Brian Limmond, AKA Limmy, is the type of comedian you’d have a hard time explaining to your gran. The former web-designer rose to fame with a caustic blog, which was followed up by a sketch-based podcast. He hosts regular webcam sessions and often invites fans for games of Counter Strike. These days he spends his time posting six-second video clips onto Vine, the most famous of which showed a spider crawling out of his mouth. God bless the 21st century.
The Glaswegian’s latest project is veritably archaic in comparison: he’s written a book, and one that’s been knocking about the upper echelons of the Sunday Times bestseller list since its release earlier this summer.
Daft Wee Stories is dark. Really, really dark. It returns to themes he’s mined throughout his career – violence, disappointment, loneliness – and runs with them, often into a quagmire of bodily fluids. There’s an existential story set inside a filthy public toilet, one about a man stabbing his neighbour to death out of embarrassment, and another, told in stomach-churning detail, about a masturbatory online cult.
It’s puerile and scatological, but also funny and touching. He has a wonderfully absurdist sense of humour, and a masterful ability to flip a story on its head with a well-timed injection of bathos. He also has an uncanny knack of tapping into your own insecurities, sounding a bit like the inner monologue you get after a heavy night drinking. He says his influences are ‘90s stalwarts including Harry Enfield and Harry Hill, as well as shows like The Twilight Zone (“things that are uncomfortable with strange, intentionally weird bits”). The two influences collide in Daft Wee Stories, which is riddled with surreal segues into fantasy and science fiction.
All of this will come as no surprise to his fans, of which there are legion – especially north of the border. His podcast was adapted into a TV series that ran for three seasons on BBC Scotland, winning two Scottish Baftas. It featured recurring characters including chronically anxious waster Dee Dee and reformed heroin addict Jacqueline McCafferty – both kind-hearted but deeply damaged human beings. Down south, he’s probably best known for his stint on Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe, where he filmed typically paranoid skits on subjects ranging from Russell Brand to Scottish independence.
By the time we met at 9am he’d already been up for hours. I know this from his Twitter feed, which broadcasts a real-time stream of consciousness from the second he wakes to the moment he falls asleep. When there was some confusion over where we were holding the interview, it was resolved over Twitter.
It didn’t take long for things to get dark. By 15 minutes in we’d covered murder, depression, anxiety, schadenfreude and Jeremy Corbyn.
“I have a dark sense of humour,” he says affably. “I like paranoia and schizophrenic thoughts. I don’t know if I have a wee sliver of that – my da’s a bit like it. I have this wee sense that there’s something different about me. I get thoughts in my head that the next person doesn’t seem to have.”
He has spoken openly about his depression, and how a combination of antidepressants and meditation turned his life around. “I trained my mind to be happy and not always pissed off or ruminating about something that happened years ago. I used to meditate every day but now I just do it if I feel myself slipping back into my old ways.”
He is, he says, his own biggest source of inspiration. “All that stuff helps because you’re constantly thinking about things when other people are just getting on with their lives. I might walk past someone and think ‘are they laughing at me?’ and it starts this chain reaction in my head…”
He describes one experience that could be the script of an unaired Dee Dee sketch: “I had this wee paranoid schizophrenic episode when I was about 20. I was looking at this poster of sunflowers on the wall and I got this feeling that there was an evil presence, that something malicious was there. It really scared me. That was a pure Dee Dee time when I would just do nothing for months and months and months.”
That he sees himself in his characters, genuinely emphathises with them, prevents his acerbic sketches from descending into cruelty. Their situations are funny, but there’s a warmth there, too. “I feel like I’m Dee Dee and Jacqueline,” he says. “When Jacqueline gets aggressive it’s because she’s been through the mill and she’s got a chip on her shoulder. She thinks everyone is looking down their nose at her but really it’s only her who’s looking down her nose at her. I want everyone to like these people, not to just be like ‘what an idiot’.”
Some stories from the book, though, are pretty horrific, such as the one about a man who accidentally crushes his girlfriend to death with a scrapyard claw. What is it about this type of dark humour that people find entertaining? “I have wee theories on this. It’s like, why do we laugh at Laurel and Hardy? Why is it funny that this guy is picking on this other guy who’s a bit of an idiot? And what does it mean for him to be an idiot? Has he got a low IQ? Has he got a mental disorder? A learning difficulty? I think part of the reason it’s funny is an instinctual thing: ‘I know what that feels like, I’m glad it’s not me’.
“But there’s more to it than that – I think some people can just separate fiction from reality better than others. To some people they’re almost the same thing – if you make a joke about a tragic accident then that means you don’t care about any of those people and you’re glad they’re dead. But that’s not it – you care and you can joke about it at the same time. I can separate the two things. It’s like Grand Theft Auto – do I really want to knock people down, chase them with a samurai sword and set them on fire? Well, aye.”
“Wait, no. I like doing it in the game but I don’t want to do it in real life. I might think about it but I don’t genuinely want to destroy people’s lives with grenades. But some people can’t differentiate between dark comedy and being a bad person.”
Given how close to the wind Limmond sails, I wonder if there are times he feels he’s gone too far?
“Other people have said I’ve crossed the line and I might say ‘Oh, sorry about that’ but I’m not genuinely sorry. There’s always a risk somebody might get hurt. When you put the keys in your motor you know that today you might kill someone – but you drive anyway. You live your life and accept that you might cause a bit of harm. I’m alright with that.”
Next, he says, he’d like to write another book – longer stories this time, maybe building up to a novel. “It’s a good feeling to have written a book. It makes a nice ‘thwack’ sound when you drop it on the table. Hopefully Daft Wee Stories will open more doors – it’s gone well so they can’t say ‘you’re not getting another book, why would we give you another book?’”
What he says he’s not going to do is think too hard about it. “I used to have this idea that I always had to think about the future: ‘Don’t be happy now, wait till this is finished, then you can enjoy it’ – but that messes with my head, actually makes me really unhappy. Now I just try to enjoy things bit by bit by bit, rather than graft and graft and graft and hope it’ll be worth it, because it’s never worth it. I have to sort of unhinge my mind, go a little mad and just not care. Who f***ing cares?”
First published in City A.M.