Interview: Rhod Gilbert talks Growing Pains

We all have at least one moment from our teenage years that makes us wince it’s so embarrassing.

You know what we’re talking about… The diary entries about unrequited love and first kisses, the fashion disasters, and the terrible hairstyles.

Glasgow Times:

But what’s comforting is even celebrities had the same excruciating experiences – as proved by a new, six-part Comedy Central series which sees a stellar selection of famous faces – including Jonathan Ross, Sara Cox, Bill Bailey, and Charlotte Church – reveal their most cringeworthy (and sometimes rather weird) memories.

Glasgow Times:

In each episode of Growing Pains, Rhod Gilbert – who has previously hosted shows such as Have I Got News For You? and Never Mind The Buzzcocks – asks three different celeb guests to revisit their youths before deciding who will be crowned “Most Embarrassing Teenager” at the end. And, they all compete in an entertaining quickfire quiz all about their teenage selves, too.

Here, Welsh comedian Gilbert, 52, discusses the challenges of growing up, his “repulsive” moustache, and the future of stand-up.

Glasgow Times:

– Can you sum up growing pains for us?

Obviously, it’s been a weird year and I think this is the perfect show to do after a year like this – it’s nostalgic, feelgood and genuinely laugh out loud funny, as well as being really surprising and interesting. It’s basically a chat show, but it’s very personal and intimate. Sometimes a bit too personal and intimate – I’m looking at you, Jonathan Ross!

We talk about personal experiences, but also the things that were around; the gadgets, the music, the politics, the fashion, the hair, the films, and the fleeting, often embarrassing, crazes, things you’d kind of forgotten like line-dancing, and Crazy Frog.

– Tell us more about the celebrities’ revelations from the series

The ones that stick out in my mind now are the more shocking ones, like Jonathan Ross’s sex education with an orange… I wasn’t expecting that. You’ll have to wait and see what I mean about that!

I also loved the nerdy stuff: Richard Ayoade suddenly remembering that he had been obsessed with pictures of businessmen, in the business section of newspapers. I don’t know why it’s a surprise really, but he would go through the business sections of his parents’ newspapers and cut out pictures of successful businessmen.

– What was a common insecurity the guests had experienced as teens?

Definitely appearance; trying to come to terms with how you look, trying to fit in, whether it’s fashion or whether it’s just your growth spurt or your hormone change. The one thing everyone is trying to find is your place in your class, in your friendship group, or in school.

Trying to navigate those choppy waters of finding out who you are, when you and everyone around you is changing; your face is changing, your body is changing, your height is changing, your hormones are changing, and so is everyone around you. That is such a rich seam for a chat show to mine.

Glasgow Times:

– What were you obsessed with as a teenager?

80s computer games, rollerskates, girls (although I was far too shy to talk to them), but mainly Robert Wadlow. He was the tallest man who ever lived and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with him. I have no idea why. I literally learned everything about him for no reason whatsoever.

– Do you think there is one thing from your childhood that you would put in the box of embarrassment?

The moustache – or the moustache and flat top combination. My hair would take hours every day to style. It looked genuinely disgusting. I find it horrible to look at. I think everybody would – they’d see the pictures and say it was disgusting.

And I spent hours getting it like that, so I’ll put that in the box along with my little pencil moustache, and the fact that I used to bulk out my little pencil moustache with a pencil to make it look thicker. Never got found out either. I got away with it, but looking at it now… It was absolutely repulsive.

– What advice would you give your teenage self?

We did this on the show – asked people to give their teenage selves a piece of advice to end the show. I wasn’t quite sure, after all these funny things and stories, whether ending on people looking into the camera and giving advice to their teenage self would work, but I absolutely loved it.

Some guests were really generous to their teenage selves, really looking back fondly and going, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s okay, just be yourself’. They were showing their teenage selves a lot of love and kindness. Others were brutal. They went to town on their young selves; ‘You’re an idiot’, ‘Change your ways!’, ‘Sort yourself out’… That kind of thing.

I subscribe more to the latter. I’m quite harsh on my teenage self. I would say: “Whatever you do, don’t be yourself! Try and be something else, because you are awful! Every single thing you’re doing is wrong!”

– What’s next for you?

My life went on hold in March. I was on tour, I had to run home from the tour and postpone the tour and keep postponing. Right now, we’ve postponed until March 2021, where I have a couple of socially distanced dates. The tour doesn’t really pick up again until the summer and autumn. But I’m hoping – really hoping – to carry on the tour.

I think everything we took for granted – laughing, sitting next to people, that shared comedy experience – we don’t take it for granted anymore. It means that the atmosphere will be electric. It’s going to be so giddy when we come back on stage.

Rhod Gilbert’s Growing Pains starts on Comedy Central on Tuesday, January 12

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