Preview: The Man With The Flaming Battenberg Tattoo

Rhod Gilbert proves how the minor gripes of life can be the source of great comedy material, says Richard Smirke

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“I am petty beyond belief,” says Rhod Gilbert, his voice dripping in gravelly but warm Welsh tones.

“I have to win every argument. I can’t let anything go. I get bogged down in the most inconsequential, trivial rubbish.”

The news will not come as a revelation to anybody familiar with the popular Carmarthen-born comic. A self-proclaimed “contrary little bugger”, Gilbert’s meteoric rise to the top of the comedy circuit has been built on deriving comic sermons from life’s more minor irritations. His 2008 breakthrough show Rhod Gilbert And The Award-Winning Mince Pie, for instance, revolved around the stand-up suffering a mental breakdown brought on by a motorway services savoury snack.

Follow-up tour Rhod Gilbert And The Cat That Looked Like Nicholas Lyndhurst listed the Daily Telegraph and buying domestic appliances among his many bugbears.
TV appearances on Live At The Apollo, Have I Got News For You, The Royal Variety Show and his own hit BBC show Ask Rhod Gilbert have further grown the former market researcher’s fan base, while also exposing more of the minor niggles that regularly trouble him. Quite simply, Gilbert, is, as he says, a very petty (and very funny) man. And now he’s got the tattoo to prove it.

“I think, without a doubt, the tattoo is probably the pettiest thing I’ve ever done,” explains Gilbert, who reluctantly got inked just over a year ago for his TV show Work Experience, in which he tackles a variety of jobs, including school teacher, farmer and tattooist.

“I was arguing with the producers of the show and the tattooist, who all wanted me to have a tattoo. I was saying: ‘Look, they’re pointless.’ So to make my point I had the most pointless tattoo I could think of.” He opted for Battenberg cake, on a cushion, on fire.

“I’ve done a lot of petty things in my life but I guess the pettiest one is to have myself permanently marked just to show some people that tattoos are pointless,” laughs Gilbert, whose new show The Man With The Flaming Battenberg Tattoo explores how the incident coincided with a profound change in his outlook.

“My shows are always a meld of fact and fiction and this one is no different. I’m just much mellower in this one. There are moments of ranting and raving and going off like a lunatic. But there is also a much calmer, more playful, more mellow side. It’s sort of about how I have calmed down, really.” 

Gilbert credits several months of anger management lessons with instigating his personal transformation. “And I got a show out of it, which is always beneficial for a stand-up,” he deadpans.

Asked if he has any concerns about whether his new, calmer side will blunt his high-spirited comic edge, the 43-year-old says that fans need not fret. “I’m not worried about losing that side of me. I don’t think I ever will, to be honest, because it is a genuine part of me. It’s not just a thing that I put on onstage,” he states, calling the new show “an evolution of what I do. It’s not throwing [the past] completely away.” 

More radical changes could well feature in the not too distant future, however. Having fallen in love with the profession of teaching when filming the latest series of Work Experience, Gilbert, whose first ever stand-up gig was at the relatively late age of 33, says that he is seriously contemplating “knocking comedy on the head” to become a teacher.

“It was three of the most rewarding days of my life,” he states sincerely. “My conversion was complete and absolute. I didn’t want to leave. I’ve said to people that I’m going to go and retrain and they laugh. But I’m serious. I genuinely might go and retrain in a couple of years and go and be a teacher.” Comedy’s loss could well be education’s gain.

The Man With The Flaming Battenberg Tattoo, 24-25 April, The Lowry, Salford, 27-28 April, Empire, Liverpool, 26 & 27 May, Palace Theatre, Manchester

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