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Nick Helm – All Killer

| Comedy, Music, Special Events | 28/02/2016

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By Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Nick Helm is everywhere right now and everywhere should be grateful.  A third run of the comedian’s hit BBC Three series Uncle has been commissioned.  The short film Elephant – which Helm directed, co-wrote and co-starred in with Esther Smith – was nominated for a BAFTA.  And his second studio album, Nick Helm Is F*cking Amazing, is released next month.

To celebrate the album launch, Helm is performing a show called All Killer Some Filler at the O2 Forum Kentish Town on 14 April 2016.  It will feature all of his musical hits and is billed as the “greatest live event ever attempted”.

What’s On London will be covering the show and reviewing the album that’s released on the same day.  In the build-up, Ian Cater met this multi-talented artist to discuss the roots of his success and what fans can hope for in the future.

The long and winding road

When I meet Nick Helm at a bar in Soho, I don’t know what to expect.  Although every comic creates an onstage persona, few are as confrontational as his.  And, although it’s an act, traces of Helm’s forceful creation creep into his other TV performances.  But the man I meet is intelligent, grounded, refreshingly honest and – at times – almost bashful about his recent accomplishments.

This stoicism partly stems from the winding route he’s taken to the top: writing and performing at the Edinburgh Festival for nearly 20 years, balancing the demands of being a comedian, actor, writer and musician, and having to contend at times with almost crippling pre-performance doubts.

Even when a list of his achievements is put to him, including the recent BAFTA nomination for Elephant, Helm’s take is measured: “I guess you plant a lot of acorns and see what happens.  And at the moment, things are paying off for stuff I did ages ago, so it’s great.  But ….”

Helm hides his hole.

Helm hides his hole.

The “but” trails off: a recognition that not everyone will like what he does, either musically or comedically, especially given the ballsy delivery that often accompanies it.

“All comedy’s fairly interactive in a way, but mine really relies on the audience going with it,” he acknowledges.

“They’ve got to be able to see that I’ve got writing on my hand and think ‘he’s done that deliberately’, rather than think I’m being unprofessional.  Because my whole act is meant to be unprofessional: that’s the joke.”  On the day we meet, this joke extends to a hole in the middle of his jumper, which he feigns not to have noticed.

Helm plays on the joke throughout his shows, coupling braggadocio with a pained vulnerability whenever the audience doesn’t do as he demands.  And this is part of the act: despite pre-match nerves, Helm feels at home as soon as the first joke leaves his lips.

All comedy’s fairly interactive … but mine really relies on the audience going with it

Those who first encountered Helm storming onto Russell Howard’s Good News in December 2010 find it hard to forget this staged unravelling.  Afterwards, Howard described it as “without doubt one of the funniest breakdown’s I’ve ever seen.”  This is Helm’s brilliance: convincing the audience that no matter how unnerved he makes them, the whole process is more traumatic for him.

This is why he can afford to call his new album Nick Helm Is F*cking Amazing.  And it’s clear that although he’s extremely proud of it, he’s at pains to manage expectations, joking that it may turn out to be a vanity project.  “I am quite aware that the person that gets the most out of me writing an album is me.  No one’s banging down my door going: ‘Can you do another album?’”

Heavy entertainment

That may be true.  But it’s extremely welcome following the success of his excellent 2013 album, Hot ‘n’ Heavy.

“With Hot ‘n’ Heavy, we tried to construct some sort of storyline,” he explains.  “Through the songs, it maps out the beginning and the end of a relationship, so one after the other they all make sense.”  The tracks also work extremely well in isolation, especially He Makes You Look Fat and Let’s Get Married, which viewers enjoyed on BBC Three’s Live at the Electric and Nick Helm’s Heavy Entertainment.

The latest album treads a different, more eclectic path.  Featuring some new tracks, many were written and performed a long time ago.  Although they didn’t fit the Hot ‘n’ Heavy narrative, Helm was reluctant to let them wither: “When you do an Edinburgh show, the moment it’s over it’s as if it doesn’t exist anymore.  So this was an excellent opportunity to go ‘These are good songs’ and give them a platform.”

And the style of the new album promises to be more varied, moving from Helm’s passion for heavy metal – Alice Cooper is his idol – towards knowing nods at The Beatles, Paul Simon and – enticingly – Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, with the latter role performed by comedian Rachel Parris.

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A great deal of thought goes into Helm’s work.

But Helm hasn’t abandoned his first love: Luke Morley – from hard rock band Thunder – agreed to play lead guitar on two tracks and Helm admits to being star struck.  “Before I met him, he was my hero.  And now he’s here supporting me.  It’s just amazing.”

Despite a reluctance to blow his own trumpet, Helm admits that he couldn’t be more pleased with how the end product sounds.  “They’re funny, but they’re not really comedy songs.  I think they’re musically authentic.  Some of them are funnier than others and some I doubt are funny at all.  That’s not the main goal.”

So, what is?  “Trying to identify an emotion that’s universal and write about it.  Because that’s what comedy is: other people identifying something that’s true.”

that’s what comedy is: other people identifying something that’s true

The man from Uncle

That truism also explains the success of Uncle, a very well-crafted sit-com featuring exaggerated but everyday characters most of us can relate to.  Helm plays the lead role, struggling musician Andy, flip-flopping between leading his nephew astray and unwittingly teaching him valuable life lessons.

The new series will appear on BBC Three, the first to be shown on the channel’s new Internet-only format.  And Helm admits to having mixed feelings about the move.  “I don’t think any kid grew up wanting to be an Internet star.  I think that the opportunities BBC Three has given me by being a TV channel … I don’t think I’d have had the career I’ve had without them.”

But he also sees the other side of the argument, contending that it won’t affect his viewing habits as he only watches iPlayer and Netflix.  “Someone was saying to me on Twitter the other day that it won’t be the same without Thursday night comedy.  I was like: well, just save all the comedy on iPlayer, watch it on Thursday nights and, in between shows, just go and make yourself a cup of tea.”

Standing-up for a reason

The filming schedule for Uncle means that Helm has to miss Edinburgh for only the third time since 1997.  “I’m disappointed about that.  The reason why we’re filming in the summer is because we can get the kid cheap,” he grumbles tongue-in-cheek, falling into his Andy character for a moment.hnh-press-04

However, more live shows are en route in the autumn.  “Some people don’t understand why you do it.  They think you just want your name in print, that it must just be an egotistical thing.

“But I think it comes from a theatrical perspective, from a place of writing.  I used to do Edinburgh when nobody came to see me, maybe three people.  And I still try to do it every year.”

Helm admits that stand-up provides him with something no other medium matches.  “It’s cathartic.  It is a form of therapy for a lot of people, me included.  And it’s a way of discussing things.  A lot of my stuff is about depression and mental health issues.  I think it’s a good thing to talk about and make fun of, because it opens up debate.”

Long may that therapy and debate continue.  In the meantime, Helm acknowledges that predicting his future is complex.

“I never thought I’d do a gig at The Forum.  I never thought I’d have an album.  I never thought I’d be on telly.  None of this is by design.  It’s sort of just me being open to possibilities and giving things a go.”

What’s On London wishes Nick Helm all the very best with his preparations for All Killer Some Filler.  Tickets are still available for the one-night show on 14 April 2016 at the O2 Forum Kentish Town: www.nick-helm.co.uk/all-killer-some-filler.

Stay tuned for our coverage of the show and the new album, Nick Helm Is F*cking Amazing.

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