Brian Limond has been social distancing since long before the government told him to. The Glasgow comedian, better known to most as Limmy, has built a career from spinning moments of fleeting thought encountered while walking, cycling, or spending time alone in his home, into Bafta-winning comedy TV shows, cult podcasts and short yarns in bestselling books.
Yet, unlike the rest of us, he’s not desperate to spring back into a fuller life once lockdown is over. He is speaking to The Big Issue from his home in Glasgow, where most of his current BBC series, Limmy’s Homemade Show, was conceived. And filmed. And directed. And edited. “But I’m OK with that,” he says.
While lockdown has seen millions of others from across the country attempt to stave off cabin fever by getting creative with homemade videos and adapt to live streaming video conversations between multiple groups of friends and family, it’s business as usual for Limmy. He’s been streaming live to tens of thousands of followers for years, numbers sufficient that he can make a living through subscription services like Patreon and gaming with others on Twitch.
Limmy’s comedy springs from lives coloured by addiction, mental illness, struggles against the class system, and, well, interactive adventure gameshows.
His sketches originally took flight as podcasts. BBC Scotland commissioners paid attention, critics too, and the resulting TV series took two Scottish Baftas.
A live stage version followed, as did three books, each one accompanied by tours. By anyone’s measure, it’s the definition of success.
Yet looking back, Limmy says the pressure almost drove him into a place of no return, a road he’s taken a long look down many times in the past.
In the 10 years since first interviewing the father of one, we’ve talked many times about his alcohol addiction and sobriety, his suicidal episodes, mental health crises, recovery and stability. His 2019 autobiography Surprisingly Down to Earth, and Very Funny, offers breathtakingly candid insights on all that and more. Sexuality and criminality are laid bare with admirable candour.
Any time I was writing I was borderline suicidal. It was pressure, deadlines
“This might sound daft and privileged, but doing this streaming stuff on Twitch is one of the best things that’s happened for my mental health,” he says.
“I hated having a job when I worked for a web company, doing things on time or getting sacked and having no money. Everybody hates that. When I started my own company I thought that would be a breeze but it wasn’t, it was stressful.
“Then the comedy stuff – any time I was writing I was borderline suicidal, arguing with Lynn [his partner], going into my own wee bubble with the pressure of having to write the show.
“There was a period when I wouldn’t listen to anything being said to me. That would cause friction between me and Lynn and that would make it hard to be happy writing, and one thing just led to another.
“I kept drifting into this suicidal sort of way that I hardly do any more at all. I’d be like, ‘Fuck it, I’m going in the Clyde.’ It was pressure, deadlines. You get up in the morning and you don’t know how to do your job for the week. Bricklaying or plumbing might be hard jobs, but at least you know what you’re doing.”
In 2016, a survey of the Scottish Twitterati revealed Limmy to be one of the most influential writers north of the border, second only to JK Rowling. He’s been in trouble online (his tweets about Margaret Thatcher’s death saw him issue a public apology) and praised for his honest account of medication for mental ill-health.
I don’t have hunger to do it, I have hunger to be happy, to be stress-free
Now things have come full circle, he sees others from his world responding to the coronavirus pandemic by following his example.
“I’ve always been into streaming, I got into it a year and a half ago professionally and I can do it full time because people can chuck you money. I’m lucky. A lot of comedians and entertainers are trying to get in on that because they’ll have no income for the next who knows how long. They relied on it and now it isn’t there. I hope they all manage to get into it. Even if this goes away it might come back if everybody goes out and starts mixing. I can just imagine it kicking off again.”
Limmy doesn’t completely rule out a future one-off TV specials (his 2013 Christmas one was a cracker) and might yet be persuaded to do more when he’s sitting around the house.
Like the rest of us.
“I’ve left it all behind. No writing, no filming, just streaming. Lynn said she thinks it’s sad, it’s a waste of my creativity, but every time it has stressed me out.
“I’ve done three books and 20 episodes of Limmy’s Show! That’s alright. And I love what I’m doing now.
“Maybe if I hadn’t been on the telly, I’d have that feeling that I wanted to do it. But I don’t have hunger to do it, I have hunger to be happy, to be stress-free.
“It’s all I ever did when I was a boy, sitting on my computer playing games. So it’s magic to come full circle.”
Limmy’s Homemade Show is on BBC iPlayer. Catch series two and three of Limmy’s Show! on Netflix
Interview: Paul English @PaulEnglishhack