5 minutes with: Phill Jupitus – 'I've always wanted to play Nathan Detroit'

We caught up with Phill Jupitus to chat about his accidental route into theatre from stand-up comedy and the ”Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” UK tour

Phill Jupitus
Phill Jupitus
© Andy Hollingworth

When I was a kid, I enjoyed performing. I wasn't very good at showing off, I was quite shy but in a performance, I was in my element. They would use me to end theatre events at school, I remember hosting a concert of songs from Oliver! when I was seven.

When I used to do the comedy store, my shorthand gag for comparing was, 'I am merely grout between the tiles of talent'. That's all your job is really, just to make sure the evening fits together well. I always preferred introducing things which meant I could try things out, the performing came through my poetry which began in 1983.

I got into theatre by accident. James Orange and David Grindrod [casting directors] were the first people to get me in to talk about acting and they niggled me into it. The first thing I did in the West End was Life Coach and then I played Edna in Hairspray, which was kind of hitting the ground running.

I came really close to getting [the role of] Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls which is on at the minute [at the Savoy] and that is the one part I've always wanted to play. If I get a call back and then don’t get the part – which has happened a few times – it breaks my heart, you take it really personally. The thing is, I've always wanted to play him, I've been dropping that fact into interviews now for over ten years. But I'm not getting any younger, I can't be limping around as Nathan.

I'm not in the [theatre] world. I'm saying that and I'm on my sixth production – it's weird – but I'm not, I didn't train. I met a director recently and I said look, I don't know anything about this kind of work he went, 'don't worry I know loads' and I loved that. As a stand-up you've taught yourself a lot of terrible habits because you're your own director, your own writer, your own producer.

Chitty is a giggle and it's with Jason Manford. Jason and I love talking about the difference between stand-up and acting and the little moments where the stand-up in you starts to takeover. If there's a moment in the show where things are going a bit eschew or someone dries, Jason said he knows how to fill that space, but his character wouldn't, so he has to shut his mouth.

I'm playing Lord Scrumptious/Baron Bomburst with Michelle Collins [as Baroness Bomburst]. I love Michelle doing comedy, she's fantastic at it. It's a nice mix, we're all from different worlds. I've been with Manford before so we've got that good working relationship, with him being the lead I'm a bit like the goat they put in with the racehorse to keep it calm. I'm going to look after him because let's face it, I'm older than his mum. I see my role as de facto tour parent.

Chitty is pretty much it through to next year now so let's wait to see what the summer brings. I'd love to do a year of just theatre. There's possibly some things floating around in the summer but I'm not allowed to talk about that yet so we'll wait and see.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is currently running at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, after which it tours the UK and Ireland.