There are very few comedy ‘experiences’ that stay with you for decades. Pretty much in perfect focus. You will see, in the world of stand up, the anodyne but fine, the recreationally upset, the professional bandwagon jumpers, the clones, the many who labour under the delusion that they are in some way fascinating, the many more who fail to realise that in order to make comedy out of life, you first have to get a life and sometimes you will see the good, occasionally the very good and, if you hang on in there, even the great. And you will remember some of it.
However, when you are lucky enough to hear a truly unique comedy voice, you remember it. All of it. Always.
I first saw Wil Hodgson in Edinburgh in 2004.
It was a good Fringe for innovative comedy stuff that wasn’t just stand up. We got Gamarjobat and Jackson’s Way. Reg D Hunter was so cool and so clever and he could call his extraordinary hour “A Mystery Wrapped in a Nigga” and not get cancelled. Half of the better-known stand ups in Edinburgh were rubbing shoulders with Hollywood in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at Assembly.
And down in Holyrood Road, in the Tavern, I felt the comedy earth move.
Yes, Reg was brave and black and mind-changing, and Mark Thomas was brave and Socialist and world-saving, and Phil Nichol regularly got his kit off as his Big Finish …
But no one I had ever seen felt like they were taking half the risks on a comedy stage that this slightly awkward, cuddly, quietly spoken young man with a pink mohican, matching nail polish and a supporting cast of My Little Ponies and Care Bears did.
He won Best Newcomer.
This is Wil Hodgson…
I didn’t really know anything about stand up before I did my first open spot. I’d only been to a comedy club once with my Dad on holiday in America and I didn’t really watch a lot of it on telly either. So I didn’t really know what it was going to be like. I knew a bit about “alternative comedy” and that there was a vague connection to Punk at its inception, but I soon discovered that those days were long gone and that the post-Loaded/ New Lad thing was dominant.
I spent like two years trying to figure out what kind of comic I wanted to be once I’d figured out what it was all about. I didn’t start going down the more personal route until I was a couple of years in. I was much more about nostalgic references early on. When I decided to just be myself, or at least a version of myself, it meant dying on my arse in a lot of the clubs.
You had (and have) a unique voice, untrammelled by current trends and no-nos, unhindered by any fears of taking the Cool Lad’s Club of Stand Up Comedy into your world of Care Bears and My Little Pony. Not even in that first Edinburgh. Was this a calculated risk ?
No I just saw it as a run of gigs. I never thought for one minute it would get reviewed or noticed because no one knew who I was. I was doing it to get experience as a performer and to learn the discipline of writing an hour show. I still think that should be every comic’s goal for taking a show up Money wise it was definitely a risk, though. My mum loaned me the money to do that first show.
It was also his mum who was the impetus for the next big change in his career. And I like that in a comedy renegade.
So for anyone out there still wondering where Wil Hodgson went …
I stepped away for a bit to take over my Mum’s salon with my wife and it took the best part of 5 years to get it properly up and running. I never fully stopped gigging but did it very seldom, and even more seldom outside of the South West. I thought that barbering would be a good way to free me up financially to only have to do gigs I want to do and it’s done that . The thing I love though is the people. When you’re a barber you’re kind of part hair cutter, part Rabbi and part head shrinker and your clients will tell you things they wouldn’t tell anyone else. My theory is that it’s cos they have their back to you. Everything stays in the chair like the confession box or whatever but you learn a lot about people and that’s important when you’re a writer. You’d never repeat the things you hear but you learn how to connect with strangers and that helps you as a comic.
And now he is back. Not in a Gloria Gaynor way, but, I did have to ask … why now ?
I’m running out of circuit stories to tell my regulars so it’s time to try and make some more. Seriously though I just miss it and I think it has to be part of my life. The barbering does too. I think barbering without comedy or vice versa wouldn’t make me happy, but both together does.
I haven’t really been on the circuit for ages now so I don’t really know what goes on but the new acts I see when they do my club are usually great so the South West circuit at least seems in good health. I think the “woke” vs “anti-woke” culture war thing is just a rehash of PC vs Non-PC from years ago. I doubt it comes into things much on the working circuit which was always pretty apolitical as I remember it. It might be different now, but I wouldn’t know unless I got back on it.
I never EVER imagined you were anything but you. I still feel iffy about assigning you a label. Even if that label is non-binary. I always think of you as someone outside of any label.
Does it make a big difference now that all “in betweenies” (how I always saw myself and I liked it that way) have got their own names and ‘pride’ and international visibility days?
I’ve found it very helpful to have the new language to easily articulate what I’ve always felt like I was since I was a teenager. It saves having long heavy conversations when you meet people in pubs etc. It’s also good in a small town like Chippenham that we have things like queer visibility days so that we know each other and can look out for each other. It would have made my childhood easier.
I feel like I’ve always done a certain degree of material about being gender fluid/nonbinary just without using those specific terms so I’ll not be doing anything different to what I’ve already been doing really.
And Edinburgh ??
It’s a boring answer but I just feel like I’m in a position to be able to shut shop for a week. In August without it wrecking everything. That and I haven’t eaten a Palmyra kebab for like four years.
Now, just when you thought that a non-binary, Chippenham-based, punk, Care Bear loving barber with a background in wrestling and award winning stand up comedy was quite enough of a creative chimera to be going on with, Wil has now taken to creating, writing and drawing his own ‘zine.
Not since Jerry Sadowitz has a comic poured such passion into pen and ink and paper to such glorious effect.
For Sadowitz, the passion was close up magic.
For Wil it is close up and more ‘personal’.
And the result is Bawdy.
TRIGGER WARNING : if your idea of female perfection involves anything close to a Kardashian, look away now.
Actually, don’t look away. Read on. And enjoy.
So … the ‘zine ?
Bawdy is a comic company I run from my kitchen table at home. It’s a body positive, queer friendly, sex positive company and it produces comics such as Bawdy itself,The Chub Rub Club, Fanny, Tickle on the Tuffet and Bawbag. The vast majority of the drawing is by me but the second issue of Bawdy featured submissions from other artists such as my friend Annalisa Orlando. I draw mostly with pencil crayon and fine liner and they’re pasted together and photocopied by hand.
It started with me drawing in lockdown 2 at my kitchen table.
I have vestibular issues and the only thing that makes them go away is concentrating on something. I’d not really done drawing since I was a kid but I thought that it would be a good thing to do that involved concentrating, so I decided to learn how to draw pin up tattoo flash and then I started to do pin ups that had stretch marks, body hair etc and then it kind of evolved into drawing nudes. By the end of lockdown 3, I had a massive pile of drawings and I decided to do a cut and paste 77 punk style zine/ comic.
The Bawdy title is from a planned collaboration from a few years back with a model friend of mine where we were going to start a kind of “porn for nice people” company.
It’s partly from a love of erotica but also from a part of me that feels that erotica and porn should be fun again and make people feel happy as well as aroused. I want to combine that kind of childhood joy of comics with the adult joy of erotica if that makes sense. It’s designed to be escapist and joyful and yeah it’s a definite labour of love thing. Probably the purest labour of love project I’ve ever done.
And a form of art / comedy on subjects and in ways that are not really open to you in stand up?
It’s definitely a way of expressing stuff I couldn’t articulate in a stand up set.
Will you keep it hand drawn always ?
Absolutely. The analogue nature is a huge part of it.
Feel free to withold the names but … are the ladies based on anyone?
Some are. The character of Penelope 69th Earl of Peggington for example is based on an upper crust libertine lesbian whom my mum used to do the hair of. They had a similar aesthetic to Penelope with the short hair, tweed suits monocle etc and had legendary parties at their manor. Colin King of Cunnilingus is a fairly obvious Buster Bloodvessel homage and Benny the cat who wanders through the pages of some of the comics is meant to be my Grandad’s blue Persian he had when I was little.
It is, in its own way ‘good clean fun’ …or not ?
“Wholesome smut” is the tag line I use. “Porn that’s good for you “is another. It’s designed to be a thing that you enjoy on a sexual level and a geeky collecting level. I used to browse those shops in Soho where they had fetish stuff like Janus downstairs and books about trains upstairs. I figured that the same people were buying both and that was what got me thinking years ago about “quaint core” porn. That kind of “warm bath” thing. This project does that I’d like to think. I grew up with the Carry Ons and Cleo Roccos and all that kind of thing. Saucy books and comics from car boots and charity shops when I was a geeky kid. It all shapes you I think and stays with you.
So the zine is drawn from your head ? Your heart ? Your…
If I didn’t find it sexy it wouldn’t be fun to draw. I genuinely enjoy the process of making the zines too. I used to make my own comics as a kid and it’s that same buzz I got back then. But people actually buy them now so it’s like a childhood dream fulfilment.
This is unexplored territory, isn’t it? Even the voluptuous fun-bundles of yesteryear were not sporting tats and visible hair of a sexual nature …
It’s definitely a cross between sauce and punk. Kind of like how old school burlesque was filtered through goth and Psychobilly when it was revived I suppose.
I love all of them but the Chub Rub Club and Caroline in particular are the ones I’m most proud of. Caroline is a kind of skinhead non-binary version of Duane Bryers’ Hilda and they were also intended as an embodiment of Southgate’s England and that progressive patriotism thing. Caroline is kind of my Mickey Mouse in a way I guess. The kind of figurehead of the whole thing.
And, Edinburgh notwithstanding … plans for the future?
More comics, more comics and more comics. Prints, t shirts, stickers etc. I’ve still not ruled out the possibility of live action porn stuff in the same vein and with the same ethic too. Basically, I want to see how far I can take this thing.
Book tickets to see Wil here.