A love of musical theatre has put comic Phill Jupitus onto a new career path, writes Diane Parkes.
Monty Python was a Friday night ritual in the home of Phill Jupitus when he was growing up – so it is no surprise that he was keen to take up an offer to be in the musical Spamalot.
Written by Eric Idle and John du Prez, the show is based on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And Phill, who plays King Arthur, admits it takes him back down memory lane.
“I think they repeated Monty Python on a Friday night. They realised that if they put adult comedy on a Friday night they had big audiences because of everyone coming back from the pub. We were a BBC2 family and I used to watch it with my old man.
“I remember when the film of the Holy Grail came out and Graham Chapman was Arthur and I saw him being interviewed and he was leaning up against a Land Rover smoking a pipe. So I have rescued the pipe for this show.
‘‘They were all a bit surprised when I said I wanted to do Arthur with a pipe but one of the good things about this show is there is room to improvise. I think you inevitably put your own stamp on it.”
Although Jupitus is arguably best known because of his regular slots on quiz shows such as Never Mind the Buzzcocks and QI, his entertainment career began on the stage as a performance poet, playing colleges and supporting singers including Billy Bragg and The Housemartins.
Expanding his career to take in stand-up comedy, television and radio presenting, writing, and music, in 2009 Jupitus was offered the role of Edna Turnblad in the West End show Hairspray.
“I didn’t go looking for musicals; they came looking for me and that is something I am eternally grateful for,” he says.
“Before I was in Hairspray I thought musicals were just things your auntie went to. But now I have been in them I have realised they are the best value that theatre can provide.
‘‘You go and see a band and pay all that money for four blokes and their instruments but you pay to see a musical and you are paying for 50 people.”
And it is a new direction he would like to do more of.
“I have always had a very loose idea of career, well it isn’t really career at all,” he says. “I have always tended to be reactive rather than proactive and that has worked well for me. But I would like to do more musicals.
‘‘I have always hankered after Guys and Dolls. There have been discussions about doing musicals at various times but very often it hasn’t come off because I have been busy doing something else.”
Despite having sung with bands, including Ian Dury’s Blockheads, Jupitus underwent voice training when he stepped into the arena of musicals.
“It is a very different way of singing,” he says.
“People think singing is just doing karaoke or singing in a band but having a voice for musicals does need something different. You need to work at it.
“Maureen Scott, who did my singing training, said I had the right frame and the right throat for opera. She said if I left off comedy for a couple of years and went to a music academy I could do it. But then opera is fat blokes. I could have ended up on the Go Compare advert!”
Despite his penchant for trying something new, Jupitus puts his foot down at celebrity talent competitions.
“I am always being asked to do them but I always say no,” he says. “It is just lazy TV. Just putting a camera in front of a few people is lazy and it is cheap. That money would be better spent on properly made quality documentaries.
‘‘Too many documentaries these days are just archive and a few interviews. We need some real journalism on television.’’
Jupitus had his own stab at documentary making in the past.
“I did make a documentary on concept cars. I went to Detroit and saw how the cars were made and I went to the General Motors show. But they didn’t ask me to make any more so I can’t have been very good at it.”
But that is not to say he would not like to have a go at more.
“There was a series recently looking at art. It would look at a painting each week and really look at it in detail,” he says. “It was just brilliant and you learnt so much from watching it. I would love to do something like that.”
* Spamalot, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, Apr 25-30, tickets: 01902 429212, www.grandtheatre.co.uk