How one night in Leeds changed the life of one of TV’s favourite comedians

Phil Jupitus.
Phil Jupitus.
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“IF it was not for a gig in Leeds in 1985, I would not be talking to you now.”

For comedian, poet and TV star Phill Jupitus it really is that simple.

Two years before that he had started doing the club and stage circuits as a poet but it was a late night chat over a slice of toast and a couple of cans that prompted the funnyman to pursue a career in stand-up.

He recalls: “I was getting on alright with the poetry but the circuit was not exactly booming. Most of my work came through being a support act for bands like Billy Bragg, the House Martins and the Style Council.

“Because I was a bit of a one-man band if I had any mates there [where we were performing] I would ask if I could stay on their sofa. James Brown was a Leeds United fan and worked on the NME fanzine. I asked if I could kip at his and he asked if he could see the gig.

“It went well, had real good fun and we went back to his place, had a couple of cans, ate toast and he said, ‘You do realise that the chit chat between the poems is funnier than the poems?’. That was the first time anyone suggested I might be a stand-up rather than a poet.”

Within a year that is what he was doing and Jupitus has since enjoyed a career that has included being team captain on BBC2’s pop quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks, being a regular guest on QI and appearing on Live at the Apollo (BBC1). Theatre work has seen him play Bottom in the Bath Theatre Royal production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, appear alongside Jason Manford in the UK touring production of The Producers as Franz Liebkind and make his West End singing debut in 2009 in the hit musical Hairspray at The Shaftesbury Theatre.

Tomorrow he will bring his brand new stand-up show “Juplicity” to the City Varieties as part of a three month UK tour, some 32 years after that night, and it is clear Jupitus still has a soft spot and a genuine interest in Leeds. He’s particularly interested in who else is on stage in Leeds on the same night as him - and tomorrow it’s fellow comedian Tom Stade, at The Wardrobe.

He added: “I have always had a lot of time for Leeds, it is a place where my life changed and the first time I did a big gig was at the City Varieties.

“I have gigged in Leeds for over 30 years and seen the changes and seen it grow from when the industry crumbled. Some places take a knock but people are focussed on regeneration. As a performer when you go to a city you can see feel how creative a city is and the arts scene is so vibrant.

“I have become a victim of that”, he chuckles, “as there are two great gigs on in the city on the same night.”