Michele Hewitson Interview: Ewen Gilmour

By Michele Hewitson

Ewen Gilmour reflects on comedy, his wife's death and pending baldness. Picture / Richard Robinson
Ewen Gilmour reflects on comedy, his wife's death and pending baldness. Picture / Richard Robinson

Westie comedian proclaims a fundamental truth about himself: "I think I'm nicer than my brand."

The publicist said, about the Westie comedian, former Waitakere City councillor and teller of tall tales, Ewen Gilmour: "Ewen's been all over TV3 lately." Lately!

Anyway, good. I last saw him 10 years ago for an interview in which he told me he was retiring from comedy, a "fact" which I duly put in the paper and here he is, all over the place, still.

So I had a very old bone to pick with him which he dug up the minute he arrived by alluding to that interview. He seemed to find the fact that I'd announced the fact of his retirement pretty funny and, oh, all right, it's not a bad joke. It's certainly better than some of the jokes he told me this week, one of which was a real groaner and too rude to repeat. Putting that in the paper is pay back for the old bone, so I'll call it even now, and I won't crow about another fact: That he is losing his famous hair.

I thought we'd meet at a pub and have a few drinks because he has always seemed the sort to have a few drinks, but he had one beer because he had a meeting later with his "client", for a corporate event he was doing that night. He was worried about being sweaty (he'd just helped a woman push start her car) and about having taken his suit jacket off for the pictures. So he put it back on and posed like mad until the photographer told him to stop being so "organised".

He was, possibly, joking about fretting about less "volume" in his hair. He has always been vain about his hair, I suggested, which was sort of a joke, but he says he is vain about it, and that may be true. Anyway, it's terrible that his hair's going because his hair is his image and without it...? "I'll be that old bald dude who used to be the young hairy dude." Is he really upset about the hair? "It's part of the ageing process. I come from a family of baldies. My father was bald at 21, my younger brother was bald at 23 or 24, my older brother was bald at 30. So I actually grew my hair to spite them.

But then my mother who has always been after me, my whole life to 'get a haircut, get a haircut' [now says]: 'oh you can't cut your hair. That's your image!"' He says he won't go completely bald and will leave a long bit hanging down at the back which will look, I said, awful. "I'll have to leave it. What can I do? It's my image."

How serious is he, actually, about his image? He's trapped in it, he says, but he doesn't mind; it's probably rather convenient to have a character to play in public and then he can go home and muck about with his motorbike which he loves so much he keeps it in the house. He is not particularly gregarious (although of course he can turn it on; unlike most comedians he does make jokes, even if they're groaners, in interviews.)

He likes being at home, in Port Waikato, and polishing his bike and getting about in his underpants, information I do wish he hadn't felt the need to share. He says he doesn't have lots of close friends, although he knows a lot of people, and he now lives alone except for his dog, after his wife Cathy died just over a year ago, of a brain tumour. He said he didn't want to talk about this. "It's just one of those things that is really sad and unfortunate, you know. She was a good person."

So we looked at some pictures on his phone of his motorbike, which is, and serves me right for asking, a Triumph Bonneville America and as soon as we sat down he showed me a picture of a ring he's having made in the bike's image, with tiny handlebars and everything. It's a mad thing to do, I thought, but of course he doesn't think so and when I said it would be a pain to wear because the handlebars would keep catching on things he looked a bit put out and said, well, I didn't have to wear it.

That's about as mad as he gets (he thinks his bike is a friend) and I think he has always been ambitious and organised - the alleged, ha, dope smoking notwithstanding. I asked if he still smoked dope and he said: "I'm not allowed to say." I do have a vague memory of meeting him one other time and ending up in his hotel room with him and a joint which of course I wouldn't have partaken of because I don't like the stuff; I'd have been capable of raiding his mini bar.

He told me about how to read reviews, which I was writing at the time. He's full of good advice and got off to a good start slagging off the Herald. He should write for the paper, he said, modestly, but you couldn't quite trust him to tell the entire truth, now could you? He says, by the way, he really did intend to retire from comedy, at the time, and at the time, he was obviously disillusioned about the business and what he says was the loneliness of always been on the road, but not so disillusioned he didn't keep at it.

It's an odd question (given the death of his wife) but he does somehow seem to be a happier person than he was 10 years ago. "It is a weird question, but I suppose ... the last few years have been tough, well, the last couple of years in particular and this last year has been a bit different. Good things are happening in my life ... And I am happy, you know. I am happy and I'm a lot less stressed about things." Perhaps things have been put in perspective? "Yeah, that's right. You know, you've got to live your life."

He claims to be self-centred, which would be an occupational hazard for a comedian, you imagine. What would he write about, in the paper he had such a good time being rude about? Himself, of course.

He says he has trouble picking up girls - "I'm only human" - because, "I love talking about me. It's really hard to meet girls because that's what we're going to be talking about." Is that true? It's probably partly true but also exaggerated for effect. He's a real pro and real pros are in character in interviews - so the person I'm seeing is based on the real Ewen Gilmour, but in performance mode. What is the difference? "I think I'm nicer than my brand." He tries to be a nice person, it matters to him that he is, although "sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and go: "F*** you're an arsehole."

He says he believes in karma, and that in a previous life he was "a chick". I misheard this and thought he'd said he'd been a chicken, which would have been pretty funny. I said: "Why did you cross the road?" Which was really funny, I thought, although I seemed to be the only one laughing. He had to admit, that was good. "You can keep that one."

He has, despite himself, he maintains, and despite having no sense of humour, I maintain, managed to make a very successful career out of talking about himself and looking like a Westie bum (I don't know what that suit jacket's all about.) He seemed to make a good job of being a city councillor, which I'd have thought would have bored him half to death, but, no, he genuinely loved it and can bang on pseudo-pompously, with statistics, about local body representation for quite some time if you let him.

He says if he hadn't become a comedian chances are he'd be living under a bridge, a proper bum, and homeless. I don't believe him. "Well, possibly not," he conceded. That was a good try, but I think he's a hard worker disguised, fairly effectively, as a slacker. He says he has a good work ethic. He might also be ambitious. "Well, I have dreams and goals." Sometimes he writes his goals down, which you can't imagine that anyone with true bum potential would do.

He isn't particularly interested in self-reflection unless he can get a story out of it. He told me he once went to see his doctor because he had "a bit of a heart thing, a heart pain. And he said it was perfectly normal when you lose somebody close to you. And then he said: 'Have you heard of Mike King? He's got depression.' And I said to him: 'You're comparing my depression with Mike King's depression?' And he goes: 'Well, yeah.' And I said to him: 'Listen mate, I lost my wife; he lost his drug dealer. That's why he's depressed."' He tells this joke (if it is a joke) on stage. Does Mike King think it's funny? "Oh any time you mention his name he's happy. All comedians are. Well, it depends how you mention them."

He said, remembering he'd better mention the brand: "Are we plugging my festival show or the TV show?"

I said he should have thought about that before slagging off the paper the person who is supposed to be plugging his shows works for. But because he's all right really, I'll give him his plug. His Comedy Festival show is S'Truth, at the Classic, May 14 - 19. His TV show is Road Madness, Wednesdays, TV3, which is clips of people doing mad things on the road and is a serious show. "If we can save one life, Michele!" Oh, and he is a successful marriage celebrant because he is really good at being a marriage celebrant, he said, modestly.

I said, to pay him back for the slagging off and for telling me he was retiring and then not retiring, and for not laughing at my chicken joke, that I couldn't imagine why anyone would want him at their wedding. He said he thinks the answer is because he's not a religious fuddy-duddy, for one thing.

No, you couldn't accuse him of that. What he is, is a very successful comedian and brand who is a nice person, mostly, and very good company, even on one beer. He does need to work on his sucking up to journalists skills. He said, at the end: "I'm trying to think who's more full of shit: You or me."

That is one question about him I can answer with absolute authority. After all, I have been waiting 10 years to say it. He is.

- NZ Herald

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