Within one minute of chatting to Glasgow comedian Limmy he’s already told me he never visited Ireland before because it’s not a proper holiday spot, and comes out with the line: “I’m not that interested in culture.”
If this was some randomer you’d met at a house party you’d maybe reverse back the way you came, but he disarms it with the faintest flicker of a sly grin. I also can’t help thinking he’s in character as he sits across a table in a Dublin hotel in his trademark grey Nike hoody.
Limmy’s been getting a pass for saying contrarian shit for well over a decade, and on his normal scale that goes to 100, this opening line is around 0.00001.
More often, Brian Limond tips the scales at the 100 mark. As well as helping take Glasgow swearing to its highest evolutionary point so far, his humour kicks the doors in on comfort zones and safe spaces, and he can announce the Queen’s death on Christmas Day as effortlessly as a nom-nom dinner pic.
Limmy’s in Dublin for a reading of his second collection of short stories, That’s Your Lot. A comedian getting book deal and a live tour is a fairly conventional path these days, along with a slot on a panel show and a bit at a ‘boutique’ music festival.
But an actual book with pages you can flick through is a relatively new one on Limmy. The 42-year-old is one of the internet’s true renegade polymaths — with hundreds of YouTube sketches, improv stories, flash games, happy hardcore versions of classic rock tunes and a xylophone that sings, “You. Are. A. Fuckin. C**t”, with every mouse click, for eternity. It’s a side effect of his first and last ‘real’ job as a web developer with his own company in the 90s, when he’d use his more bizarre ideas on his own website.
As well as treating Twitter like a stream of consciousness and knocking out surrealist arthouse Vines that were screened as a ‘supercompilation’ of 600 at a London film festival, Limmy also found time to write, direct and star in three seasons of the Bafta-winning Limmy’s Show on the BBC.
Limmy’s first book Daft Wee Stories – Time Out’s 2015 comedy book of the year – is a self-explanatory collection of gutter parables, horror stories and sketches, with one being only six words long: “My mate Rennie shags his granda.”
The 29 stories in That’s Your Lot take a darker turn, and he says it’s more of a throwback to Limmy’s World of Glasgow, his run of 85 podcasts in 2005 that introduced the world to dead-end characters like hapless stoner Dee Dee, psycho delinquent John Paul and reformed junkie Jacqueline.
It ends with the 37-page Benidorm, featuring Limmy’s most grotesque character yet, a psychotic banter lad called Ken whose obsession with having the craic on holiday ends in pathetic tragedy.
“Aye, to me that’s the stuff I find funny, my World of Glasgow podcast was full of stories like that,” he says. “It’s grim, there’s no punchline… just violent ends. But that’s the sort of thing I find funny, the less of a punchline the better. He’s such a psychopath, I just find psychopaths funny.”
For the live show, he says he has to choose the stories wisely, “ones that are a wee bit funny and I’ve something to say about them”. In Vicar Street later that night, he dissects the stories Pavement, Taxi Patter and Biscuits with a window into his runaway train of thought, as well as a section swatting away his characters with their catch phrases, “just to get them out of the way… not everyone here’s into books”.
No stranger to pushing taste boundaries on Twitter or on the page, he concedes that it’s different in a theatre.
“I like to sorta hurt people’s feelings privately – not sitting next to somebody, when I’ve cracked a joke about death and somebody in the audience’s family died,” he says.
“Their pal next to them knows that’s happened. If it’s really affecting them, the only way to get away from this is to get their jacket, stand up and walk out and it’s a big kinda thing. But with a book you can stop reading, just shut the thing and just tell people it was shite.”
Outraged Twitter made a ‘big kinda thing’ about one of Limmy’s most recent pranks, posting WhatsApp screen grabs of a fake exchange with his panicking da, pretending someone had Limmy’s phone and his son was dying on the street.
“Again, I would never do that to someone in front of me,” he says, before seeming to go off on a tangential thought experiment.
“I did that because I was just thinking, I’ve got a maw who’s dead. My maw died when I was 20, and you find out all of a sudden the language you’ve got to use. Do you say ‘my maw’? Because she’s not your maw anymore, she’s dead. Or in terms of past tense or present tense? Like is it ‘I had a maw’? Or do you say, ‘I have a maw’? Things like that.
“In the WhatsApp stuff, it’s just like writing fiction in a way, it’s a horror story. So anybody can’t seriously get offended by it. Then again I’m trying to make it look real so I can’t complain. I enjoy it, and I enjoy people going mad. And they kinda enjoy it in a way because it lets them be all high and mighty, to discover that a person is a lower fuckin lifeform than themselves. But for all they know this fictitious da is a prick.”
Limmy has no doubt his “dark as fuck” streak comes from growing up on a Glasgow council estate, obsessively trying to make a laugh out of anything and everything. Kids in his stories are just as cruel as the adults – from “that’s yer da” jokes to life-ruining nicknames like Suzie Spunkstain and bullies writing ‘TRAMP’ on a sad sack’s plaster cast.
He says: “Aye, wee boys and wee lassies are like that. Vicious to each other, you can see them standing around just back and forth to each other, ‘look at the fucking state of you’, ‘fuckin shut up’.
“Everybody I knew growing up was like that, all my pals, primary school, secondary school. What you do is try to say something worse than the other person. Not to hurt them, you’re trying to make your pals squirm.
“Bad things can happen in council estates… you’ve got alkies and junkies and people being stabbed, violence and dads fighting each other. There’d be no keeping up appearances. Eventually you will just find them things funny. When you’re 8 or 10 or 12 and you hear somebody’s got stabbed, you’re not like, ‘Oh my God that’s awful’, you make a joke.
“It’s like you’re joking about war or something, you’ll eventually laugh about the things that happen. Or like people who work on the fuckin train tracks picking up dead bodies of people who’ve jumped in front of trains. Or if you have to work in a morgue. You have to joke about it, it keeps you from fuckin waking up in the morning and thinking you don’t wanna wake up again.”
He’s laughs when he realises he’s described the Glasgow collective memory through war, morgues and bodies on train tracks, but he adds: “The collective history of poverty and violence makes the sense of humour more acceptable, it spreads about.”
Still, there’s a lot of nostalgia in Limmy’s writing, whether it’s one character begging the mystical ‘Daysnatcher’ to give him back some of his childhood memories, or even the psychotic Ken from Benidorm recalling how much better the lads on tour holidays were years ago.
In one poignant Limmy’s Show sketch, he walks up to a train station desk and hands the ticket agent a photo saying, “This is a bit of a strange question, but can you tell me how to get there?” When she works out the seaside town is Millport, she gives train and ferry directions, but he stops her and says, no, he wants to know how to get back to that time when he was 16, with “tonnes of pals kickin about”, just drinking carry-outs with “nae aggro, nae fightin… unlike now”.
He says: “Aye, when I used to drink, I used to be really like that and think about the past, like it was so much simpler an’ all that, before having to get a job and running a company. The Millport sketch… getting up and going out, and deciding what to do that night. Actually you’re not even deciding, it just all happens. Your maw and da give you a wee bit of money, you make it kinda stretch, and yous are having a carry-out. But as soon as I stopped drinking that sort of vanished, and I was more in the here and now, I don’t think of school and my wee adventures.
“I’m kinda having a good time now, and all my best memories are from like a few years ago. I still like simplicity, like playing Overwatch all the time. That’s what I do, get up and do that – a dead simple way of life of doing fuck all. Actually it is kinda like childhood, cos here I am, right now I’m getting to read out these wee stories that I’ve written and enjoy myself and chat to the audience and meet them all afterwards. It’s a perfect job if you’re into it.”
As well as his relative sensitivity in theatres, Limmy often enters into proper debates online, discussing his struggle with mental health issues and alcohol (he’s now teetotal) and meditation techniques, as well as some thoughtful takes on Scottish independence.
But he still can’t resist antagonising sections of his 300,000 Twitter followers and YouTube fans, from low-level rage (banning gamers on his live Overwatch sessions for using all caps) to code red (tweeting about Trump’s assassination on inauguration day, or posting his drawing of a “man shagging Thatcher’s grave”).
He says: “You get on Twitter and the rules are sorta different, you’re not in a wee group with your pals, you’re reaching people who are affected by the stuff you’re saying.
“Right, I know it isn’t nice but it’s kinda funny an’ all. I grew up like that, it’s hard to stop it later. You encounter gentle people online and people’s feelings get hurt. But fuck it, with me there’s too much momentum built up, it’s like trying to stop a runaway train. I’m not fucking stopping for you. This is how I am now, this is what I get buzz out of.
He admits he’s “keeping an eye” on his six-year-old son Daniel so his da’s sick streak doesn’t become too pronounced, saying: “I was a sick wee bastard, I don’t want him getting a taste for anything sadistic.
“Like one of the things he’s into is Minecraft. It started off all nice and he’s now making crushing devices and chucking chickens in them and things like that. I’ll keep an eye on that.
“I’ll go on twitter and I’ll say, ‘My son just made this thing to chuck the villagers in and burn them, chucked them in lava and he was laughing’. Then people start saying things like, ‘My wee daughter made this restaurant and there’s an abattoir downstairs where she kills the animals. I find out a lot of weans are like that, exploring with this spectrum of feelings, good and bad. Aye, he’s probably gonna have a sick sense of humour like me… but maybe not.”
A recurring theme in Limmy’s stories or sketches is characters crippled with inertia, in too deep to change the path of a wrong decision. It could be the guy who won’t return a curtain that’s come alive and is “battering the fuck” out of him and his girlfriend, because it cost “400 quid, down from 899”.
He likens this to people who voted for Brexit or Trump, too mortified to back down. He’s a fist-pumping Yes voter for Scottish independence, but when asked to predict the result of the next referendum, he immediately says: “No… I mean I’ll vote yes, but I don’t think there’ll be anything good for a long, long time.”
Going along with his habit of laughing at horror, he’s smiling as he adds: “OK it’s funny, but I think it’s gonna be Tories for ages. I think Brexit is gonna be a big fuckin disaster, I think the right wing will get bigger and bigger, and people are gonna forget about things like the NHS.
“Even people who have decided and regret what they’ve done, they’re thinking ‘I don’t wanna look like an idiot, so I’m just gonna double down and back up.
“It’s like alkies. Imagine an alcoholic, saying, ‘I can’t stop drinking’. I just look forward to that person hitting that low point. OK, it might mean some willl top themselves or throw themselves under a bus, but the sooner that low point happens the better. Some people need to get to that low point, you need to get so fuckin low that it’s pretty much the end. That’s what happened to me, that’s what made me stop drinking.
“It’s as if as a nation or whatever, we need to get on with World War III, so then they can remember. It needs to get really bad where people are getting mass murdered and everybody is fucked, there’s bombs everywhere, bombs raining down on you and there’s people getting drafted into wars. Let’s get to that in maybe the next 20-30 years and then we’ll get the peace treaties an’ all that. We’ve forgot all that, so maybe we need a wee reminder…”
He cracks up laughing after this hangs in the air for a second, and it’s begging for a cheesy, ‘on that note’ line. Well, he did say the less of a punchline the better.
Limmy’s That’s Your Lot tour in June:
Cork Opera House (1st); Black Box, Galway (2nd); Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick (3rd); Vicar Street, Dublin (5th), and Mandela Hall, Belfast (6th)
Tickets at ticketmaster.ie