Limmy's Show star Brian Limond on death, Twitter, and being the next Gerard Butler
We talk to the creator of the best sketch show you've never seen - not that you can believe a word he says...
A sketch in tonight's episode of BBC Scotland's Limmy's Show! - the first of the new, third series - sees Limmy enter a chip shop and order "roll and chips", before starting to sing, loudly, into the face of the guy queuing behind him. The other man tentatively joins in. At this point, Limmy stops and says: "What are you doing? I don't know you. I don't know you, mate." The guy shuts up and Limmy looks to camera and sighs, as if to say, who is this nutter? End of sketch.
This is a fairly typical Limmy's Show! set-up: Limmy at large in Glasgow, an unsettling mix of whimsy and aggression. The character of Limmy looks and sounds like Brian Limond, the star, sole writer and director of the programme, so it's tempting to hope or fear that the two are the same. But in real life, or at least on the other end of a telephone, Limond is calm, friendly and analytical. He doesn't start fights in chippies, then?
"No, no, no. There have been points years ago when I was drunk and if someone was aggressive I'd be fearless. But that's drink for you. I'd never be cheeky and horrible to someone for no reason. That sketch, if that guy did join in I'd be happy. But I wouldn't start singing to myself in a chippy anyway."
Yet the appeal of Limmy's Show! is very much that it's the twisted brainwrong of someone whose blacker thoughts pour out at the same rate as their gags, whose view of the world is that it's hilarious but also quite horrible, with much of the bile directed at Limmy himself. This is revealed as Limond thinks more about the origin of the roll and chips sketch, and goes on: "There might be a noisy neighbour or a rude person, and in my mind I do think, I could just kill them right now. I step away from myself and think seriously, if you admit it to yourself, if it was socially acceptable to murder that person, you'd do it. But it passes. I think, thank f*** for social conditioning."
Limmy's Show! is quite unlike any sketch show you've seen before, both in that it's extraordinarily focused on one person – there are other cast members when necessary, but Limond is in every scene either as his other self Limmy, or more obviously in character – and in that it goes to dark, scary places other comedies do not even know exist. This is possible because it's an auteur piece. Limond does everything himself, from costumes and locations through to overseeing the final edit.
"These people who just direct, I think that's so easy. There are some sketches [in Limmy's Show!] where it's just the other members of the cast and its like a wee holiday. I cannae believe it's people's job to sit there and just watch people act and tweak things a bit."
The hardest part of the process is, of course, the writing. Most sketch shows have teams of writers and still blatantly struggle to fill three hours of airtime. Limond doesn't have any help. How does he accumulate ideas? Mostly by doing just what we see Limmy doing in the programme: wandering around Glasgow, looking at things askance.
"I go wandering, to the pictures, go for a walk, go to museums – as if I'm going to get any inspiration in there, I never get any. I do that a lot: walk into galleries. I've not got one f***in' idea from a gallery, but I do it all the time. I get a lot of ideas sitting in the living room staring at the walls or lying in bed thinking about things. I'm a pretty solitary type of person. It all happens in my mind, which can be good and bad."
Is the show a kind of therapy? "Sort of. If I wasn't doing the show I wouldn't feel too good. If I stopped making things up I wouldnae feel good. Whether it's the telly stuff or just making up pictures or talking a lot of s**te, making something up is therapeutic.
"But I see Twitter as more like therapy. Anything that's in my mind that I don't want to bore or irritate my girlfriend with, whether it's mental health or just things I want to talk about, things I've seen. Rather than bottling it up, say it on Twitter or Facebook and you get people going oh that's terrible, it happened to me. Its like why people go to group therapy, you get to hear other people."
Twitter is a whole other platform for Limond, who instinctively picks up on and targets the strange, po-faced pomposity and literalism that so many people manage to cram into 140 characters. The 50,000 followers of @daftlimmy enjoy or endure near-constant wind-ups, including days spent provoking atheist pedants by pretending to be a devout tweeter with terrible grammar, and a stunt in which Limond announced that he would attempt to drive away 1,000 followers in a day.
He achieved this easily, but has since won them all back with interest, lost them again, regained them, locked his account, unlocked it and blocked countless followers for tiny infractions.
Surely, though, he's only himself about 20% of the time?
"Maybe about 50%... it is all me but there are certain things I say for a laugh. You might wind somebody up on April Fools Day but it's still you, you're not playing a character. You're just having a laugh."
Among Limond's favourite Twitter pastimes is announcing the death of his best friend, often by violent murder. "I've lost close to 100 best pals. I always seem to get told with a phone call or a text, and I'm absolutely devastated. I really like that. It's just funny. It's such a terrible thing for somebody to say for real, that one of their best pals has died. So for me, it's funny to pretend!"
He laughs heartily and so do I, in the way viewers of his show do: you shouldn't, and you're not even sure why you are. But the "just got a text..." tweet is a meme of its own. "I think if I were to tweet right now, 'I just got a text'... I would get a few tweets right away telling me, your best pal's died!"
It's hard to know where Brian Limond ends and Limmy starts on TV, so on Twitter, where the troll and the quiet man share an account, it's nearly impossible. "I've not got an account for when I'm being serious, and another one for having a laugh. I'll be picking somebody up for their grammar, and then I'll be talking about equality or gay rights, something that really means something to me, and it's difficult to make that point. It's the boy who cried wolf.
"But that's fine, I'm not trying to be a politician or whatever. If I'm not taken seriously I'll just go back to talking s**te."
Nevertheless, Limond recently posted a long series of tweets discussing his own encounters with depression. Was that a big step, when so much of his public persona is a mask of alter egos? "No. It isnae brave for me. Some people don't like showing any deviation from normality, but I like talking about things like that, so talking about my mental health wasn't a big deal. Although I did think, f***, somebody who's got three TV series and is doing well is saying poor me, sometimes I find life difficult, sometimes I get asked to make a cup of tea and toast, and I can't cope and feel like topping myself."
Death, pain, cruelty and sadness tinge many of Limond's most memorable sketches. Take the series one skit where Limmy is out walking, as usual, and finds a lever sticking out of a grass verge. He pulls it. There's a distant scream. He pulls it again. Or the one where Limmy approaches an information desk with a childhood photo of a holiday in Millport, and asks how he can get there. Not to Millport now; he wants to know how he can go back inside the photo to happier times.
Recurring characters include Jacqueline McCafferty, a chippy ex-junkie, and Dee Dee, a hopelessly delusional man going mad in his own lounge. Nearest the edge is malign TV psychic Raymond Day. Series two last year introduced Day, as he told a man in the audience that he was receiving messages from beyond, from someone whose life support machine had been switched off. The spirit wanted the grieving man to know that he had actually been about to recover: "One more day, one more day."
The casual reveal at the end was that the deceased was a child: "One more day, Dad."
Says Limond: "He's the one I sometimes have doubts about. I do think when writing Raymond Day, I wonder if I should put this in because everybody knows someone who's died. People end up killing themselves if someone's died because it's that f***in' hard. Somebody watching will maybe have switched on for a laugh, a bit of relief, and then they get reminded of all the terrible things that happen. For me, I find it funny because... there's the world of reality, and the world of fantasy and joking. In Laurel & Hardy, a saw can fall on someone's head and it's funny. Yet if that happened in reality that's no laughing matter. He could have had his f***in' head split open! Why are you laughing? Are you a psychopath?
"Or Tom and Jerry: a cat getting hit with an iron – that's meant to be funny. That's just a laugh. That isnae reality. It's the same kind of thing. If we all did things really sensitively, making sure nobody ever gets their feelings hurt, nothing would get done."
Limond doesn't really buy the suggestion that Raymond Day satirises showbiz mediums who take advantage of the sad and vulnerable to put on a show: he says that false hope is still hope and that rational, sensible people who don't believe in the afterlife might be worse off. Of the latter situation, he has experience.
"My maw died when I was 20. You tune into the radio or the telly and life goes on. Things keep on happening. The world doesnae stop. People make jokes about people dying and you're quite sensitive but it passes. Not that I would walk up to somebody on the day that somebody's died and say, 'Oh for f***'s sake...' I wouldnae say that.
"You've got to have a certain amount of callousness. But I don't really know what I've done that's offensive. I definitely don't think, I'm gonna stick this in cause it'll upset people. I don't even find this funny, but it'll p**s everybody off and get some press. I want people to like it, to laugh."
Dark as Limond's comedy can be, he says he's never been asked by the BBC to make cuts, the odd c-word and religious expletive aside. So there's no need for him to pull the Chris Morris trick of deliberately inserting extreme material that will surely be taken out, to make the rest seem acceptable and help it slip through. "I like that sort of thing, but I'm just trying to be funny rather than challenging. I don't want to upset people.
"In general though, if I feel I shouldn't say something, I really want to say it. I've got a childish feeling: why? Why do other people say what they want, and I go and say what I want to say, and I'm the bad person? It's no fair. I want to be me and you can be you. More conservative people get to live their lives and say what they want, but I'm offensive? I don't like that. I've got impulses to say things and see what happens."
Do other, more traditional, more mainstream TV shows look tame to the creator of Limmy's Show? "I can't really say that professionally, if we're going to be professional about it," says Limond, mock-smoothly, "but there are lots of things I don't like. There could be a really good drama, but there's a wobbly camera or they've graded [the colour] in a way I don't like, or the acting will get in my mind and ruin it for me. If I think I know what's going to be said, or I'd have done something slightly differently, that puts me off. It could just be hearing an Americanism. Or hearing someone talking [rising intonation] like this? I cannae watch it! Things pop in my mind and I'll go 'f*** this' and switch the thing off.
"I like Breaking Bad, Curb Your Enthusiasm and a few other things. Hardly anything. There's always something I don't like."
Limmy's Show! was part of a wave of excellent comedies that came out of BBC Scotland at the start of the decade, along with Robert Florence and Iain Connell's now-defunct sketcher Burnistoun, and future Fresh Meat star Greg McHugh's likeable sitcom Gary: Tank Commander. Once the programmes had established themselves via Scotland-only broadcasts, Burnistoun had runs on the UK-wide version of BBC2 and Tank Commander was shown on BBC3, albeit in an insultingly late slot. Those two deserved more national exposure than they got, but Limmy's Show! – arguably the best of the three, if the least commercial – hasn't had any exposure at all in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It's only been shown in Scotland.
"My first feeling was – is it because I'm Scottish? Not in an inferior, Ali G way. The dialect: somebody's decided, nobody will get this. Maybe there's that, but also, channel controllers tend to like things they've made from scratch rather than taking somebody else's work.
"It could also be that they simply don't like it. And there's the viewing figures in Scotland. The nice way of putting it is 'cult'. It's always been less than Burnistoun and Tank Commander: 5-10% [audience share]. It's medium. The people who like it really like it. It's not like a traditional inoffensive sitcom that's not mindblowing, but everyone sort of likes it. With me, you're either in or you're out."
So for series three, leaving aside canny viewers tuning to Sky/Freesat 970 to see BBC2 Scotland or watching later on iPlayer, it's just the Scots once again.
The programme that's on before you is always of interest to programme-makers, so what's Limond's warm-up act on Monday nights? From next week it's a documentary series called The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler. The Fuhrer, then Limmy. A top night in?
"I think so. I'll be watching it. I like that guy... not Hitler! Laurence Rees, the guy who makes it! Ha ha ha. F***ing hell. 'I like that guy! There's something about that guy I like!' No, Laurence Rees. He did The Nazis: a Warning from History. I think watching Hitler and then going into some comedy would be good. Now we've had a war, let's have a giggle. A bit like all the cheesy musicals that came out in 1945. Now for something totally different. I'm like George Formby."
Limond might not be a cheery, shiny-floor entertainer, but his cult status is growing all the time. What happens if he becomes a celeb? "I have wondered what I would do if they asked me, do you want to be on Have I Got News for You? I think I would say no. I'm not that good at that type of thing. I wouldn't mind interviews, Graham Norton or something would be a laugh. But on a panel show I'd be thinking, please don't let me be the one sitting there with f***-all to say. It'd be a horrible experience. I'd like to get to a point where I was doing that well that I could turn arty, make things myself or just stay on a webcam all day."
Hang on. Writing and directing your own series without interference or collaboration is the point a lot of comedians are working towards! "I mean, full-time. Round the clock. My whole life as just a hobby. Basically I'd like to retire."
So if progressing to the Hollywood B-list is ruled out, what's next? "I'd really like to try a sitcom. I've got an idea for a spin-off for one of the characters from the show. Maybe Dee-Dee or Jacqueline, but preferably [phone-in adventure game presenter] Falconhoof. You get wee glimpses [in the sketches]: people make him break character when he's trying to have this whole fantasy thing and then normal people phone up and f*** it all up. The idea is looking into that more and seeing him doing charity events with technical faults and things going wrong. A catastrophic life for him."
What would be the influences on Falconhoof: the Sitcom? "I really like Curb Your Enthusiasm and I've been watching things like Frasier for ideas – it's mostly his life but he's also on the radio. Or it could be like Larry Sanders, where it's pretty much all the series. I prefer things that are more about situations and the wee things in life, rather than a laugh a minute. But I don't wanna just make a clone of any of those.
"I'd like to hit the big time, but I've got certain limitations. My accent: I find it hard to move away from that. If I really wanted to I could be like Gerard Butler or Simon Pegg," Limond concludes, 80% joking. "But I don't think I can be arsed."