Philip doesn’t need an excuse to have a laugh

Philip Differ performs at Motherwell Theatre next month.
Philip Differ performs at Motherwell Theatre next month.

After more than 20 years writing Only An Excuse? Philip Differ doesn’t mind being known as the football comedy guy.

Starting in 1993 as a parody of the Only A Game? documentary it has spawned a radio series, stage plays, a newspaper column and is still an annual fixture of the Hogmanay TV schedule.

Philip said: “I’m quite happy to be known for Only An Excuse?, it means it was successful.

“There has been good shows and bad shows, but it’s inevitable you get those ups and downs over such a long period of time.

“It’s amazing that football had never really been touched by comedy, but I felt Only A Game? was ripe for parody and for more than 20 years it has never been away.

“At the time we were pioneering Only an Excuse?, I went into a radio studio with Jonathan Watson, Tony Roper and a script and had barely any idea what I was doing.

“We recorded about 90 minutes with every idea we had and it built from there so I’m very proud of it and if that is my legacy then I’m delighted.”

Having cut his teeth on satirical shows like Naked Radio, and Spitting Image, Philip was one of the driving forces behind the Comedy Unit which created shows such as Naked Video, City Lights and Rab C Nesbitt, although shies away from the credit he is often given for the latter.

Philip said: “I keep apologising to people I’m not Ian Pattison, I was script editor of Naked Video when Ian sent in a monologue with this character ranting and raving about the whole world.

“It was so funny, most things you read and you know they’ll work, but it doesn’t make you laugh, but this did, so I took it to the producer Colin Gilbert who liked it too.

“We had Gregor Fisher perform it, it was a horrible night and it was the last thing he did and so was probably in a bit of a mood, but it made the performance better and the audience loved it.

“I pitched the idea of a Nesbitt special so a lot of time it is credited as being my idea, it but it really wasn’t it’s just one of those things that being in a small department means everyone contributes to the process.”

Philip did work closely with Rikki Fulton on Scotch and Wry and is proud of the relationship he built with the comedy legend.

He said: “Rikki was the best of the best, he was very intense and a perfectionist, you’d think given all the years he’d been performing he’d be assured, but he always worried.

“He never took it for granted he could just walk out there do ‘hullo rer’ and everyone would laugh, although they did, so you constantly had to keep his confidence up.

“In rehearsal he would analyse a sketch, pull it apart and put it back together again, but the learning curve was ridiculous. We had a really good relationship and he trusted me which was the most important thing.

“I co-wrote the play Rikki and Me with Tony Roper and it was one of the happiest things I have ever done, we wanted it to be a tribute to him.

“Everyone always said he was a hard taskmaster, but it’s been nearly 20 years since he died and we all still miss him, and I’m sure the audiences do too, he had a special relationship with them you don’t see very often.”

Philip performs an evening of comedy at Motherwell Theatre on Saturday, March 5, kicking off at 7.30pm.

He said: “The benefit of getting to my age is after 35 years working in the industry you collect lots of stories so I thought I better start sharing them.

“The first half is a stand-up routine, it’s observational stuff about getting old, things that are on the telly, politics and all that sort of thing, it’s a very structured routine.

“My pal Robbie Coltrane tried stand-up and it didn’t work for him, I remember him telling me he didn’t realise it had to be an extension of yourself.

“You can’t just be you out there, there has to be a twist, whether you are more manic or more aggressive you need to display something.

“When I’m standing waiting to go on I can be thinking about the football or what I’m having for dinner, but when I get out there I feel the change because its work.

“The second half is much more relaxed, its just me telling stories from over the years and if things are going well perhaps take some questions too.”

Tickets costing £10 (£9 concession) are available by calling 01698 403120 or online