‘I want to encourage the people of Galway to come along and draw’

Comedian turned artist, Phill Jupitus, on his role as Galway Comedy Festival Artist-in-Residence

PHILL JUPITUS is no stranger to Galway Comedy Festival, being one of the most regular guests across the event’s near 20 year history - but his 2023 Festival appearance will be of a very different nature.

This month, in a first for Phill, and for the Festival, he will attend as GCF23 Artist-in-Residence.

In recent years, Phill has largely stepped away from stand-up, channelling his talents into the visual arts instead. Now based in Fife, east Scotland, he is completing his degree in fine art at the Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art, Dundee University.

However, he will join Stephen Frost’s Improv All-Stars on stage and host the Festival’s Closing Gala. “Being able to do comedy overseas is good and it shows your comedy communicates to another culture,” says Phill. “Ireland and Britain aren’t that far apart, but the Irish have a singular sense of humour, and if the audience gets your humour, you get a real buzz out of it.

“And Galway is a place I feel at home. It’s an exciting city. It’s loaded with history. There’s a sense of ‘Last stop before New York’. It feels like the edge of the world. It gives this feeling that Galway people live on the edge.”

Artist-in-Residence

As Festival Artist-in-Residence, Phil will be “going from gig to gig” sketching, drawing, painting, and taking photographs of the comedians and audiences, recording his impressions of all he sees around him, building up a body of work inspired by Galway and its people.

These works could possibly inspire an exhibition for next year’s festival. Phill is open to the possibilities.

His main Artist-in-Residence event will be Sketch Comic at Róisín Dubh, where Phill will interview Irish comedy legend Barry Murphy, and musician/comedian/TikTokker Garron Noone, while Phill - and the audience - sketch them.

“It will be the first time I’ve done this live, drawing a comedian while talking with them,” he says. “It’s an experiment - as all life is. I want to encourage the people of Galway to come along and bring a sketch pad, or a digital pad, and draw. Barry is an extraordinary comic and I’m hoping he’ll wear the Gunther wig while I’m talking to him. Garron has a unique take on things and a great set of pipes - I hope he gives us a song.”

The idea of Phill as an Artist-in-Residence began when he got a message from the Mercury Prize shortlisted indie band, Yard Act. “I was very aware I didn’t want to do stand-up anymore, at least not at the moment,” he says. “Yard Act contacted me and asked if I meant that. I said ‘Sort of’. They said they had a residency at a club in Leeds and would I be there for the week and make art. I said, ‘That sounds amazing!’”

Phill enjoyed the experience of creating drawings and collages based on what he saw at the band’s shows, while also enjoying the chance to interact with audiences. Later, at the Edinburgh Festival, he met Galway Comedy Festival director, Kevin Healy, who was intrigued by the idea and suggested Phill perform a similar role here.

“Galway Comedy Festival has always been open to the new, to what is happening, and to changing things,” says Phill. “I’m very excited about this as Irish crowds give as good as they get. They chat with you and they will be more interactive.”

That interaction is something Phill is particularly looking forward to, and he wants to encourage the artist within each member of the public he meets - especially those who haven’t always felt confident enough to try drawing.

“I understand how people feel they can’t draw,” he says. “There is the thing in front of you to draw and your drawing of it that appears on the paper. Sometimes they bear no relation. The thing is, that doesn’t matter, that’s how your eye sees it and how you make sense of the visual object in front of you, because all art has something of the artist in it. If I draw something exactly as it is, what’s the point? I might as well take a photograph. Sketch Comic is going to be a safe space and I invite people who are professional artists and those who do it as a hobby and those who don’t think they can draw, to come along.”

‘The search is on-going’

Phill talks with great passion and depth of insight about his experiences as both an art student and as a visual artist, but what led him to make the switch from stand-up to visual art?

“I was listening to Adrian Edmondson on Desert Island Discs,” says Phill. “Adrian is a brilliant comic actor, comedian, musician, writer, and he was asked to define what he does, and he replied that he’s still not sure. To hear that, from someone I have such respect for, lifted an incredible weight off my shoulders. Then I went to see a Grayson Perry exhibition and everything he’s done is what I wanted to do, so I’m back to Square One.

“Everything I’ve done over the past 35 years has been a search to try and find out what I’m supposed to do with my life, and the search is on-going. It’s about trying interesting things and keeping the brain animated. Art is now the search and making art feels closer to me, somehow, to what I’m searching for.”

Singing Ian Dury

As well as his role as Artist-In-Residence during Galway Comedy Festival, Phill might also join John Conneely Inc, on-stage at the Róisín Dubh on the Sunday night to sing a few Ian Dury & The Blockheads songs. “Ian Dury’s songs are the only one I know all the words to,” he says.

Phill has form in this department, having performed as vocalist with The Blockheads in 2007, at shows marking the 30th anniversary of Ian and the band’s magnificent New Boots and Panties album.

“For the first gig after Ian died, at a gig in Camden, The Blockheads asked me to DJ,” Phill recalls. “It was great fun. Just before, Mick Gallagher [Blockhead’s keyboardist] asked me to sing at the encore. I think I did ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll’ and ‘What A Waste’. After that I got to sing with them any time they did a gig in the vicinity of the Home Counties. People ask me what it was like. I tell them it’s like high end karaoke being on stage with the band who originally played the songs and who I grew up listening to!”

Phill Jupitus at Galway Comedy Festival 2023: The Improv All-Stars in An Taibhdhearc (Friday 27 October, 7.30pm ); Phill Jupitus: Sketch Comic, Róisín Dubh (Sunday 28 October, 3pm ); Festival Closing Gala, The Hardiman Hotel Ballroom (Monday 30 October, 7.30pm ). For more information and booking see https://www.galwaycomedyfestival.ie/artist.html?artistID=391

 

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