Interview: Liam Withnail on Homeboy

The UK comedian chats about sobriety, immigration and the rise of populism

feature (adelaide) | Read in About 3 minutes
Published 26 Feb 2019
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Liam Withnail

"The show is set five seconds after any straight white guy watches Hannah Gadsby's Nanette," says Liam Withnail. 

Arriving in Adelaide with his third solo show Homeboy, nominated for Amused Moose's Best Show at the Edinburgh Fringe, Withnail has grown in confidence and become more reflective as a comedian. "It's a response to #MeToo, #TimesUp, Donald Trump and anything else that made me question my role in all of this. How can we do better? How is the modern man complicit in everyday sexism?"

Although he has not forgotten his primary purpose, it is all "with jokes, of course."

Born in London, Withnail progressed through the open mic spots in the uncompromising Scottish bars and clubs – and all with an English accent. "Scotland is a country of comedians. Glasgow particularly has a proud storytelling heritage – in general my Englishness has only ever held me back on paper – the second my cockney accent comes out there's an understanding of 'Oh... he's not posh!'

Compared to UK audiences, Withnail has found an unusual problem to solve in Australia: a complete lack of weather-beaten misery from the crowd. "It feels unnatural doing comedy in such a nice climate – audiences being warm, tanned and athletic seems strange to me. In the UK you're cheering people up – in Oz they're already happy!"

Withnail's career pivoted after he stopped drinking. "Recovery changed every aspect of my life, including my approach to comedy. For a start I actually write new material! When I was drinking all my life was focussed on drinking, when I don't it gives me time and space to do everything else. The shows I've written since sobering up were about immigration and feminism. Both big subjects that required a lot of research, which is not possible when I'm down the pub every night."

It has led to the mix of Withnail's own sunny disposition and his more outward looking material, where he can bring out complex political issues from personal stories. "My wife had to leave the UK five days after we got married, and we were separated for eight months. Why? Because some ridiculous red lines had been drawn in order to bring immigration numbers down, so that a particular party could claim to be tough on migrants and appeal to a racist portion of their base. Since that happened Trump has been inaugurated, Article 50 has been triggered, Bolsonaro won the Brazilian elections. Right-wing populism is increasing all around the world, immigrants being blamed for internal problems. The more time that elapses the more relevant it becomes – this isn't a funny answer because I'm truly frightened about how the UK is following the US on these issues."