Rhod Gilbert says his new show, which he’s planning to tour next year, will be “the darkest” he’s ever done, following treatment for cancer.
The 54-year-old Welsh stand up was diagnosed with stage four head and neck cancer last year, and has since undergone surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Now back on our screens for season five of Growing Pains, he tells Sky News: “I’m feeling pretty good. I’m bouncing back and very happy to be working again.”
Gilbert would have been heading out to Morocco any day now, to trek up Mount Toubka – the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains – as part of a charity hike he’s led since 2013 and the first since his cancer diagnosis, raising money for Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff, Wales.
Now earthquakes in the country – estimated to have killed nearly 3,000 – have clearly altered plans, but Gilbert says if it’s possible to go, he will still go: “We’ve got people on the ground assessing the situation. And I guess if we can go, we probably should because we’ll be employing local people and putting money into our local economy and we may be able to help. The primary concern is obviously for the for the people there.”
The star has already completed five previous treks for the cancer centre, raising over £1.8m, and had been their patron for a decade before joining them as a patient – a situation he describes as “odd”.
Clearly, with a tour, a trek and new TV show all on the go, Gilbert’s a busy man.
Opening up about next year’s tour, he says: “It’s going to be pretty dark, but from what I’ve done so far – I’ve done a few little works in progress in Edinburgh and things – I’m really happy with the way it’s coming along.
“While it’s the darkest stuff I’ve ever done, clearly, after what I’ve been through, I think for me it’s up there with the funniest. It’s certainly making me laugh. And it seems so far to be working.”
As to whether the funny man ever fears being cancelled, as culture wars rage and some claim fear of causing offence is killing comedy, Gilbert says he isn’t worried.
‘I’m just laughing at my own life’
“In the past, I was talking about things like electric toothbrushes, duvets, lost luggage, mince pies. If anybody’s ever cancelled about those things, I’d be interested to hear. But I doubt it.
“Now, in my last show the Book of John and this next one, I’m talking about me and my experiences and you know, my mum’s Alzheimer’s, my stroke, my infertility, my struggle to have kids, my cancer. So, I’m talking about my stuff, my experiences, so, no I don’t give it any thought whatsoever.
“While I’m talking about stuff that is big controversial subjects, I guess I’m talking about my experiences, and I think people are fine with that.”
He adds: “I never seek to try and get headlines with it or be especially edgy with it, I’m just laughing at my own life.”
Having used his platform to help break the silence around health issues in the past, he admits it’s not always easy joking about cancer.
“[My show’s] on a whole new topic that is a really tricky thing to navigate, you know, And that’s a real challenge and really exciting…
“It has the potential to move people more, it has as a potential to have a bigger impact on people, I think, than toothbrushes, duvets and stuff.”
Away from the tricky topics his next live show, Gilbert has some more light-hearted fare in his latest TV show, Growing Pains, featuring a host of fellow celebrities opening up about their cringingly embarrassing teenage years.
The ex-girlfriend he owes everything to
Gilbert himself had suffered crippling shyness throughout his childhood and teens, lasting into adulthood – despite his attention-grabbing choice of career.
He explains: “I was terribly shy, you know, I’d never been on stage, until I was in my thirties. I did one school play where the only reason the drama person made me do it was to try and get me out of my shell, to try and push me to be less shy and less self-conscious. It didn’t really work, and I didn’t enjoy it.”
So, what happened between his unsuccessful performance of Oh What A Lovely War and becoming one of the country’s best loved stand ups?
It turns out it was an ex-girlfriend who changed his life.
“I had a girlfriend who just thought I could do it and just kept on at me and just kept encouraging, kept nagging, whatever way you want to say it for about eight years, she kept on at me and in the end, I went, ‘Alright, I’ll give it a go’.
“But by that point I suppose I’d been a director of a market research company. I was used to standing up in front of people and presenting. I was probably a bit less shy than I had been in my teens and twenties, certainly. But university was a write-off, you know, an absolute social anxiety, shyness right-off. I barely left my room.”
The ex in question was Bryony Katherine Worthington – now Baroness Worthington – a British environmental campaigner and life peer in the House of Lords.
“I owe her everything… without her, I would never, ever, ever in a million years entertain the idea of doing this. It wasn’t in my head one jot.”
Made a peer for her lead role in drafting the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act, Baroness Worthington is clearly a woman with many strings to her bow – she was also the first woman to breastfeed in the House of Lords.
Gilbert jokingly adds: “I think she makes a significant difference to my life, but then in their work on the environment has probably made a significant difference to more.”
On Dermot O’Leary’s potty mouth: ‘I nearly fell off my chair’
Guest appearances on Growing Pains include comedian Greg Davies (Gilbert says the Taskmaster star “used to chase [his sister] around a field on a on a moped with a cricket bat”); Presenter Dermot O’Leary (Gilbert says: “He swore in the studio, and I almost fell off my chair. I was like, ‘Dermot O’Leary, what!'”); and pop star Sophie Ellis Bextor (Gilbert admits to being jealous of her teen years: “The reason her life’s embarrassing is because it’s so bloody cool”).
As for what lies in store for Gilbert – who seems to be somewhat of a workaholic – he says: “I don’t have a goal, I don’t have a five-year plan. I don’t have a bucket list of professional things I want to do. But I’m still really enjoying what I do and evolving, I think, and, you know, pushing it into different areas, which is nice.”
And looking back, he’s pretty happy with what he’s achieved so far: “There’s nothing that I think, ‘Well I must correct that record and go back and, and successfully do that thing I didn’t successfully do’. What I’m really enjoying about my career at the moment is that it’s always changing.
“I guess [I need to] keep evolving, keep it changing, and keep surprising myself and keep enjoying what I do.”
And despite being unable to stop working for long, he’s hoping to take brief break in the sun – after he’s attended an obligatory end-of-summer wedding.
Still in touch with all his old schoolfriends, Gilbert is travelling back to Wales from his holiday in the South of France just to go to a pal’s wedding. Admitting they’ve been together “a long time,” but are only now tying the knot he jokes: “They’ve waited 30 years until I was on holiday, I do begrudge them a bit!”
Growing Pains is on Mondays at 9pm on Comedy Central.