5 Minutes With Pierre Novellie
Grandaddy TOBY PARKER-REES makes a grand return in order to cross blades with renowned comedian Pierre Novellie about his new show Nonsense. It’s mostly nonsense.
Pierre Novellie has the unkempt stateliness of a man who has just lost his pith helmet strangling a tiger. Birthed in South Africa and raised by wildebeest, he now lives on the Isle of Man, among men.
He is currently Vice President of the Footlights, and was born to host panel shows. Novellie doesn’t just talk, he presides. I discovered him in the Corpus Playroom as he ran through the various sousaphone marches and bellows that comprise his first solo show, Nonsense. This is what we said to each other.
TPR: How do you answer the critics who say you’re just one of those migrant stand-ups coming over here taking Footlights committee jobs from hardworking English sketch comedians?
PN: I’m an enemy of all those fascist comedians.
TPR: What would Ricky Gervais say?
PN: He’d say something really offensive – but it would be ironic. Like the EDL, that’s mostly irony – if you look really closely they’ve all got sarcastic expressions.
TPR: On the subject of fascism, Pierre – I know you as a man who loves war. Why bother with stand up, traditionally the preserve of effete pacifists defusing situations with self-effacing snark?
PN: Trying to dodge the draft, yes. Well it’s a huge rush – the adrenaline rush of it going well is really really good, and I enjoy the experience of talking to the audience. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing but the feedback I get more than ‘that was funny’ is ‘that was very informal’ – like a chat.
TPR: Or like a war. Would you say you’re a brutal stand-up?
PN: I’m brutal in my approachability. I’m brutal in my lack of tension.
Novelli demonstrating his brutal approachability
TPR: And this is your first solo show. Does this make you a vain man?
PN: I’d say it makes me an overly ambitious man. And perhaps a stupid man.
TPR: You don’t get a lot of stand-alone stand-up in Cambridge.
PN: You don’t – the last one was last year, Dannish Babar. And before that it was six years or something, so they’re rare. If Dannish hadn’t done his show I’m not sure if I would have thought of doing this – I maybe would have split half an hour with someone. But my style is so full of rambling, I realised, that I can just fill any time with it – I can fill an hour, two hours, slowly decreasing in quality. I’m using all my good material from years of stand-up.
TPR: You only started performing when you got to Cambridge, but it’s been a busy few years to pick material from.
PN: That it has. Last May Week I did seven May Balls, six in a row, every night, and then one night’s break, and then a seventh. It was awful – fun, but my breakfast was whatever they give you as you walk in. I was never getting drunk, I was just topping up. I ingested the hairs of a great many dogs. I was drained, but it was fun.
Nonsense – perfect for lovers of diamonds, wizards and biltong
TPR: And now you’re in your third year, so everyone will start asking what your post-Cambridge plans are. Do you have an internship at Jongleurs lined up?
PN: Fetching hilarious coffee, yes. This show, if it goes well, will be a thing I can say I’ve done. And ideally people coming to see it will mean I might be able to get management off it. I’m going to try and get management as soon as possible, and then get a crappy temp job in London while trying to do as much stand-up as possible. So just try and make it my job until I fail and become a nine-to-fiver.
TPR: You oscillate more than most between sketches and stand-up – this term Broody and Nonsense, for example. Which is most important to you?
PN: It’s kind of 50-50 at the moment – I’m doing this now, and it’s a big deal for me, but next term I’m doing a sequel to The Mexican Stand-Off, again with Ali Lewis and Jonny Lennard (ADC Week 4). So we might end up taking that to Edinburgh, I don’t know. And I always try to put sketches in the Footlights Smokers. But stand-up definitely gives you the biggest rush.
TPR: But then, alternatively, sketches are more like a war.
PN: Exactly, there’s teamwork involved. Stand-up is a hilltop last stand; it’s Rorke’s Drift. The difference is that with stand-up the stakes are much higher – if it goes well you get more, but if it goes badly you lose more. With sketches, there’s a shield between you and the audience. Also I can only really write good sketches with other people, so if I was on my own I’d have to do stand-up.
Nonsense runs Tuesday to Saturday at the Corpus Playroom, 9.30pm. The Potts/Novellie podcast, in collaboration with Rustly Brown Trousers’ George Potts, is a free download from here.