‘Will that be alright?’ asks Miles Jupp, eyeing Weekend’s tape recorder warily as we settle into a booth in a Soho bar. ‘I have a very quiet voice.’
It’s true: Jupp – comedian, actor, writer, thinker, father, husband, worrier, fool (his words, not ours) – speaks in the soft, gentle tones of a man permanently out of step with our strident, shouty modern world.
‘I really hate noise,’ he admits. ‘Especially unexpected, uncontrollable noise. I think there are a lot of things that aren’t really good enough, from a noise point of view. Hand dryers do not need to be as noisy as they are. At Newport railway station, they have these enormous hand-dryers that are deafening, and enormously inefficient. And I just think, what was wrong with the old roller-towel?’
Would he perhaps have fared better in a quieter, less clamorous age – before the industrial revolution, perhaps? ‘Yes, that would have been nice,’ he nods. ‘Just the occasional gentle noise of bartering. But then, who knows how far away we are from that again?’
We’re talking a few days after Britain voted for Brexit, and Jupp is at pains to point out the title of his new live show, Songs of Freedom, ‘is not me saying we’re free from the shackles of the EU’. Instead, armed only with ‘a freshly-ironed shirt and some robust trousers’, he will tour the UK applying his agreeable brand of ‘mawkish whimsy’ to topics as diverse as astronauts, hipsters, social media, identity, regret and poo.
Despite a career taking in such disparate showbiz compass points as Radio 4, CBeebies and Hollywood blockbusters (‘You could call them art forms or you could call them revenue streams,’ he smiles) Jupp says stand-up is the area of work where he gets to ‘hold all the kite strings’. For an inveterate worrier like him, it is also, to an extent, therapy.
‘Once you say something out loud, you often stop worrying about it,’ he says. ‘I was talking to someone recently who described prayer as “directed worry”, and maybe writing a comedy routine has the same function.’
Jupp was raised in West Hampstead, the son of a lawyer and a United Reform Church minister. Alongside his ecclesiastic duties, his father was also the founding editor of the journal Mortality. (‘There are people as interested in death as my father,’ he notes. ‘But they’re mainly in Broadmoor.’)
Following private schooling in London, Windsor and Durham, he entered the family trade, after a fashion, by studying Divinity at Edinburgh (though he’s now a confirmed atheist). After trying his luck on the local stand-up circuit, he made his TV debut while still a student on BBC Scotland’s comedy showcase Live Floor Show and, through a contact of his close friend Frankie Boyle, was also hired to play Archie – an inventor who lived in a pink castle – on pre-school TV favourite Balamory.
‘I thought, this must be what it’s like,’ he says. ‘You do one TV thing, and then another, and then another. And then there was nothing, for about six or seven years.’
Part of the problem, he admits, is that, even in his twenties, he was never very convincing as a young person. ‘If a script says, “a normal 26-year-old walks into the room”, that’s not me. But if it’s a slightly odd, diffident person who walks in and walks out again, that is a part I could play.’
Over the years, Jupp – who turns 37 this week – feels he’s ‘grown into his personality’, and is relaxed about his image as a tweedy young fogey. ‘You could fight against it,’ he shrugs, ‘but I just want to get on and work. In terms of… curating a brand? Is that a thing that people do? I can’t really be arsed with that.’
He did bag one head-turning role during this dry spell, playing a crashingly incompetent press officer in The Thick of It. Otherwise, he spent the time honing his live act, if not always to profitable effect. ‘I did 10 stand-up shows in London and by the end, I’d either lost or made 50p – I can’t remember which – and I thought, what am I doing?’
He cites 2010 as the year it all started coming together, with well-received appearances on Mock the Week and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow coinciding with his role as Nigel, the aggravating lay preacher in hit sitcom Rev. (Significantly, Nigel was originally written as a character in his fifties.)
Since then, he’s juggled stand-up with celebrated runs on the London stage (including Alan Bennett’s People at the National Theatre) and roles in Hollywood blockbusters like The Monuments Men and this year’s The Legend of Tarzan. He is also a mainstay of Radio 4 where, as well as being a panel show regular, he wrote and starred in two series of In and Out of the Kitchen (about a minor celebrity chef) and, in 2015, succeeded Sandi Toksvig as the latest host of the iconic News Quiz.
Weekend ventures there can’t be many people who have worked Alan Bennett, George Clooney and Balamory’s Edie McCredie.
‘Of those three, Edie McCredie is the one that I know best,’ stresses Jupp. But he did enjoy an illuminating conversation with Clooney. ‘He told me about hosting a fundraiser for Barack Obama at his house, and having to turn one of his guest bathrooms into a chemical attack refuge for the President. It’s hard for me to match that sort of story,’ he concedes. ‘I probably told him how we had to have someone manning a fire exit on Balamory Live.’
There’s no panic room chez Jupp, then? ‘Every room is a panic room,’ he says. ‘I can panic literally anywhere. I’m very versatile.’
There is almost certainly a degree of truth in this, as Jupp and his wife Rachel have five young children. That’s quite a lot for a man who can’t stand noise to cope with. What’s his secret?
‘There is no secret,’ he says. ‘I mean, it is a secret, but it’s not a secret that I’m privy to. You just have to do it. Some of it’s on instinct, some of it’s my wife shouting at me about the enormous problem I’m failing to notice. It’s great, it’s lovely, but sometimes you think, “I’m not equipped to deal with this”.’
They live in rural Monmouthshire, ‘near a Waitrose’. Jupp says he’s never found being so far from London – showbusiness’s centre of gravity – an issue, and that the commute is useful for getting work done. ‘The only real problem,’ he says, ‘is when you pull into Newport, and have to deal with those noisy and inadequate hand dryers on platform 4.’
Published in Waitrose Weekend, September 1, 2016
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