a successful long-running series on Radio Wales and he is about to make another appearance on The Royal Variety Performance.
I gave him a call, on his 50th birthday, to ask him where it all went wrong.....
Bennett Arron: Happy Birthday
Rhod Gilbert: anks a lot.
BA: So. 50. Does age bother you?
RG: Yes!!! A lot!
BA: Ah. Then I won’t talk about it. So, when you were younger, what did you think you’d be doing when you were 50??
RG: Haha! To be honest I imagined myself with white hair, or bald, wearing slippers, smoking a pipe and watching cricket on TV.
BA: You can still do that.
RG: I suppose so. Thing is, I love life and everything but getting older really bothers me and makes me angry.
BA: I was going to say that at least you’ll get lots of “Happy Birthdays” on Facebook but you don’t use social media do you?
RG: No, I don’t. I can’t bear the thought of 24 hour conversations! If I want to speak to someone at 4am I’ll just shout out of the window! I know that Sian (Harries, Rhod’s wife - one of the loveliest people I have ever met) uses it a lot. She loves it.
BA: I know. We’re friends on Facebook. And she constantly says bad things about you knowing that you won’t see them!
As I mentioned earlier, this conversation so far has taken place on the phone as I wanted to speak to Rhod on his birthday, but we didn’t have the chance to meet face-to-face. We did however meet up a week later at a local gym. When I say gym, I should point out that it was at the café in the gym and we weren’t running on treadmills or lifting weights as we talked. I mean we could have been, obviously, we just chose not to....
BA: How was the birthday?
RG: Let’s just say, for the first time in my life, I had a two day hangover.
BA: That’s 50 for you! Nice evening though?
RG: Yeah, really nice. Sian and I went to the theatre, which was great, and then to Ronnie Scott’s. We stayed later than I expected and drank a bit too much. I’m still suffering a bit. That’s why I’ve come to the gym for my annual swim!
BA: Lovely. So, what are you up to at the moment?
RG: Well we recorded another episode of The Apprentice You’re Fired last night which was great fun. I’m doing those over the next few weeks. And I’m also doing the radio show every Saturday and i’m trying out material for my new tour.
BA: Ah yes! Now the last time I saw you, which was when we went for lunch after I was a guest on the radio show, you said that you wouldn’t do a solo stand-up show again. So why the change of mind?RG: (Long pause) I don’t know. I suppose it’s a serendipity thing really. Every year I do a show for Velindre (the Cancer Centre in Wales). It’s called Rhod Gilbert and Friends and it’s me and a few of my mates doing stand up, or a panel show or something...
BA: No offence taken
RG: Usually it’s in small but lovely venues but I decided to do one at the Millennium Centre. Again
I just called it Rhod Gilbert and Friends and it sold out on that, just on my name. But what they didn’t know until the night was that I also had Greg Davies, Michael McIntyre, Nick Helm..... it was a great line up. Afterwards, so many people said to me that I should do another show. So I thought, I’ll just try some stuff . So I did one gig, a new hour, and half of it was rubbish and half was good. So I ditched the rubbish and then started working on the good half and now I have a brand new show.
BA: And what’s it called?
RG: The Book of John. But this will DEFINITELY be the last one!
I give him a knowing look.
RG: (Smiling) No, I mean it this time.
BA: Sure. So, why The Book of John? Although you have probably answered this question a million times already.
RG: Actually, no. is is the first time I’ve talked about it so I’ve not answered the question before.
(I take a moment to sip my coffee whilst quietly smiling to myself that I have an exclusive!)
RG: The reason for the title is, well, it’s about a guy called John, who was my driver when I was going through some very personal stuff like my Mum’s death. The show is my conversations with John around these dark times. He drove me everywhere; to TV studios, to the filming when I was making the shyness documentary, to see my dad when he had
a heart attack, even to my mum’s funeral. And his conversations were mad and he drove me insane, but in the same way he kept me sane.
BA: How interesting. How’s your Dad now?
RG: He’s doing okay now thanks.
BA: Good. You mentioned the ‘Shyness’ documentary. That was a fascinating subject for me as I am incredibly shy. Family and school friends of mine were amazed when I became a comedian as I have always been quiet and introvert. So to know that other comedians also suffer was very reassuring.
RG: Yeah, the feedback from that programme was incredible. I had letters and emails from people all over the world telling me how comforting it was to know that there were other people who felt the same way. I had an 80 year old woman in Canada telling me that she had suffered with this her whole life. I had people telling me that their partners didn’t know about their shyness. I’d never had a response like it. It really struck a chord with people.
BA: That’s fantastic. One thing I can’t bear is going to parties. I’m happy to stand on stage in front of thousands of people, but walking into a party fills me with dread.
RG: Me too! Especially fancy dress parties!
BA: Ah, now I’m okay with those for some reason, which is weird.
RG: Actually, that’s not so weird. You probably enjoy acting don’t you?
BA: Yeah, I love acting. I trained as an actor before I was a comedian.
RG: See, a lot of shy people like to escape their shyness through acting. I can’t do that. I’m so self conscious that I can never escape myself. I don’t even like being close to actors! I once told Michael Sheen on the Graham Norton Show not to sit too close to me!
BA: When you make the Work Experience programmes you have to meet new people all the time. I’d struggle with that more than acting.
RG: Yeah, those programmes are a real challenge for me. But everything is a challenge for me like that. For example, if you weren’t here now I wouldn’t have got these coffees.
(Just to clarify at this point, I DID offer to buy the
Coffee but Rhod insisted!)
BA: Really? You wouldn’t have been able to buy a cofffee on your own?
RG: No. I’ve come in here a few times on my own and wanted a coffee or something to eat, but then I’ve just turned around and left. But because you’re here it’s fine. If I turned around and you’d gone – I’d really be in trouble!
BA: I didn’t know it was that bad.
RG: Oh yeah. If I’m out on my own, I would go the whole day without eating or drinking just so that I don’t have to order anything,
BA: Is that because people know who you are?
RG: No, in fact that’s made it easier because it actually gives me something to talk about. It gives structure to a conversation. It’s an ice-breaker.
BA: Speaking of fame though, how difficult do you find it being in front of the camera? Say presenting “You’re Fired” or “Never Mind e Buzzcocks”?
RG: It’s a struggle. It’s very difficult. As is being on stage. Which is why I haven’t done a gig in six years!
BA: What about going out with friends?
RG: That’s.....okay. Also a struggle at times but generally okay. It’s being out on my own is the worst. It’s self-awareness around other people.
BA: That’s certainly worse than my own shyness.
RG: And my mother’s shyness was worse than mine. Funnily enough she wanted to be an actress – but never stepped one foot on the stage. Too shy. She never once came to see me live because she was so shy. She actually wanted to stop me from doing this because she was so anxious on my behalf.
BA: How were you on your birthday? Were you anxious about going to the theatre?
RG: A little bit. But with Sian there it wasn’t so bad. But she knows what not to do. She wouldn’t take me to see Rocky Horror Show or something like that. What’s funny is that since the programme, I now see people with shyness turning up at my gigs. You can see them shuffliing around and just sitting there staring at their feet!
BA: So, apart from the new show, what else do you have coming up?
RG: Well once I’ve finished “You’re Fired” I’ll be doing some more Work Experience and I have the Royal Variety again.
BA: You must be nervous about that?
RG: Yeah. I wasn’t going to do it but my agent persuaded me as I have the tour coming up. And Greg (Davies) is hosting which makes it easier.
BA: Very busy then, as always.
RG: Yeah. There is also another documentary being planned which I can't talk about yet, but it will again take me out of my comfort son.
Rhod then tells me, off the record, about the new documentary. I can’t say anything about it, but it’s not about him sitting too close to Michael Sheen or smoking a pipe and watching cricket on TV. (It does genuinely sound fascinating and I can’t wait to see it.) We finished our chat then as Rhod needed his swim and I needed the toilet. To be honest I’d wanted to go for a while but I didn’t think it was fair to leave Rhod in the café on his own after what he’d said.
It’s funny to think that someone who seems so
confident on stage and TV is actually so shy and insecure. And the fact that he has overcome so much to achieve his success just shows what type of person he is.
Here’s to the next 50 years.
Rhod brings his new show e Book of John to the Millennium Centre on several dates in May and June. For more info see