The enfant terrible of London cabaret is one of the most provocative figures on the scene. Scottee is not afraid to speak his mind on politics of the sexual or London variety. Past performances like his plus-size talent show Hamburger Queen have both challenged modern societal concepts as well as being hugely entertaining affairs in their own right. The native Londoner is currently touring his eponymous show The Worst of Scottee in Australia before bringing it to the Roundhouse in Camden next month. From his dressing room somewhere Down Under, he took time to answer some of our questions.
Where did the inspiration for Worst of Scottee come from?
About two years ago, I was in Edinburgh watching lots of different shows and I was aware that I had this weird pressure from the arts as a whole to make a solo show. Someone who is quite a well-respected person in the live arts scene said "you need to make a solo show so everyone knows what you’re about". This all happened while I was watching my peers kind of desperately sell themselves as these wonderful great figures of art. I thought to myself "you know what, I think the best of me is the worst of me".
The title came from seeing somebody’s show which was the best of and I thought actually the worst. The more I started to investigate that, the more I started to investigate this notion of what is the worst of me. The show covers my life between the ages of about 10 to 18 and it’s about the group of people who just stopped talking to me because of the horrible things I did to them.
As you've said elsewhere, growing up gay on a Kentish Town estate was no easy thing. What advice would you give to the current generation of teenage gay Londoners?
Well I wouldn’t feed them the drivel which Stonewall feed them which is "it gets better" because it doesn’t. It gets worse and the punches come harder and homophobia is still around. You don’t magically become 21 and homophobia stops. It’s all around you and you just learn coping mechanisms I guess, which sounds quite morbid but honesty is the greatest gift you can give to any child.
I kind of miss the weird togetherness that you have in London. People say people in the south don’t talk to each other. We talk to each other, but we talk to each other when it’s politically motivated. Like in the run-up to the Olympics, people talked to each other on the tube like, "oh god, can you imagine what this is going to be like during the Olympics?" Then the Olympics happened and everyone had a great time and everyone’s like,"oh we’re having a great time aren’t we?" and we had this weird dialogue like that. Granted it’s not what you have in Yorkshire when everyone’s kind of drinking tea and down the mine together but we’re a different breed.
Is it weird to say I miss commuting? I love getting on the tube everyday because I quite like staring at people.
As a born and bred Londoner, what's your take on the current state of London?
I love London. I travel round the world with my job and wherever I am in the world I think "oh my god, these people have chosen to live here, oh that’s strange, why don't they live in London. I have this arrogance like, "London’s the best place in the world, are you just living elsewhere until the time comes, until you can afford to live in London?" I guess I have a very different opinion on London. I think when you’re born in London and London’s your home you don’t have the same romanticism as someone like my partner who moved from Liverpool to be in London, who ran away with the circus to be in London. I’ve always been in London, it’s home, it’s normal, it’s safe.
So what do I feel about the current state of London? I think we’re going to see more and more disenfranchised working class youth, like we saw with the riots a few years ago. We’re robbing children of an education now. To go to a university it costs £9,000 a time which means universities aren’t open to working class kids so in turn education is now a privilege of the middle classes and with privilege comes disenfranchisement and a fractured society. I worry that London’s class divide is going to get bigger and wider and with that more volatile.
Is there a marked difference between the UK and Australian reactions to the show?
Yes, I think there is but, at the same time, I don't think so. In Australia, the ticket price is much higher than in the UK so while my show’s about £10-£12 in the UK, in Australia my show is $35. This means that the people who come to the show in Australia are quite affluent people and quite in the know about the arts. In the UK, people are used to paying about a tenner to see my cabaret shows so they'll come to see The Worst of Scottee as well because there isn’t such a price difference. In effect, this means I get more of a varied audience in the UK than Australia.
Our class system is still very much apparent so that is still always in the room in many UK shows including my own; in Australia you just don’t have that. Another difference with Australian audiences is that I notice after the show, they sit and they take it in, whereas UK audiences are used to being shoved out the way. We’re used to Edinburgh-style theatre where we think we’ve got to get out of the auditorium, let’s leave, let’s run to the bar. But the great thing is, I don’t feel like I’m away from home and I don't really know why, it feels like people kind of understand why I’m making this work.
What would you do if you became Mayor?
Well I’d sack the current mayor and I wouldn’t allow anyone who was a cheap caricature PR-loving dickface to be in that role. I think the mayor role should be run by a board of people who have proved themselves to be community players. There’s a woman in Camden called Celia (I can’t remember her surname) but for the last 10 years she’s lobbied the council to improve social housing for working class people in Camden.
There are also countless others who spend their lives trying to better their community and I think if we had a board of people like that who were the mayoral board and not people who were interested in being a celebrity who were represented by one of the big three political parties, I think we would have a much more effective role of mayor. The role we have for the mayor at the moment is a bit like an opinion poll for what might happen in the general election. Oh, who’s in now? Do we like blue, yellow or red? It’s so arbitrary.
Hamburger Queen is back for the very last time this year with its grand finale taking place for the first time outside the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Will you be sad to be ending it?
Yes, I am a bit sad to be ending it but this will be the fourth year, it takes four months of the year out of my life and I would like that time back. The other side of it is Hamburger Queen is part of my body of work as an artist. Ugh, it feels sickening to say such a thing. It’s about fat pride and fat liberation and artistically I’m moving on. The next project I’m going to make is about fat shame and addiction and I don’t think I can run something like Hamburger Queen in tandem when I’m doing something about fat shame, so maybe that’s why it’s coming to an end.
Why did you choose Shoreditch Town Hall for its last outing?
The venue was designed to have live performance in it, it was designed to have variety work in it and it was designed to have knees-up work in it. Also, they’re such a great team to work with, Nick and James over there are really diversifying the kind of work that happens there. It feels like a really exciting space to be in and work with.
The Worst Of Scottee comes to the Roundhouse between 4-15 February. Tickets £15 (previews £10).