Comedy's Fin-est: When Firebox Met Fin Taylor

Ellie Weston – 5th Nov 2019

Controversial comedian Fin Taylor is something of a rising star. Hot of the back of his tour, with regular appearances on The Mash Report and Live At The Apollo under his belt, you're going to be hearing a lot more about this guy next year.

We were lucky enough to catch a moment of his time to grill him on all things comedy, Christmas and his favourite chocolates. There was laughs. There was tears. There was moudly cheese and thrown pennies and comically bad jumpers and a 15 year old talking about wanking. Only kidding, there wasn't any tears.

The Comedy Ones:

Do you get bored of answering questions about your comedy career? Yes, but not from everyone - some people are quite interested in it and don’t know much about it. The main thing is you say you’re a comedian and they go “Oh! Prove it.” and you never get that with any other job. You say “I work for Firebox” and they wouldn’t be like “No you don’t.” That’s frustrating. But on the whole, I don’t mind.

We heard your first gig was when you were about 14 or 15. Talk us through that experience. I had a summer job as a groundsman at the private school that my mum worked at and I snuck off early and went to London to do this terrible gig in the back of a pub. It was predictably awful because I was 15 so I waited a few years until I was at uni to do it again. It was much better. I consider that my first gig, even though I had secretly tried it when I was 15.

What on earth did you talk about in that pub? It was just wanking I think. As someone who’s nearly 30 now, the idea of watching a 15 year old talk about wanking in a pub is just mad. They paid money to see that! But you talk about what you know and at 15 that was all I knew.

The gig at 19 must have gone well if you’re still doing it now! Oh yeah, it was better. I think it went well but if I were to watch it back, I’d probably be like "oh god...".

Were you nervous? Yeah, pretty nervous. But you get less nervous every time you do it. Now I feel nothing, I’m completely dead to all audience response. I’m a hollow shell.

When did you decide to do comedy full time? When I found out you could do it full time, that’s when I decided to try. I ignored all the career advice everyone else at uni had got - you had to sign up to ‘careers things’ at uni and I just didn’t. I thought "I've got enough money coming in for the first 2 months after leaving so I’ll do standup.” Then I was very poor very quickly. Our flat in Bristol only had a sofa, a plant and a tiny television in this huge living room. We lived like junkies. But eventually it was fine. I shouldn’t have gone full time when I did, but it worked out.

You’ve already come so far, being on the Mash Report, working with Comedy Central, touring… What’s your big dream? It was sort of Live At The Apollo, but now I’ve done that. There were a couple of months afterwards where I thought "I could just stop now" but then I started liking it again. Maybe doing more in America. It would be great to work with Netflix. Mostly I just want to keep writing better stand-up. The goal is the material. Although money is good. I'd like some more money. I’d like to be better and be paid better, but be better sounds better so let's go with that one.

How do you fire yourself up before a gig. Do you have any pre-gig rituals? No. I don’t really fire myself up. A good, solid toilet time normally takes place. That’s the adrenaline for you. Then it’s just trying to think of more jokes in the half hour before I go on. Very rarely do you find yourself constipated in stand-up.

I’ll remember that next time I’m constipated. Do a gig. It will tumble out.

Do you get a kick out of getting strong reactions from your audience? I would be lying if I said I didn’t find it funny. I like annoying people, because people take things far too seriously and it’s very fun to play with them. There’s a certain type of person who comes to mind when I’m writing a joke and I think “they’re going to hate this” but that’s a good thing.

There’s a certain type of person who comes to a show and if anything in the set interrupts their world view, they get really angry. They’ve got this built-in rage, they’re ready to go. It’s like seeing a bomb walk in and you’ve got a match. It’s funny to poke it and see what happens. People take everything too seriously these days. The whole point of comedy is everything is up for a bit of ribbing. So, I do like provoking reactions. I think they deserve it. If you’re that wound up about something and you’re in a comedic environment, I think you deserve to be poked a bit frankly. That’s the whole point of live comedy and stand-up, nobody’s taking anything seriously and you’re leaving everything at the door.

Do you ever worry that you’ve overstepped the mark? Oh yeah. I have previously and it’s bad. You have to write some gigs off as an experiment for yourself to see what works. If it misses the mark, you just say sorry to the audience and forget about it for the next one.

Have you ever had to actually formally apologise afterwards? I’ve never had to go back on, but during the gig I’ll just say "Sorry, shouldn't have said that, thought it would be funny but it wasn't, let's move on". I think most audiences respect that, actually. If they come to a preview gig, they know you're going to be trying out new material.

Is there any subject you won’t touch in your comedy? No. At least, I haven’t found one yet. Everything is funny until it happens to you, so I’m sure there will be something. But I honestly think the scariest things and the things that mess you up the most are the things that make the best comedy because it’s all about releasing tension. You build tension, pop it, and then people laugh. If the tension is bigger and the subject is scarier, it’s funnier when you pop it. As long as you’re not being entirely mean-spirited then I think it’s fine. The whole free speech “what can’t we say” debate is always an excuse from someone who’s not written a very good joke. If a joke is funny enough, you can say anything. If you have to justify a joke by leaning on a pillar of Western civilisation, then it was a terrible joke.

With a lack of nuance and middle ground these days, is it easier than ever to get a reaction out of audiences? Definitely. People just hear what they want to hear and react how they were planning to. Nuance has gone out of fashion but the funniest stuff comes from the grey areas. The ways we react to stuff in ways we don’t like; the thoughts we have that we feel we shouldn’t; they’re all part of being human, they’re all funny because we know we shouldn’t have them but we do. Exploring all that stuff is what stand-up is for because it’s safe and it’s funny. We’re not saying we really think these things, we’re pointing out ‘isn’t it terrible that we think these things’. Those shades of grey seem to have disappeared. If everyone was more chilled out then we wouldn’t have this huge outrage about certain comedians because when you actually listen to what they’re saying, they’re exploring these grey areas which is what it’s all about.

What’s the most brutal heckle you’ve ever received? It was during my fifth gig ever. You do any gig you’re offered when you’re that new because you just want to practice. I got asked to do a charity gig in a pub in Exeter and I was under the impression it was for Oxfam. But when I got there I realised Oxfam had just taken over this old man boozer and put a gig on in the corner against the peoples’ will. They were charging all these guys entry for this, for something they didn’t want. So, I started talking and it was just terrible. People were ignoring me. Then I asked them if they wanted to make a donation as it was a charity gig, at which point they started throwing coins at me. I was like “please don’t donate to my face, there’s a bucket by the bar.” Coins is the most brutal heckle I’ve ever had. It was painful. This is one of the advantages of living in a cashless society.

The Christmas Ones:

What is your earliest Christmas memory? I am 5 years old, I have chicken pox and I have been given a remote control tank. The tank breaks quite quickly. I drive it into a wall, the turret bends and I cry. That’s all I’ve got. That moment repeats inside my head like a gif.

That could quite possibly be the answer to this next question as well, but how old were you when you stopped believing in Father Christmas and what made you realise it was all a lie? I think I was about 8 or 9 when I started to smell a rat. I was the eldest so I was the first to break that ceiling. I had my suspicions that maybe Father Christmas was actually mum or dad when I asked for a massive teddy bear, like the ones you get at a fairground. My parents wouldn’t get me one because they were like “we have class”, but then I got one for Christmas and said “Ah, Santa got me one!” and they looked far too smug.

As soon as I found out, I was very dismissive of the idea. I ruined my sister’s childhood immediately. She was 4 and I was like “you f*cking idiot, why do you still believe in that nonsense?! Open your eyes, Lucy!” It was mum and dad all along. Jesus isn’t real. Bush did 9/11. Wake up.”

Apart from spoiling your sister’s day, what does Christmas in the Taylor household look like? We always went to my granddad’s house. We have smoked salmon at 10 AM with champagne. My sister normally drinks too much and ends up on the floor by 11. Then there’s cooking the food, eating at 2. Watch the Queen and my uncle swearing at the Queen. Go on a walk. Come back. Presents. Pudding. Cheeseboard. And then it’s just getting everything you can in one mouthful. Pigs in blankets, bit of brie, brandy butter, stuffing, blue cheese and gravy. That combination makes Christmas for me, all in one mouthful.

So, you open your Christmas presents after you’ve had the meal? This is a real point of debate in the Firebox office. I quite like stretching it out. We always had stockings, which contained a squashed orange, a selection box and some Lynx when we woke up, but the presents didn’t move from under the tree until after the walk. My mum is Scottish and she has a very Presbytarian work ethic. It was always the walk before the presents. You don’t get reward without work. But this year I’m spending Christmas with my in-laws and I don’t know what they’re going to do. I’m not going to open my presents until 5.

Secret Santa - love it or hate it? Being unemployed, it’s a bleak day. I’ve never really done it. If I had to do it now, I’d probably hate it.

How do you feel about cash gifts? Absolutely fine. If you know your own limitations, just be honest and give cash. This is a coded message to my aunt: I don’t want another book about WWII.

What’s the best reaction you’ve ever had to a gift you’ve given? Me and my sister went through a phase of giving each other stupid Christmas jumpers. It was like a game, we tried to one-up each other every year. In a charity shop in Brighton, I found a jumper that was designed by a children’s hospice and it said ‘St. Margaret’s Children’s Hospice: Let It Snow Miracles’ with a sad snowman on it. It was really depressing. I gave it to her and she said “Okay, we can’t do this anymore. The game is over.”

Do you like surprises or would you rather know what to expect from a gift? I like surprises but I’m very bad at looking surprised. It’s stressful to convey an emotion you’re bad at to make sure you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

You must have loved that photoshoot we just did then. Yeah, that was tough.

What was the weirdest or worst present you’ve ever been given? Everything my aunt has ever given me is flashing up before my eyes. I’d probably have to go with a book of famous speeches. I still haven’t opened it. How many speeches do you need to know? I have a dream, done. That’s the only one.

Either that, or the time my sister did a year abroad living in France and she brought back some cheese. But she brought it back in a canvas bag on the Eurostar and didn’t think about refrigerating it at any point. The smell hit me through the wrapping paper. She told me it was really good cheese, the worse it smells the better it is. We had to eat it straight away because it was a state.

Give us a tip on how to react to an absolutely dreadful gift? Go straight for the hug so you don’t have to look them in the eyes. “Come here!” you say. Let it all out in your face over their shoulder and keep them in your arms until you’ve gotten over the shock.

This is the most important question in the entire interview. Choose wisely because there is a lot of capacity to offend people here. Which of the big top 4 chocolate boxes (Celebrations, Quality Street, Heroes and Roses) is your favourite and why? It’s either Roses or Quality Street.

[Our cameraman shakes his head at this]

You can f*ck off. It’s probably Quality Street. Roses feels Brexit-y, I don’t know why. It’s just got a bit of a 1971 “good old days” feel to it.

Cameraman: the correct answer is Celebrations.

Celebrations is what you give to kids before they’re grown up enough to appreciate Quality Street. You get it from WH Smiths when somebody you don’t care about is leaving the office. It’s a panic buy. That said, the Malteser one you get in Celebrations is good.

What’s your favourite Quality Street chocolate? I like the gold fudge bar. Is it called a fudge finger?

Least favourite? The strawberry one. It’s too sickly sweet. I like the rest though. I like the green one - is that coconut? No, that’s the blue one, green is just chocolate. God, I love Quality Street.

I think we’ve found our headline. So, final question. What does 2020 hold for Fin Taylor? I will be married. Hopefully. I will be taking a new show to the Edinburgh festival in August and touring it. Maybe some forays to America. I imagine that will happen unless I get cancelled.

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Still craving more Fin? Don't worry, there's plenty more where that sparkling wit came from. Check out his Twitter and website to find out when his new tour kicks off.