Billy Watson Interviews
I was the subject of a couple of interviews recently. One for Focus Magazine and the other for PPSF website. Here they are in full.
The Focus Project Interview
Leading on from last week’s piece on comedy writing I decided to actually bring in somebody from the world of comedy writing for an interview. This is Billy Watson and you’ll be finding out a lot about him as he talks about how he gets to writing for his shows, how he got involved in comedy writing, and how he uses pen names in the best way possible.
Q. Ok, start by telling us some basic information about yourself. In other words, who are you?
Who am I? Good question. I’ve been trying to figure that one out myself for a very long time. I guess you could say I am a fairly unconventional person. I’m generally known amongst the expats where I live in Turkey as ‘Crazy Scottish Billy’.
I have a bit of a rebellious nature and tend to do things my own way, which on reflection normally leads to self growth if not success.
I believe that life is an adventure to be lived on your own terms as much as possible and that the whole point of us being here is to try to figure out who we are and then offer that uniqueness to the world in whatever way you feel appropriate, so that you may honour your so-called ‘Higher Self’ and maybe inspire others to do the same, if they are so inclined.
As you do you receive feedback on your actions, either directly or indirectly, and if you are aware enough to pick up on them you continually discover more about what you need to work on to improve yourself. So you could also say I’m a work in progress.
Q. What inspired you to start writing comedy?
I had been trying for a number of years to get out of my crappy day job by becoming a Rock Star. The only problem was that although I could live the hedonistic lifestyle fairly well, I had neglected to take the time to learn an instrument properly. So, as you can imagine, that was a bit of a problem when I was trying to form bands with various musicians in my local area.
At the time I was reading a lot about so-called ‘conspiracy theories’ and was writing lyrics and even a few songs, which incorporated some of those ideas, but I was frustrated that no one was getting to hear them outside of a few open mic poetry gigs.
Then although I’d heard of him before, one day I watched a Bill Hicks recording and he seemed to be doing what I wanted to do, that is, rant against the injustices of the world.
I had got the top grade in my year for Drama a couple of years running, so I thought, of course, I could get out of my day job and save the world while I am at it, by being a comedian. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?’
For my first few gigs at open mics, I didn’t bother writing anything because I just thought you stood on a stage and talked pish, and it seemed to be going down quite well so I thought it was easy.
However, after a particularly disastrous gig at a comedy club where I had too much drink beforehand and then totally bombed in horrific fashion, I thought: “Mmm, maybe I should think of funny stuff beforehand just in case I am not an improvisational comedy genius.” It would be good to have a backup plan. That is when I started trying to write comedy.
Q. Many writers decide to adopt pen names when they complete their work. In your case you do the same, but then you actually perform what you write. What was the idea behind creating another character/personality for yourself?
Over the years I have actually invented three alter-ego characters for myself, which were all really just me with various wigs on.
The first one I created was called The Great White Shaft and I performed as him in my very early days. I found that by going into character I could really go over the top performance wise to allow myself to be as expressive as possible.
For instance, in one of my early gigs, I came on to the Chocolate Watch Band version of The Kinks’ song ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’. As I was dancing around the bar like a madman, wearing a Seventies suit with a blue afro, black moustache and, for some reason, an inflatable saxophone, halfway through I needed to do something to keep the crowd entertained, so spotting the big glass window in the bar I opened the front door and went out in the street still dancing crazily while the song continued to play inside. I couldn’t really have done that as myself.
My second character was called Hamish McTavish and he came about because I found an old green tartan suit with huge flares that belonged to my father. I thought it was too good a suit not to put to use. So I put on one of those Green tartan Tammy’s with the ginger hair (commonly referred to as a ‘Jimmy Hat’) and then read funny poems as Hamish. They were all based on my real life events, but I thought I needed to hide behind a persona so that I could really be brutally honest and to leave the audience in some doubt to whether the poems were actually fact or fiction.
Then a few years after that I invented Nob Stewart. I had actually purchased a Rod Stewart wig for a fancy dress party in the call centre where I worked, but the party got cancelled. I was a bit pissed off after having spent fifteen pounds on the wig so when I saw that my local town had a Karaoke competition I decided to invent Nob so I could get some money’s worth on the wig. I love to sing but am probably one of the worst singers you are ever likely to hear, so I sort of had to go for the comedy angle. Surprisingly, I got through to the final with a very pornographic version of Maggie May which I called Suzie Hay.
Apart from a few Nob songs, I didn’t develop much material specifically for these characters, which I guess was part of the problem with all of them. Although various people have said they liked them over the years, I think, I was just using them as a way to protect myself or to somehow make myself larger than life because I was afraid that I myself am not that interesting.
These days I am trying to be more comfortable just being myself. By letting down my drawbridge I hope to be able to connect with people in a more wholesome and pure way without fear of being judged for my idiosyncrasies.
Q. You’ve performed at the Edinburgh Festival. What is it like to put your writings into practice in such a place as that?
This year will be the fourth time I perform my own show at the Festival.
In 2002 I put a show on before I was really ready to do so. I had written a lot of material that I never had the chance to try out in the clubs as I was only getting 5 or 10 minute spots so thought I would do the festival as a means to get stage time. I found it pretty tough going, but did get a three star review so I must have been doing something right.
I moved to Turkey in 2006 and there are no comedy clubs there, so I have gone to Edinburgh every year during August to do a few open spots. In 2009 and 2011 I put on a show despite having not performed any comedy for the 11 months since the previous festival.
Even for experienced road tested comics with far more exposure than I have, it is an incredibly difficult thing to do. There is so much competition to just get a decent sized audience, and then most times I would get an average of 4 people who I had to entertain for an hour. They have no idea who you are, so in a lot of cases your style may not even be to their tastes and comedy certainly works better in busy rooms, so I called it character building.
I will be doing a show again this year, except rather than just wing it with a mishmash of my old material this year I am writing a show around a particular subject, my insane life. So that will hopefully will give it a bit more direction. I am looking forward to seeing how it goes. But I’m realistic enough to know that it will be every bit as challenging as previous years.
Q. What’s the thought process you go through when you start to write yourself new material?
When I was performing regularly in Scotland, before moving to Turkey, I didn’t sit down and write comedy so much as listen to my thoughts and when a joke or an idea would appear, I would try to make a mental note of it and write it down as soon as I could as they tend to get lost in the ether if you don’t.
I would write the joke in a particular topic heading, say for instance, football, then expand upon it or try to join up the different jokes I have to tell some kind of story or give a coherent slant on the topic.
Because I was performing a lot then my brain started to know that I would take action on its ideas and so they would come more frequently as a result.
The problem with living in Turkey is that because I don’t perform then my brain doesn’t feel the need to come up with general observational stuff.
However, writing this year’s show has been a bit different. A few months ago I started writing the first draft of the outline of my life from 16 until the present day, focusing mainly on tales of Sex, Drugs and Marriage, which is the name of the show.
I just told the story whilst putting in the odd joke here or there as they naturally occurred, but without really worrying too much about jokes at that stage.
That took me over a month of writing nearly every day. I am now on the 7th edit and each time I go over it I take out unnecessary details and try to tighten it up by adding jokes. During time away from the computer I will be thinking about a certain bit and my brain offers some new suggestions, and so I incorporate the ones I think are good.
I am now at the stage where I have to turn what I have written into a more verbal version, so that it sounds more natural to the ear. As I do this I will naturally edit extraneous words and get down to a core bit for each part of the story. Then by the time Edinburgh comes along I will just need the trigger words for each bit and the story should tell itself. That’s the theory anyway.
That’s the end of part one. Get ready for next week where things get even stranger.
And we’re back with Billy Watson where he really gets to grips with some of his Scottish culture. Oh and I’m well aware that my last statement could either be really funny or really offensive. Either way it will be interesting!
Q. You have dabbled in poetry, and an eBook of poetry is actually available on your website, but what brought you into poetry in the first place?
As I said I used to want to be a rock star. The reason for that was because I noticed that my friend was very musically talented and I thought I could ride his coat-tails to super stardom.
I was doing a lot of LSD at the time and so wasn’t quite of this planet. I would introduce myself by saying ‘Hi, I’m Billy and I’m going to be a Rock Star’. Quite rightly people would look at me as if I was nuts, because I was.
Then, just 10 days after I was best man at my friends wedding, we had a big falling out and I was kicked out of the non-existent band. I went to a psychic fare to see if they could help me find another route out of my day job and the psychic said I should start writing down stuff, just whatever comes into my head without thinking about it too much.
I also wanted to save face after telling everyone I was to be a rock star, so I learned a few chords on the guitar and approached musicians to form a band, using my lyrics rather than my musical talent (of which there is little) to try and entice them into my supposed escape route from what I saw as a mediocre life working shifts in a chemical factory.
Q. You are one of a strange breed of Scots in that you live in a warm country like Turkey and you haven’t shrivelled up into a Tesco’s own brand prune. What made you want to move to Turkey of all places?
I will go into this in detail in this years show but the short version is that I married a Turkish lady who lived with me in Scotland for 10 years. During our marriage she had a lot of mental health problems, probably not helped by the lack of sunshine in Scotland, and so I took voluntary redundancy from my job to help take care of her.
With the money I got from that I bought an apartment close to where her parents lived in a city called Antalya. We were trying to rent it out as a holiday apartment for a while, but because the other jobs I got paid less and were even more torturous than my Homer Simpson type job. And because of the fact I’d been banned from performing by the two main comedy promoters in Scotland, I figured that we had nothing to lose by moving to Turkey.
I also thought her health may improve if she was back in her own culture, not to mention the fact that I had a young son and thought it would be a better lifestyle for him to grow up here. Let’s just say it wasn’t as plain sailing as I may have hoped and I have had many things to deal with that would break lesser men. Ha!
Q. Would you say that your style of comedy writing changes if you are depressed, or if you’re elated, or (since you’re Scottish) if you’re drunk?
I have never written much when drunk. I find that more than one beer makes it too hard to concentrate. I find that I can write and perform at my best when my head is clear and things like mediation and hypnosis tapes can help to put me in the right frame of mind.
Sometimes getting high helps you to go down different avenues that you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. This can lead to interesting ideas, but not all of them are great. The rewriting and polishing of the idea is what makes it good or not. However, having this year’s show to write and, indeed, other things like editing my eBook and working on my website are helping me focus myself a bit more.
Q. Do you have the desire to constantly reinvent yourself? You mentioned on your website that you didn’t want to perform as your alter ego Nob Stewart all the time, but do you intend on creating other characters and maybe even writing for multiple characters for use in the same show?
It’s not so much that I want to re-invent myself as much as I like to experiment. I really just performed the characters as it seemed like a good laugh at the time. If another character comes along that I feel like trying I may give it a bash. I would be open to the possibility of writing characters for the same show but have not given it much consideration up to this point.
Right now I am more concerned with getting in touch with my own essence a bit more and learning to be comfortable in that before offering that to people. Hopefully, they will be able to relate to me a bit more than some guy in a wig trying to be someone who he’s not, although there was a part of me in each of the characters for sure.
Q. Where do you realistically want to be in your writing and performing career in five or ten years?
One of my problems is that I don’t really set goals like that for myself. I just kind of stumble through life and hope for the best which usually leads to frustration and heartache.
Ideally, I just want to make a living doing things I enjoy whilst helping others in whatever way I can. If I can do that I would at least have proved to myself that I wasn’t totally crazy for banging my head against so many walls for so long.
It doesn’t matter to me that much what form it takes but performing comedy is something I would love to be able to do to a high standard, and of which I have not given up hope of…just yet. My aim this year is just to put on the best show I can and take it from there. I’ll see how it goes before deciding if I should carry on or not, although I probably will as for me it is harder to give up than chocolate cookies.
And that’s the end of one of the strangest individuals I’ve ever interviewed. I do have some good news about the Scottish stormtrooper that appeared in the first part of the interview. He said he liked it and he might be considering adopting it for the glory of the Galactic Empire!
Write on and write proud! (FREEEEEEEEEDOM!!!!)
Followers of the Dot Com(edy) Spot will be well aware who Billy Watson is, as he has garnered more than a few fans here at PPSF. For the unaware, Billy first had designs of becoming a rock star but, in his own words, his “severe lack of musical talent” held him back. It was the late, great Bill Hicks that brought Billy’s passion for stand-up to fruition, with him realising it was a great way to vent off his anger at the injustices of the world and make people see the truth as read in David Icke books he’d picked up along his travels.
Billy’s first solo Edinburgh Fringe show was back in 2002. He recalls having had a tough enough time just trying to get 10 minute unpaid spots back then, nevermind performing one hour shows every day for a month. Even so, it got a three star review though, so it clearly wasn’t half as bad as he believed.
This year Billy will be be performing ‘Sex, Drugs and Marriage’ with Laughing Horse. He sums the show up as portraying his “journey from drugged out loser in search of pussy through marriage to a psychotic Turkish woman and beyond”. What more could one ask for?
Billy kindly answered a few questions in the countdown to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
If you could describe your show as three Olympic sports which would you choose and why?
Diving – As I have not performed comedy since last year’s Edinburgh Festival, my show will feel like taking a big leap of faith off the top board into the deep end.
Tennis – It is a solo sport for which a great degree of flexibility and stamina is required. Hopefully the audience will return my jokes with laughter but I still aim to hit more than a few winners.
Archery – I will be taking aim at a few targets and trying to hit the bullseye to make as many points as possible, while still being entertaining of course.
For you what makes the Edinburgh Fringe so unique compared to other comedy festivals?
I have not been to any other comedy festivals so I can’t really compare. However, this is the one that most comedians work all year round for and is seen as the place where you showcase the best of your year’s work. For that reason it is held in the highest regard. Plus, no other festival I’m sure gets as much rain. Lol.
What has been your defining moment there?
This will be the fourth time I have put on a one man show at Edinburgh. I can’t say I have had any particularly defining moment. I did get to the final of a cabaret competition in 2007 as Nob Stewart, so I guess that would be my biggest achievement there.
What is your worst memory/experience there?
It is pretty torturous flyering for a few hours and then have nobody turn up to your show. That has happened a few times. My toughest gig was when I had one elderly gentleman and one reviewer in the audience. I ended up just talking politics to them and although the gentleman was interested at what I had to say, at the end of the gig he said ‘Well, I’m thoroughly depressed now.’ I got a two star review.
Have your preview shows gone to plan?
Because I live in Turkey where there are no comedy clubs I have not had the chance to do any preview shows. As I said before, in at the deep end.
I spent two months writing out ‘Sex, Drugs and Marriage’ to tell the story of my life but because I couldn’t preview any of the material I have decided it is too big a risk to go through with that idea, so I will mix in some stories from my life with some of my older material.
I prefer to be spontaneous anyway and the thought of doing the same show every day was weighing heavy on my mind. This way, I will be free to improvise as required and therefore I will enjoy it more and thus I think the audience will too.
What will be the first thing you do when you get to Edinburgh?
I will be attending the Alternative Fringe launch night at The Hive, where Bob Slayer will be the host. I became friends with Bob at last year’s festival when I got involved in Kunt and the Gang’s Cockgate Scandal. You can read the story and watch the videos on my website, www.billywatson.tv.
Which acts will you definitely be going to see?
I will go and see some of my friends shows for sure. Phil Kay, John Scott, Patrick Monahan, Raymond Mearns, Kunt and the Gang, Lewis Schaffer and Ro Campbell. I also know Gavin Webster but this year I am particularly interested in his show ‘Bill Hicks Wasn’t Funny’ because I started performing comedy due to being inspired by Bill Hicks and I am interested to see what he has to say about him. Other than that I usually just go with the flow.
What is the first thing you will do as soon as the festival is over?
I intend to try and stay sober for this year’s festival because in the past the stress of it all has made me hit the booze and it affects your energy levels. I want to try and stay as clear headed as possible and focus on doing the best show I can. However, I do intend to have more than a few after my last show.
After the festival itself I have two weeks in Scotland to take my American girlfriend to various parts of the country as she has never been here before, and to be honest after living in Turkey for 6 years I miss the country myself.
What unique selling point would you say your show has that other shows don’t?
My USP I think is just me being me. I have led quite an interesting life and have some viewpoints that are not the standard way of seeing things. The mix of my personal stories coupled with my beliefs should make for an interesting hour.
I will also be performing some poems from my poetry book and may even get the guitar out even though I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Nob Stewart may even make an appearance to sing one of his comedy songs. All in all, although I am a bit nervous, I am looking forward to it and intend to enjoy myself as much as possible.