Kevin Bridges: "So many coming to see me - it's humbling"
"I got offered the jungle,” Kevin Bridges admits. Is this the same Kevin Bridges who is currently completing a sold-out national arena tour, whose last DVD sold more than 350,000 copies, with the follow-up set to trump that? Has it really headed so far south, so quickly! Hold on, he’s way ahead of me. “But you do that on the way down. You need to wait until you’ve had a few divorces and a battle with heroin.”
Today, on a miserable Monday morning, he’s in an Asda on the outskirts of Edinburgh preparing to sign copies of his latest DVD, The Story Continues. In a training room away from the shop floor (where shoplifters are taken while waiting for the police), wearing both a jacket and a hoodie and with his laconic deadpan delivery, Bridges is no more showbiz than any of the staff or shoppers.
“It’s bittersweet coming here,” he says. “Asda turned me down for a job when I was 16. But Asda’s loss was the Co-op’s gain. I became one of the best shelf stackers in Clydebank.”
The Co-op didn’t have as stringent a recruitment process then? “No. My mum knew the boss.”
A signing the previous week at the HMV on Buchanan Street in Glasgow attracted hundreds of fans and a billboard-size picture of his face covering the front of the shop remains glaring out from the top of the city’s principal shopping promenade.
“It’s a bit Mobutu, innit? A bit African dictator,” he says. “You feel like somebody from TOWIE showing up at a DVD signing. You need to do it though, it’s in the manual. If you’re bringing out a product you need to show up and sign it.
"There’s a wee bit of you that’s humbled by so many people queuing up to see you. It’s great, but it’s not something I get off on. Writing a joke and hearing it get a laugh for the first time, that’s the joy.”
The 87-date national tour proves that despite the Scottishness of his character and material, comedy travels. “I think it does,” he agrees. “Everybody’s been on a bus and a nutter’s got on. Even if it’s set in Glasgow it’s not esoteric,” he says. “There we go, there’s a word for you.”
But by being universal, does he risk becoming something he’s never wanted to be: a mainstream comic?
“Popular,” he corrects. “Mainstream’s a frowned-upon word among the comedy glitterati. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but you can’t help being popular. I don’t pander to people if that’s what mainstream means.”
How does he plan to sustain the interest and turn his story into a never-ending one; do the demands of such extensive touring risk premature burnout? “It’s important to stop and take a few months off. Go away, rejuvenate, write fresh ideas and come back.”
Besides turning down I’m A Celeb, Bridges is careful to ration his TV appearances, unlike some other comedians who you can’t prise away from our screens.
“I don’t really enjoy the TV stuff,” he says. “Panel shows, I find them a bit too desperate. I don’t have that need to be seen. That’s not a dig at panel-show comics, I don’t really have the will to fight to get a word in.”
Another comic to turn his back on them back in 2009 is fellow countryman Frankie Boyle, who helped Bridges during his formative stand-up years, letting him stay over on trips to London. Together they headlined an ‘American Gangster’-themed comedy night at The Stand comedy club in Glasgow, for which Bridges purchased suitably stylish attire.
It turned into a heavy night until someone rang in the early hours to say a last-minute slot was available on the bill of Michael McIntyre’s new programme the following evening. The suit he’d slept in became the one he’d wear on his breakthrough TV appearance.
Two massive UK tours later, Bridges is playing record-breaking stints at Glasgow’s SECC, where over 11 nights he performed in front of more than 100,000 people. The Daily Record reported that Bridges earned £3,200 per minute during his Glasgow shows.
“How lazy an article is that?” he says, imitating a tabloid hack. “‘What’s 10,000 times 30 quid? Get the calculator oot.' Making more money than I’d ever imagined is brilliant, but honestly I don’t think of that side of it. I do the show, somebody else does the business.”
So would he rather see his DVD top of the bestseller charts at Christmas or Celtic progress in the Champion’s League? He picks the latter. “It makes more people happy, and also Michael McIntyre’s blazing the trail. Him or Peter Kay are always at the top of the charts. They’re the big names.”
I tell him he’s ahead of Peter Kay at the moment. It piques his interest. “You know the...?” he pauses, preferring to remain more concerned about Celtic’s ranking than his own. Bridges missed sitting two final school exams after following Celtic to Seville for the Uefa Cup Final in 2003. During their biggest game since then, when they humbled Barcelona 2-1 at home earlier this month, Bridges was performing a gig in Bournemouth.
“I was listening on the radio. It’s quite therapeutic listening to Barca, commentators just go Xavi, Iniesta, Xavi, Iniesta, Xavi, Iniesta. I think they record it on a loop in the morning. My mum and dad went along. I got them the tickets for their anniversary. I got them in the fancy seats.”
Even though the financial plight of Celtic’s arch rivals Rangers is the biggest joke in Scotland, Bridges’ gentle ribbing of his Old Firm foes sometimes divides his audience.
“A guy last night in Dundee stormed out of the show. As soon as I finished that joke he got up straight away, ‘You’re a wanker. I’ll be waiting on you,’ that’s what he said, ‘I’ll be waiting on you outside.'” He wasn’t. “You get a thick skin. I’ve done a gig in a prison before. A guy got up 10 minutes into my set and went back to his cell. That’s a heckle.”
Even if he’s moved from his parents’ council house in Clydebank to Glasgow’s ostentatious west end, he can rely on his childhood friends to prick his showbiz bubble.
“The neighbours complain that I’m turning the place into a student ghetto but none of ma pals have been to uni. That HMV photo, it is pretty mad and it’s your mates who say ‘fucking hell’ and send you pictures. My mate texted me a picture last night of him kidding on he was pissing up against it.”
Back on the corner of Buchanan Street, the blown-up Bridges seems to be deliberately avoiding eye contact with the statue of Scotland’s first First Minister, Donald Dewar, who stands across the street. It was Dewar who initiated the devolution process that could lead to an independent Scotland in 2014.
“If the referendum was tomorrow, I’d probably vote yes. We’ve had New Labour, never worked. The coalition’s clearly not working. There’s one Tory seat in Scotland. The Tory government, they’re good for comedy, but Scotland’s clearly a different country politically, and culturally as well. It’s the third option.”
He’s particularly exasperated by the government’s controversial unpaid work experience scheme. “How does it help your self-esteem working in a shop where everything’s worth a quid except you? Politicians don’t live in the real world. How do you build people’s self-esteem? They’re working in a shop, fucking pay them.”
It’s time for the signing. By now the line of people waiting with their DVDs weaves through the aisles and stretches into kidswear. “I’m benefiting from the recession,” he smiles. “There’s mass unemployment and people can come out on a Monday to see me.”
Kevin Bridges – The Story Continues is out now on DVD