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A Chat With Phill Jupitus: ‘I’m like Benjamin Button, but without the cuteness’

7 mins read

On hearing the name Phill Jupitus, many will automatically think of “the funny guy”, the English comedian and television favourite who has brought us so many laughs over the years. 

A few years ago, however, Jupitus decided to give up his comedy career and take a step back from showbiz. He moved to Scotland and enrolled as a student at university. Here he began to pursue his true passion, art, and at the age of 60, he is now in his third year at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in Dundee. 

Jupitus initially started his performing journey as ‘Porky the Poet’, reciting his poems as a support act for local bands. From this point on, he did it all. He DJ’d on BBC Radio 6, acted both onscreen and onstage, and toured as a stand-up comedian among many other endeavours. He is perhaps best known for his time as a captain on BBC Two quiz show Never Mind the Buzzcocks from 1996 to 2015, and his antics as a regular guest on QI

Phill Jupitus on Never Mind the Buzzcocks
Phill Jupitus on BBC’s ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’. Image Credit: BBC

Jupitus puts part of his decision to leave comedy behind down to age: “I’m not an ageist person but I do think that the world of comedy is geared towards the young. It’s about your perspective on things and from the age of 40, I don’t think that changes very much. You’ve found a style where you can’t surprise anymore. You’re just you and I thought I’d been doing it long enough.” 

Speaking about his time on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Jupitus says that by later series: “I think we’d outstayed our welcome a wee bit.” He was sad when it was cancelled, but also quite happy: “I always went into a series with the mantra: ‘This is the last one.’ I did that 18 times.” 

His decision to go to art school was not completely out of the blue. Jupitus has always had a love for art and early on in his career he would draw cartoons for publications like NME and Radio Times. “I’m going back to something that fascinated me when I was a kid,” he says.  

Jupitus certainly finds it humourous that he is going to school after having already had a long and thriving career: “Whenever I meet people and say I’m at Dundee University they always say, ‘Oh, are you teaching?’” Chuckling, he says: “I’m going backwards in a way. People say I’m like Benjamin Button, but without the cuteness.” 

Phill Jupitus taking part in a celebrity portrait contest in 2018
Image Credit: Chortle

As a mature student and former TV star, Jupitus was initially “a bit worried” about going to classes. In the end “it was no big thing at all”. He says: “I’d been at university a week, and no one had said a word to me. I’m unused to being in crowds and people not going, ‘Are you Phill Jupitus?’ and ‘Can I have a selfie?’” The students are so young that many do not know who he is: “I’m someone their Mums, Dads, and Nans used to watch.” 

After a tough past year led Jupitus to lose focus on his art, he is now retaking his third year: “I lost my father, then a nephew, and a bunch of friends died. I just had a very funeral-heavy year.” 

“Losing Dad has been in a lot of my work. I can’t help it being in the work. I did two portrait projects on him after he died,” he says. Now Jupitus is experimenting with Polaroids that his father took while working as an engineer: “They might not mean something to someone else, but when you make art, it means something to you.” 

Born on the Isle of Wight, Jupitus has always wanted to return to life by the sea, but work led him to reside mainly in Essex and London. He describes his move to Scotland as fuelled by a strong sense of feeling at home: “There’s an energy about the place and the people.” He now lives in the fishing village of Pittenweem, Fife, with his wife, the printmaker Shelley Jupitus.

Phill Jupitus at Anstruther Harbour
Image Credit: The Courier

He seems glad to be away from the “frenetic energy and pace of London” and to be immersed in the calming presence of nature. “What I like is that the countryside will sort of ambush you,” he says. “You’re just sitting having a coffee and someone rap raps on your front door and goes ‘Dolphins!’. You look over their shoulder and see them going by from St Monans on their way to Anstruther.” 

Due to the nature of showbiz, Jupitus has always had a hectic life. When in a touring musical he would only have one day off a week, when travelling as a stand-up act he would find the experience very solitary. 

Now that the pace of life has slowed down, he is finally enjoying having time for the little things. At the end of the day, he will settle down to watch what he calls “carpet” (television that he doesn’t have to invest in). “I do love rubbish television,” he confides. He has a soft spot for police procedurals. 

“I’m really happy not to be performing now,” he says. “It was brilliant fun and I loved it, but I just think times have changed. Everyone else has moved on, why shouldn’t I?” 

Featured Image Credit: The Courier

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