A startling chat with Scott Capurro
Andrew Mickel1 June 2012
An SSP fact: Scott Capurro was the first act I ever saw at my first Fringe ten years ago. Most of the show was about his recent suicide attempt. It was painful.
It was offensive (which, in the first post-9/11 Edinburgh, was in shorter supply than usual). It was also devastatingly funny, and remains the best stand-up I've ever seen at Edinburgh.
This wouldn't be something to admit to an interviewee at the best of times for fear of looking like your just blowing smoke up their arse. But that goes about sixfold for Capurro, the San Franciscan with an acid tongue sponsored by Union Carbide. There's a strong feeling that a fanboy approach would not be a wise starting point.
It was perhaps an unnecessary concern: he's at the Soho Theatre from next Wednesday, talking about gay marriage, Islam and his third mid-life crisis, and he's in full Push The Button mode about how he got started.
“It's about why gay marriage seems to bother people so much, and it's a lead-in to talk about the Koran a bit,” he says.
“I had a Muslim security guard at a club near Leicester Square tell me he was going to have to kill me after a show four months ago.
“His friend, who was trying to help I think, said, why don't you just not discuss the Koran or Muhammed, but you can talk about the crazy people – the ones who strap bombs to themselves. I basically told him to piss off. You don't tell me what I can and can't talk about, it's not how it works. We burn up a Bible and it doesn't mean shit but I can't rip a Koran verbally on stage? I don't see why it's special. Why can we go for Catholics and Jews but not Muzzies? People get very bristly. And the people who get bristly tend to be middle-class white people.”
He says that having a director makes the difference to prevent him relying on button pushing – they're not here today to weigh up the term Muzzies – and says the fact he relies on his own experience means he can talk about certain situations (“I have a story about a guy chasing me through the park calling me a fucking queer...I'll talk about that”). Oddly, he adds that even after living her for decades, he sees himself as a token Brit who won't tell British people what to think.
He may not tell people what to think, but he still knows what topics to hit up for a reaction. He raises Madeleine McCann twice before I ask him why he thinks it's a suitable topic for comedy. “Because it's in the papers, and I want the show to be in the room, and about now," he says. "I don't want the show to be one or five years ago, it's about right now. I'm a bit autistic, I guess, I just don't ever stop. If you say there's something I shouldn't talk about on stage that's the only thing I'm going to be able to think about.
“Comedy is all sorts of stuff and this is just different subject matter. The world's not going to come to an end, no-one's going to get their head cut off – this is a safe space and that's the whole point of comedy.”
He says he has been asked to tone it down, but that he doesn't mind it being done at the booking stage – just not when he's about to go on stage. He says that when that happens, he can't help poking at sensitive subjects. In the past, that's ended up in him discussing how hot Ian Huntley is when gigging in the east. But there's one place that ranks below all others for gigging.
“The North London belt, seriously. I would rather play to a roomful of drunken sailors,” he says. “That's when the Brian Logan thing happened.”
Aaah, the 'Brian Logan thing': the last time SSP spoke to Capurro was just after the incident, when Logan wrote a piece for the Guardian on new offensive comedians – including an incident in north London with Capurro. Capurro is quite forgiving of Logan.
But the woman at the centre of Logan's article gets much shorter shrift.
He says: “I did a joke on Obama running for office. I said I thought was great, because black people work for less. But this woman lost her shit.
“It's like: what are you depressed or angry about? Why are you giving me shit? You're so rich, why are you picking on the comics? Those clubs are very, very difficult to play, you're really skating on thin ice with them.
“I started in San Francisco playing black clubs, they're not bothered by it. Who are you defending? You've got no black friends. They don't like you, these black people.”
Around this point there might have been a slight pause for breath. “In America you do a Chinese accent, and you come here and do it, and Frankie Boyle calls you a racist. You think these people don't do white people accents? Look at the intent: like with anything, look at the intent. I would never say anything on stage where if someone stood up and said, 'I'm offended', I wouldn't have a back-up. I have a back-up to everything I've said.
“The British don't say anything, though, because they're pussies. Well, the women sometimes do. But the men...”
While the politics is still spikey and raw, a move into making the personal political and bringing more of himself to the stage has happened in the last couple of years.
Which brings us to an unexpected stage in the interview: a glimpse at how the uncompromising comic makes compromises in his personal life with his husband.
“He's alright,” says Capurro about their marriage being discussed on stage. “He doesn't like when I talk about his mother not knowing anything about us. She came to stay in our flat for a month right after we got married; I went away for the whole time. It was right after my mom's death and it really made me sad. It bothers me that she's staying in our flat not knowing anything about me. Not for me, but because she doesn't know her son's got someone looking after him.
“We've talked on the phone but she thinks we're roommates. He's worried people might think his family gives him no support. And I have to say, I'm not saying that. I can't say that. I don't see the point.
“There's compromise. I make a lot of compromise in marriage with him. But this thing with work has to stay separate.”
While personal Capurro makes compromise, political Capurro has little patience for any cowardice in the British gay marriage debate. There's a roll call of failure: it's a mistake to let Catholic priests have a prominent role in a civic debate; Cameron is using gay marriage as a sop for the electorate; national governments are hollow husks in Europe; and the EU is in charge of us all. (The sanctity of marriage, the EU superstate...Capurro and the Daily Mail have a surprisingly large amount in common.)
Another flash back to the last time we spoke with Capurro: he declared he was voting Tory. I mention this. He looks ashamed. And it gets even worse. “I didn't even vote,” he says. “To me, I met Gordon Brown, and he was really charming. It's one of those things where Britain just gets bored. We're bored of Labour, so let's change it over. Cameron seems like a nice guy. But it's like the retard running London: hey, he's funny. I don't think people talk anything very seriously here.”
He also did a Green party fundraiser a few weeks ago. So why did he do that? For the party's policies or support of sexuality equality? “I did the show because I'm a big fan of Alistair McGowan, and he was doing new material.” Cracking.
He looks rather sheepish at why he's getting angry about politics when he doesn't take it seriously himself. “The thing with politics is, I like it, but you can't really take it seriously,” he says.
We're back to button-pushing territory (I'd write out his thoughts on the Queen's Jubilee in full, but I promised myself I'd stop using the c-word in journalism), and then there's a slight change of mood that signals a certain awareness we're near the end of the interview and it's time to rein it in a bit.
“I do love it here,” he grudgingly admits. “I must say that I find it to be a very tolerant place to live, by far the most tolerant country I've ever lived in. America is ridiculously homophobic and racist, I know that. But I do know the British do their best to understand other cultures and live side by side in a very small island.”
Of course, that's one small blessing in an extensive bout of anger that spares about as many targets as it did ten years ago. And fortunately, it's still done in such a spectacularly caustic way for all-comers, that it's still jaw-droppingly funny.
“Gay men have no political voice in this country,” he concludes. “You have Peter Tatchell, and that's it – and he's a human rights activist, not a gay activist. The gays are fine with Compton Street and that's all they get.
“This is about as gay as I get these days: the Soho Theatre.” It's pretty gay. “It's gay enough.”
Scott Capurro will be at the Soho Theatre from Wednesday 6 June to Sunday 10 June. You can win tickets (WIN TICKETS WIN TICKETS) to it over here, and buy them here. And he'll be back with chat show – co-hosted by David Mills – in October, with Irish political charmer Iris Robinson and Danny DeVito near the top of the dream guest list (presumably for different reasons).
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