- Text by Niall Flynn
The world of Limmy is strange and wonderful. Walking a tightrope between observational comedy and eerie suburban horror, the Scottish comedian’s brand of humour is proud in its peculiarity. Whether it’s his sketches, Vines, live streams or short stories, you know what you’re getting: it’ll get a bit weird, it’ll get a bit dark – but children, you will laugh.
Which brings us to his autobiography. Titled Surprisingly Down to Earth and Very Funny (a reference to a running online joke, in which the 44-year-old tweets the same faux obituary each time a public figure dies), the book chronicles his early days growing up on a council estate on the south side of Glasgow (“It was maybe a wee bit rough”), following him all the way through to “getting on the telly”. It’s an unflinchingly honest account, which sees him talk openly about his experiences with anxiety, alcoholism, suicidal thoughts and sex. While it’s written with the offbeat irreverence that characterises his work, the subject matter is often heavy.
“Cos I’d spoke about it before – suicide, antidepressants, those sorts of things – I was originally asked if I wanted to do a book about mental health. I asked them, ‘You mean like a full, 70,000 word book?’, and they were like ‘Yeah’, and I was like, ‘I don’t know. I’m not some sort of fucking guru,” he recalls, speaking over the phone from his home in Glasgow.
“I mean, don’t really know how to look after myself – never mind start giving fucking help out. I didn’t think I could fill a whole fucking book with that. So I said, ‘How about I just talk about everything and then the mental health stuff will be in there naturally.’ And they said okay.”
Had the pleasure of meeting Karl Lagerfeld at a charity do once. He was surprisingly down to earth, and VERY funny.
— My autobiography 21st Feb! (@DaftLimmy) February 19, 2019
Was writing the book a cathartic process? In terms of revisiting some of the things you struggled with as a younger man.
It wasn’t cathartic in the sense that, ‘Ooh, that feels good to get it out of my system!’ Because I talk like fuck about myself anyway. I like talking on Twitter, or just to other people about things. In the past, I’ve spoken like fuck about the drinking, suicidal stuff. Because I’m quite a public person, rather than a private, keeping-it-to-myself sort of person, all the stuff I typed about I’ve already told everybody about a million times anyway.
The way you write about masculinity resonated with me. To the extent where I realised we did the exact same reckless shit as kids, despite me growing up in a different part of the world and over 20 years later. I am talking about putting rocks on train tracks.
[laughs] Aye, it‘s almost genetic.
What kinds of things do you think boys have to deal with today – do you think the experience is the same for them?
It depends if you’re working class, middle class, and what area you’re in. I was watching that fucking Bros documentary [Bros: After The Screaming Stops], where they talk about playing with that dart – you know, you throw it in the air, you’re not allowed to move. I didn’t do it with a dart, but I remember people would do things like that. That risking injury and death thing, that seems to fucking happen everywhere.
It’s been getting a bit icy here in winter and there was a bit of ice in the playground at my son’s primary school. All these wee boys were grabbing onto each other and sliding about – falling, banging into each other. The lassies weren’t doing that. They were just watching, not taking part. I was looking at it and thinking, ‘Why are boys like that, and lassies like that?’ I know there are loads of theories, like it’s some fucking testosterone thing. But is it because they’re expected to be like that?
Yeah. Expectations, learned behaviour…
Why don’t lassies chuck the dart up into the air – or do they? I don’t know. You read the articles about toxic masculinity, criticising ‘boys will be boys’. I get all that, I completely agree with all the bad things. But there are certain things, certain pastimes, that boys seem to take part in that don’t seem to be fucking taught.
You’re saying that you were putting fucking stones on train tracks. Where does that come from? I know I didn’t get it off the telly. If you go to some deep fucking jungle somewhere, or to some island faraway where some tribe been untouched for 300 years or something, I wonder if they’ve got a thing where someone throws something up in the air and nobody fucking moves – just like Bros.
My son doesn’t do it, but he’s into all these fucking games where you can ram a sword through somebody. Maybe that’s me passing it onto him – that disease, toxic masculinity. But as much as I want to criticise it, I also like it. I loved all that stuff. I wouldn’t say to my son, ‘Go and put some fucking rocks on a train track, for fuck’s sake live a little!’ I would never say that to him. But – and this sounds terrible – when I think about a world where wee boys aren’t throwing darts in the air where it might hit them right in the fucking eyeball, it makes me sad. I’m exaggerating [laughs].
As a parent, when it comes to some of the things you encountered – violent behaviour, the way young men can talk about sex – do you take hands-on role in terms of talking to your son about them?
Aye. I don’t know if paranoid is the right word, but I’m very cautious. I worry about things. I remember, when I was his age, I was just left to fucking watch horror films and stuff like that. I watched the Texas Chainsaw Massacre when I was about fucking eight.
I don’t want my son turning out like me, some fucking warped guy. So with any film I watch with him, I’m always sitting with him. If there’s anything that I think he’d be wondering about, I’ll pause the fucking thing and talk to him until he’s bored out his fucking mind. I’ve explained to him at length saying, ‘You realise why people like violence in games and films? It’s because there’s a bit of a thrill, there’s a bit of excitement, but it’s also bad.’ That whole fucking speech. I’m not trying to call my son a psychopath, but I want him to know that exposure to these bad things are normal – as long as you know what you’re fucking doing.
You’re obviously into your social media. What would have happened if you had it when you were a teenager?
Oh, it’s fucking nightmarish to think about. When I was 14, 15… well, you just start drinking. And the mess you get into, the things you say. I was just a completely different person. In this day and age, the things you do and say as a 14-year-old are digitally fucking stored forever and ever and ever.
When I was young and drinking, there was a period I went through cutting myself up. Then there was the fucking crime stuff, the car theft. I was just generally going off the rails when I was about 17. Everybody was getting drunk and doing stupid things. You can be an impressionable person – which I was – and want to be other people, rather than yourself. I’m just fucking grateful I grew up at a time where there were no video cameras on everybody’s fucking phone.
Like, what if my son grows up and makes all these teenage mistakes when he’s 14 or 15, or does something bad? Then people won’t let it go, even when he’s fucking 24, 34, 44. Or maybe, because everybody has got dirt on everybody else, it’s a fucking mutually assured destruction thing – a nuclear deterrent. Fuck knows.
On that note, you are Twitter’s primary chronicler on cancel culture. Where do you sit on the direction those kinds of conversations are taking?
It’s all grey levels. But remember that boy who was getting bullied in school, that American boy? Everybody felt sorry for him cos he was getting picked on – it was about a year ago. And then it came out that his maw was a Trump supporter and she was pictured with the Confederate flag. He was getting picked on, but it turns out people don’t like his maw, so he fucking gets it. People can get fully chucked in the bin because of stuff that somebody else has done.
I’ve been guilty of retweeting and criticising 16-year-olds for saying homophobic things, or using ableist terms. You know, ‘Look at this wee bastard.’ But then that’s him fucking marked – that’s his name and his face. Maybe five, ten years later, he might look back and be disgusted with himself. But by that point, it’s too late. I think that kinda thing doesn’t allow you to change the way things are. These days, you’re not really allowed to change. But I don’t know. Like you say, I just chronicle it. I’m like the person back in the medieval days, the only person who could write. I’ve got the knowledge and I’m in the church, writing it all down.
Having always spoken candidly about your own mental health, you predated that wave of public figures coming out and discussing the topic so openly. How do you feel about where the conversation is currently – are we in a better place?
I think so. I can understand that to some people – especially people that are mentally well – it might look like some sort of fashionable thing. But I think, generally, what’s happening is people didn’t really talk about it before and now they are. Now everybody is talking about it, so it kind of snowballs. It seems like a big wave – everyone saying they’ve got depression, anxiety, all sorts of things. But I would much rather it seems to be a fucking abundance of people talking about it than not enough.
You get your fannies, your conservative right-wing types, your Piers Morgan sorts, who like to say things like, ‘Oh this is just a lot of nonsense, look at that fucking shite’, because it’s something that they didn’t hear before, and now they’re hearing it and it sounds like a big fashionable thing. But I’m glad it’s become a normal thing.
Every time I’ve talked about it, people say, ‘That helped me.’ They’re not saying that I helped them because I gave them advice on how to sort their life out, but just hearing somebody else talking about it. You know, ‘I cannot be fucked today, I fucking hate this, despite this and despite that, I fucking hate my life right now, I feel like sticking a rope around my bastarding fucking neck.’ Something like that can make people feel better. I think loneliness and feeling that you’re different is a big part of the harm done. The isolation can be 50 per cent of it.
You speak at length about imposter syndrome in the book. Do you still get that?
No, I almost don’t get it at all now. Maybe it’s partly because I feel confident, or I feel that I’ve done a lot. I wrote my series, I directed it – it doesn’t matter if anybody likes it, I feel like I’ve done something. And I’ve got other things I can do.
I don’t know what the fuck it is, but I know the thing that’s really helped me is realising – especially with Brexit and all the rest of it – that nobody knows what they’re fucking doing. You start off when you’re younger feeling a bit out of your depth, but then you realise that they’re all these people in all of these different lines of work – and they’re all fucking shite at it! Everything is held together with fucking blu tac and sellotape. Fuck me man, we don’t have a fucking clue. Just look around.
Paula Radcliffe and Dame Kelly Holmes are cancelled.
Don’t ask why. It’s not my job to educate you.
— My autobiography 21st Feb! (@DaftLimmy) February 20, 2019
Surprisingly Down to Earth, and Very Funny: My Autobiography is available now from Mudlark.
Niall is Huck’s Associate Editor. Follow him on Twitter.