Part one can be found here.
“If I was a horse and I had to be killed, I’d want to be a burger.” After we were done recording, I tell Nick that I have no filter when it comes to speaking my thoughts – before repeating something I had said to my husband a few days earlier. Nick frowns slightly. “A burger?”
“Yeah, because people eat horse. Y’know, remember the horsemeat scandal years back?”
“Oh yeah,” he looks away wistfully for a moment before speaking, “I’d want to be glue.”
“Because I could fix things. Broken mug? You know, with a broken handle? I could fix it.”
“Yeah, but horsemeat is good for you.” I’m aware of the fact that Nick is staring at me blankly, but I’ve started this descent into nonsense. “I mean, it’s better for you than cow, it’s lean, it’s good for you!”
“Yeah but you’d get shat out. Like, a white supremacist might shit you out.”
“Well, a teenager might sniff you to get high if you were glue.”
“Ah, yeah,” he nods. We moved onto another topic of conversation after that, but when I was on the train home it hit me that I’d just argued the uses for dead horse with Nick Helm.
I’ve already told him I’m willing to collaborate. I accept payment in Diet Coke, anyway.
We carry on talking, and I reminisce about the gig in Harrogate where – as he usually does – Nick pulled a hapless looking bloke on stage and serenaded him. “My husband was grateful you didn’t pick him,” I laughed, “The guy you picked looked like he wanted to die…” He sighs.
“In the ten years I’ve been doing that bit, no-one has ever reacted like that,” he looks admittedly downhearted as he speaks, “It was definitely the wrong person to pick out of the audience, and the rest of them were like ‘Stop picking on him’ but I literally wasn’t picking on him? I just asked him to sit on a chair and he acted like it was the end of the world.” Yes, Nick’s act can be seen as a little over-the-top to some, but he loathes bullies, and hates being even associated with such a thing.
“I strip down in my shows, I’ve been in my pants, I take my shirt off – there’s only one person getting humiliated up on that stage and that’s me,” he tells me definitively, “It’s me who’s embarrassing myself, it’s me making a show of myself and if you don’t get that then what I do isn’t for you. My persona onstage is a broken, sad, deeply flawed man – he’s not a bully, just struggling to carry on, really. It’s cathartic for everyone involved.”
“And that’s why your fans like it,” I say to him, “It’s like a car crash in slow motion, but I think we have the sense of humour to find that funny.”
We then talk about his BBC3 show Heavy Entertainment, a mix of live comedy, backstage drama, poems and songs that definitely showcases Nick’s many talents. (And yes, he takes his clothes off in it.) “We tried to layer it all so it wasn’t just one thing, and I think the first episode is a very gentle episode, quite a sad episode… but it’s just meant to be fun. It all comes from a theatrical place rather than stand-up, because theatre is what I know. It’s a variety show, and I like being able to just do what I want to do – when you’re being creative, most of the time you feel like you need the permission to create, but when you stop asking if you can do it and just take off the lid you give yourself more possibilities and opportunities.”
“I do songs and I’m in Uncle, but that isn’t me – that’s a performance. If I was anything like my character in Uncle, I wouldn’t be an uncle! I’d be on my sofa, stoned, eating pizza,” he’s referring to his role as Andy in the hit BBC3 comedy of course, “People say ‘You’re just like your character!’ and I say I’m not at all.” We then move onto the topic of the BAFTA-nominated short film Elephant which he wrote with co-star Esther Smith and directed himself. “The character in Elephant? That’s me, that’s my personality and my sense of humour. It evolved from a year of my life in 2005, which was a terrible year – and actually if wasn’t for that year, I wouldn’t have started doing stand-up.”
“Is that why Elephant is so important to you?” I asked him, thinking about the amount of times I had seen Nick promote the short on Twitter, “I mean, it was nominated for a BAFTA!”
“It was nominated for a BAFTA,” Nick says without a shred of cockiness in his voice, “Elephant was one idea out of five that I was pitching to BBC, and the one that everyone really liked was the romantic comedy. I was turned off by the amount of negativity on TV – the way I see a lot of sitcoms is cunts being cunts to other cunts – and it is just relentlessly negative. There’s not enough of people who just like each other. And I had a girlfriend, and we really liked each other.”
“We used to hang out all the time, we’d talk all the time, we got on really well and it was just two people who liked each other. I didn’t see much of that on TV, so I wanted to do something with two people who were nice to each other.” He’s not wrong. TV has become a cesspool of people just being rotten to each other. Or reality shows. Nick continues, “We made this film a year ago, I pitched it as a series but we made the short and moved on, but we’re still obsessed with it! We’ve tried to build and expand on it further. I mean, it’s based on that year but the film is just a slice. And when the BAFTA nomination came about, it was a real surprise. Yeah, Elephant is important to me, because I didn’t know what to do after university, I’d already suffered from a lot of depression – and I got lost.”
“I wasn’t an overachiever, I was very creative and I liked making stuff,” he tells me and I nod, knowing the feeling well myself, “I was the first in my school to get 100% in drama… and then next year they were just handing them out! And then at uni I got a first without really working for it – I thought I’d scrape maybe a 2:1, but then I got into the real world and I was like, ‘Fuck.’ I’ve got a first at university in a useless degree that won’t get me a job, I did really well at school but who gives a shit about that, you’re out in the real world and you’re drowning.” Nick tells me that his song Don’t Want To Work in Admin came from that harsh realisation. “When I did finally get a job in admin, I was on £205 a week and I couldn’t understand how anyone could survive on that.” Working 9 til 5 in the weekdays gave Nick the money to perform in the evenings, which gave him the creative outlet he needed to keep surviving. “It made me realise what I’d been missing, what I needed. It’s a mix of a little bit of talent, a LOT of hard work, and luck. It’s about being in right place at the right time and writing the right stuff to go from there.”
“It’s funny actually when you talk about doing well at school, doing well at uni and then stepping out into the real world,” I say to him, “Because I was kinda the same. Teachers would say, ‘Oh she doesn’t do her work but she wings it’ – which I totally did – but then I lost my dad just before my GCSEs, and it is amazing just how fast people will drop you when they know you’re doomed to fail.”
“Really?” He looks genuinely a little saddened by what I’d just said.
“Yeah, I was supposed to get As and Bs and I actually got a few Bs, mostly Cs and a couple of Ds – which actually, considering I lost my dad two weeks before I started is pretty fucking good,” I shrug, “Then I went to college and scraped by, then went to uni and ended up dropping out after three months. Went onto a different uni, dropped out after two years… and when I start my degree next year, it’ll be my third shot at uni. A lot of stuff has held me back. People too.”
“But it’s in your power to not let that affect you,” Nick says to me, “I deal with it just by being honest with people. I won’t avoid a situation because of someone who has been negative to me, if anything I’ll try to fix it – if it’s a broken relationship or friendship then at least you tried. You don’t need that negativity in your life, sometimes you either try to forgive or just draw a line in the sand and move on for your own sake. But it’s easier to give advice than accept it, right?” We talk a bit more about how weird people can be, especially how bumping into one person can bring back a whole load of bad memories and just completely ruin your day, making you never want to leave the house again. “It’s important to leave the house, not just physically but metaphorically as well. A lot of what I’m writing about at the moment is about that year when I was drifting, floundering, and I never left the house. I’d just drink a lot and I used to stay in and hide.” It was thanks to a lovably rambunctious best friend of his, who was always so positive and full of light with an adventure seemingly available everyday to her that made Nick realise that he had the desire to be creative and make things and yet, he was hiding himself away from the world.
“If you can find the strength to just be brave and step outside,” he says sincerely, “Good things can happen to you, positive things can happen. It’s not a cure, it’s just a start.” He is very enthusiastic about how thinking differently can bring good things to life. “I don’t get people who throw abuse at things they don’t like, or they don’t find something funny. When I didn’t find something funny, I would write something that I did find funny, because that was actually going to make a difference to me. My success doesn’t take away from your success, so I can go away and do whatever I want to do and that shouldn’t affect you.”
“A friend of mine who moved to Canada gave me some advice once. He said that he could have two identical pieces of paper both with lines drawn on them. He has one, I have one, and he wants to make his line longer. Now, he could take my paper and tear it up so he has the longest line – or, he can draw his line longer and leave me be. Basically, do you want to be better than people because you’re bullying them? Or do you want to live your life pushing yourself further and going as high as you can go? And that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to tear anyone down, I just want to be successful for what I do.”
At this point, I feel like I’m learning more from Nick Helm than I had from any other adult in recent years. “The whole reason I got into writing and talking about mental health, and the reason I want to study psychology came from a really bad experience with a psychologist,” I tell him, “I was struggling not long after my BPD diagnosis – I wasn’t leaving my house, I was paranoid and upset, worried that people thought I was a freak. So I sat in this guy’s office and he said, ‘You’re wallowing, you’re feeling sorry for yourself, you’re going to be like this forever unless you buck up’ and showed no sympathy to me, then he got up and walked out. And there I was in fucking tears. I left the building and the first thing I wanted to do was jump straight in front of a car. Because he basically just said that my existence was worthless.”
“God,” Nick looks shocked.
“But I didn’t. I went home, got drunk on a lot of rum – which wasn’t clever…”
“Why rum?” Nick sniggers.
“I like rum! And it was either that or WKD, and I’m not 13-”
“It is delicious,” I agree as he laughs loudly, “So I got drunk and went to bed, and when I woke up I thought, ‘Who the fuck does he think he is? I know I can be better than what he said!’ I’ve been through so much shit in my life and I want to put it to good use. I want to help people. And I have a dark sense of humour, and not much of a filter on what I say, so that’s where my blog comes from. It’s better to do that with all the stuff I’ve been through, otherwise I might as well just lie down and die.”
“And that’s my attitude to it as well when it comes to writing,” he nods, “I went through an awful break-up, probably the worst one I’d been through, and I wrote a play out of it. If you can’t pull something positive for you out of that negative period, then it’s just a waste of your life. Part of dealing with depression is realising you’re going to have good days and bad days, and you just have to think about what you’re going to get out of it all.” He tells me that when he wrote a song that he released called I’m So Depressed last Christmas, he was worried that he was going to upset people with the chorus ‘I’m so depressed/I want to kill myself’. I loved it, if anyone’s wondering. “The biggest compliment was having people who have suffered from depression telling me how much they loved it! I think everyone on earth has had the thought of wanting to kill themselves at least once in their lives, and all that song did was acknowledge that the thought exists and that it’s okay. They have those thoughts, I have those thoughts, you have those thoughts, and it starts the conversation and fights the stigma. People who are suicidal don’t talk about their feelings because it’s treated like a dirty secret, so they feel worse, they become isolated and they kill themselves, and die alone all because people can’t just be adults and talk about how they really feel.”
“I still get negative feelings,” he says honestly, “I used to get overwhelmed and I still get overwhelmed. I get overwhelmed by trousers.”
“I got overwhelmed over a biscuit once,” I didn’t even think about what I was saying.
“I mean… was it a pretty big biscuit?”
“I stood at the cupboard and there was supposed to be a biscuit left, but my husband had eaten it – and I’d waited to eat it and then it wasn’t there…” Nick’s head is down on the table as he mock-cries and laughs at the same time, “I know, it was devastating for me. I still think about that biscuit sometimes…”
I’m an adult. Remember that.
As our time draws to a close, I ask Nick if he’s got anything special planned for his big gig All Killer, Some Filler at the O2 Forum in Kentish Town, London on April 14th.”Well yeah – am I allowed to plug it? Can I plug it?” I tell him he can, “Great! Well, yeah of course I’ve got some special stuff planned, but if I told you it would spoil the surprise. Everyone should come and see it. Are you coming? Everyone should come. It’s gonna be awesome.” I turn off the recorder and after some amusing confusion, Nick’s next interviewer starts setting up for their session – not before he takes some pictures of me and Nick. It probably came across as cheeky, but this is me we’re talking about. Just before I leave, Nick tells me a little bit about how Soho has developed over the years and how his favourite Chinese restaurant is only just down the road in Chinatown.
“That’s weird, the gay quarter is right next to Chinatown in Birmingham too,” I muse.
“Really? Well I mean, they’re both smaller communities on the edge of town but… right next to each other you say?”
“Yeah. I think we’ve just uncovered a conspiracy.”
“I think we have.”
After we’ve had some photos taken and he’s done hugging and smooching me, we say goodbye and I head off to wander round the big city. Naturally, the huge crowds scare the shit out of me and I just make my way back to the station early. Gotta love BPD and anxiety eh?
A supermassive thank you to Nick for taking the time to chat with me, as well as his lovely PR Amanda for helping set up the meeting (and making sure I found my way safely!) and another thank you to Katya who does other things besides stuff for Nick Helm and is also a Chris Pratt fan.
SEE YOU ALL IN LONDON!
NICK HELM IS FUCKING AMAZING! No, that’s his album title. Seriously! Go buy it.
Elephant is beautiful. Watch it here.
It’s not too late to see this gig! See Nick in his upcoming show All Killer, Some Filler in London on April 14th! Buy tickets here.
Nick’s Hot N’ Heavy album is played a lot in my house. Buy it here.
Also, buy Nick Helm’s Heavy Entertainment, because there’s a fuckload of content on there that wasn’t shown on TV! Get it on Amazon.