When researching someone you're about to interview - as I was on the morning I was due to speak to comedian Marcus Brigstocke - finding recent articles about them online with headlines like 'Wife divorces TV comic after discovering year-long affair' ranks alongside discovering that they punch every journalist they meet in the groin by way of a greeting. You know that unless you address the issues (presuming a PR person hasn't expressly told you that you're not allowed to mention them at all) then they're going to fester in the air over the interview like a controversy-filled elephant in the room. They know you've googled them and read that stuff. You know they know you've read it.
Luckily for me, Marcus Brigstocke is a very open gentleman indeed. Open enough that he's actually written a stand-up show that he performed at the Edinburgh festival just a few days ago entitled "Je M'accuse", a searingly honest Mea culpa that while not expressly about the marriage-ending affair with an actress that landed him a spot in the Mail Online's right-hand sidebar of shame, then certainly about the rest of his life, including stints in rehab, almost catastrophic weight-loss and pole dancing.
We meet in a forest backstage at this year's Latitude festival, where Brigstocke has just hosted a kind of live coffee morning for stand-ups in front of a couple of thousand people, riffing on the Sunday newspapers. It's far too early in the day for many hungover revellers, but not an issue for a teetotaller.
"I don't drink at all, and I also don't do any drugs," he says, sat on a tree trunk and raising his voice over the muffled music that carries over the air at festivals. "I love doing stand-up at festivals, I'm nearly forty and I'm definitely not over the whole idea of them; loads of people milling about seeing stuff they might not know they were into. But it's that that makes it difficult to really have an amazing gig at a festival. They're not just there to see you, and that's fine. People will have a look in the tent and then move on. I think Ross Noble is the only person that I've seen really storm a stand-up slot at a festival, and that was when he led 3,000 people on a conga out of the tent and across the entire site to a vegetarian food truck. He'd told each one of them to ask for a meat pasty and then to just say 'oh sorry, I didn't realise' when informed they only served vegetarian food. It was brilliant."
He exudes the kind of Sunday enthusiasm that I would suggest only someone who doesn't touch a drop could muster, something that's reflected in the eyes and pallor of the other performers around us.
"Not drinking helps with being able to do festivals," he explains "And for some reason years ago I bought a motor home, a solar powered one. Now I'll drive it to festivals and cook a full roast dinner in there, looking healthy, carving a big bird up, and I can see people ravaged with hangovers looking in at me all showered and stuff and I feel fairly superior. They might hate me a bit."
I suggest that people who give up drinking or smoking can often turn out to be inordinately smug about it. "That's exactly what I'm like!" he jokes. "Seriously, don't give up drinking unless you have to. I only stopped because I had to. If I drink, so many bad things will happen. I get asked all the time by people, 'How should I moderate my drinking?' and I answer 'Don't! Have a drink! I would!' But I can't, because I have an addictive personality. Mostly though, I think drunk people are generally having a good time. If you turn up somewhere and everyone's very drunk, you can kind of just go with it, just dance badly. People don't notice."
Brigstocke is as articulate as his TV persona suggests, and also very friendly. More so than most comedians he comes across on first meeting as though he could just be a friend of a friend who happens to be very funny. Except of course his face is very well known - possibly a nameless face to those who only recognise him from a stream of comedy panel shows, but a well-known face nonetheless. As an interviewer you get a sense sometimes that you can ask your subject anything you like, and this is the case with Brigstocke. He doesn't deflect any questions, he doesn't wince if they are too pressing. Despite having his fingers burned by the aforementioned Daily Mail, he doesn't shy away from discussing anything at all.
"The thing is," he continues, "I suppose I'm putting stuff behind me to a degree, maybe. Two years ago I had a call from my accountant, saying there had been a cock up with the VAT concerning my company, and basically I'd lost everything. I had a tenner to my name. Nothing for the kids. Broke. I went from a big load of money, to nothing at all. And you just sort of go with it. I mean I could have started drinking again, but what would be the point? When I was 17 I was in rehab, that's when I stopped drinking. Since then though I haven't even got to the point of just giving up. We're all just muddling through. A journalist I spoke to earlier this year played a blinder, the Mail on Sunday covered the breakdown of my marriage. And he asked me how I was getting on, and I said 'I'm OK, just trying to get on with things' and of course it got reported as 'Oh I'm fine, and I'm writing a funny show about how my marriage ended' - which I'm not. Not at all. That's not a topic I wish to discuss in stand up or anywhere else."
He isn't defensive about these run-ins with the press; he approaches them with a kind of resigned air. The air of a man who has made mistakes and has chosen to face them head on, while making a joke (or several jokes) about it all. 'Comedy is tragedy plus time' goes the famous Carol Burnett quote, which could neatly apply to a show based on a life story that includes a section that's scarcely believable to look at Brigstocke now.
"I was a 24 stone goth with a Mohican when I was 17, living in Devon," he says, fully prepared for the reaction this will have on any audience he springs it on. "Within two years I was working on an oil rig and held a part-time job as a podium dancer. I suppose it's a pretty self-confessional show, but I do have some good stories, so I thought I'd tell them. For instance I recently ended up having my balls scanned by a parent at my child's school. Things like that."
I mention that when researching him online it's only Wikipedia and twitter that manage to push the tabloid scandals involving his name down the Google results, and he doesn't seem surprised.
"I googled myself once," he says with a rueful smile. "Eleven years ago. May 7th. I'd done a gig somewhere and went home and I was lonely and sad, and I'd been driving for four hours and I thought maybe some people would be saying some nice things about me, so I googled myself. And oh my God it was like being beaten up from every angle by hundreds of people. Never again. I've not done that since. NEVER google yourself. Seriously, don't!"
To be fair to him with his latest shows, Brigstocke is removing the need for anyone to google him; it's all there being revealed on stage. And for him, perhaps that's the point of it.
Marcus Brigstocke was speaking at Latitude Festival 2013 www.latitudefestival.com
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