Londonist was rather excited to catch up with Nigel Planer: the guy is, after all, a comic genius, as well as an icon to misbehaved students everywhere. In recent years he has cemented his place in the London comedy pantheon by writing books, and plays and poetry. He is just finishing a stint in Hairspray, and this week saw the premiere of his new play, Death of Long Pig, at The Finborough in Earls Court.
What on earth inspired you to write Death of Long Pig?
I have always been interested in why it was that Robert Louis Stevenson went away to Polynesia to live and die there. When, by chance I went to the Gauguin centenary in Paris in 2003, I became fascinated by the idea of escaping to a so-called ‘paradise’, only to die there. It seems to me that often when one runs from ones problems, one finds that one has inadvertently taken them with one. When I realised that Stevenson and Gauguin actually looked quite similar to each other and could therefore be played by the same actor I started to hatch the idea for the play. Stevenson the optimist, Gauguin the pessimist. A sort of Jekyll and Hyde of the south seas.
Why aren’t you acting in your own play?
There isn’t an appropriate part for me. I’m either too old, the wrong colour or the wrong gender for all of the characters. Besides, as author one has to keep and outside view on proceedings - rewrites and cuts; that sort of thing.
You have emerged as a multi-talented multi-tasker since your early success as an actor: when are you happiest? On stage or behind the scenes? Acting or writing?
I love acting, especially in funny things like Hairspray. And I love the puzzle of writing. So my favourite thing, really has been making my two plays. I can do the thinking and quiet writing business, but I also get to be part of a production and be close to a group of actors with all the adrenaline and magic of theatre.
And which is scarier - being on stage or hearing other people acting out your script?
Being the playwright really is the Agony and the Ecstasy of all. When it goes well, one thinks ‘gosh I’m a good writer,’ when it goes badly one thinks, ‘that’s not what I wrote.’ It’s very self absorbed like that.
You are undoubtedly one of the founders of the alternative comedy scene in London: what do you make of comedy in London now? Is it the comedy capital of the world?
Do you know, I don’t go and see many comedy gigs nowadays. I think the new comedy on TV is great though. The IT crowd. The In-betweeners. And I think Omid Djalili is a major talent. I can’t wait to see him doing Fagin in Oliver.
What makes you laugh?
Usually rather dark things. Hence my play. A light comedy about dying, is how I like to see it. No doubt audiences will have their own opinion on that. On the other hand, the one that still gets me every time is Laurel and Hardy.
What’s your most memorable London moment?
I have lived in London all my life, on or near the river. So I don’t see it as a one moment thing. The tide comes in and the tide goes out. I could just gaze at the river for ever.
And your London secret?
The little tunnel under the Savoy hotel that gets you off the Strand and onto the embankment in about 30 seconds without having to wait in any traffic. Go to John Adam street and turn sharp left.
Isn’t there just a teensy bit of Neil in you? Go on, admit it, you like lentils, don’t you?
Neil was very much based on me, I admit it all. He was my stand-up character before we got onto telly after all. It’s not so much the lentils as the constant moaning I think. Although I did used to have long hair, and I did wear flares and the rest.
And, er, did you ever get that hole in you shoe fixed?
Do you know, I managed to sell the original Neil plimsolls, which were used on the picture disc, at an auction of rock memoribilia. I can’t remember how much they fetched, but knowing Neil’s luck it probably wasn’t much.
Death of Long Pig is a dark tale of death, Gauguin, Polynesia and Robert Louis Stevenson. It runs 'til the 1st August, and tickets start at £9.00. It has a fab cast: we think you should go.