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Rufus Hound - One Man, New Guvnors

Rufus Hound takes his work seriously. Given that the formerly 
flamboyantly-moustached comedian best-known until recently as a 
panellist on Keith Lemon's abrasively smutty ITV2 game-show, Celebrity 
Juice, has just taken over the exhausting lead role in One Man, Two 
Guvnors, such dedication to his craft is probably a good thing. Richard 
Bean's 1960s-set adaptation of Goldoni's eighteenth century comic romp, 
The Servant of Two Masters, after all, all but reinvented a tireless 
James Corden when he originated the role of underworld stooge Francis 
Henshall in National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner's 
production.

With Welsh actor Owain Griffiths having stepped into Corden's sizeable 
shoes on the West End, Hound's appearance in the touring version of One 
Man, Two Guvnors, which arrives in Glasgow next week,  might 
potentially open up similar doors for Hound. Especially now he's quit 
Celebrity Juice to appear in another stage play, Utopia, at Soho 
Theatre last summer after doing a couple of films, Big Fat Gypsy 
Gangster, and The Wedding Video. Not that Hound is taking being cast in 
One Man, Two Guvnors for granted.

“It's ridiculous,” Hound says. “When I saw James do it, and then Owen, 
because of the audience inter-action thought it looked like the most 
fun in the world. I always approach each casting as if I'm not going to 
get it. There's this nagging doubt, like a man with a clipboard will 
come along and tap you on the shoulder and tell you you're not as good 
as you thought you were. Then when I got the phone call to say I'd got 
it, I jumped up and down for about twenty minutes.”

Such sentiments could be lifted straight from the classic comedy stars 
auto-biographies Hound laps up. Yet, while comedians wanting to be 
taken seriously isn't exactly front page news, you get the impression 
that it's something the artist formerly known as Robert James Blair 
Simpson has been hankering after for some time.

“From the age of six to sixteen, I said I was going to be an actor.” 
says Hound. “If you ever needed someone to say something at school 
assembly, always go to big mouth, I was that kid. There are videos of 
me re-enacting Rudolf Nureyev on The Muppet Show. Then later, I 
discovered Shakespeare, and learnt that his plays are about things 
which haven't changed in two thousand years, but which have never been 
expressed so beautifully. A lot of us are given to believe that 
Shakespeare is impenetrable, but it was Shakespeare that made me love 
John Godber and Willy Russell and Brecht, lots of working man's plays.”

The leap from Rudolf Nureyev impressions to Brecht isn't an obvious 
trajectory, but neither is the move from Celebrity Juice to the 
National Theatre. Such seemingly contrary aspects of Hound's 
personality seem to date from ructions during a childhood which was 
clearly the making of him, even as it fuelled the anger behind his 
Rufus Hound creation.

Simpson grew up in Surrey, where he initially went to a fee-paying 
school. Then, “there were a lot of changes in my life, when, after 
about nine months, the money ran out.”

Simpson went to sixth form college, where there was a teacher who'd 
been an actress introduced him to political theatre. By that time, 
however, Simpson was not only able to get served in pubs, but “I'd 
learnt that there were these things called breasts.”

Simpson didn't go to university, but ended up meeting a girl who'd 
become a part-time comedy critic to subsidise her own career as an 
actress.

“Through that I learnt what it takes to say that you're an actor,” 
Hound says.

It was also through that connection that Simpson met Russell Brand, and 
ended up providing backstage and technical support on a play by Trevor 
Lock which Brand and his girlfriend were appearing in on the Edinburgh 
Festival Fringe. It was Brand who convinced Simpson that he was funny, 
and, after briefly toying with the idea of calling himself Jiminy 
Biscuit, Rufus Hound was born.

In 2002, Hound was a finalist in So You Think You're Funny , and by 
2005 was co-presenting Top of the Pops and the BBC's coverage of 
Glastonbury. His style made Hound something of a favourite for TV panel 
shows designed with the student audience in mind. In the last couple of 
years, however, Hound has moved into more family friendly waters. There 
was a CBBC sit-com, Hounded, and even a routine to Cheryl Cole's Fight 
For This Love on let's Dance For Sport Relief. Then, after six series 
of Celebrity Juice, Hound's departure came suddenly.

“I didn't start doing what I do to be somebody else's sidekick,” Hound 
says without rancour. “It was becoming more about making jokes about 
Holly Willoughby's tits, which weren't the jokes I was making. If you 
watch the out-takes of the series on the DVD, I'm in that almost more 
than the series. I won't lie about that show. I got to sit there 
drinking while Leigh Francis [aka Keith Lemon] was being incredibly 
funny. It became like a family. My wife was there, Leigh's wife was 
there, so it wasn't me throwing a massive strop or anything like that. 
It was like a night out, but if that night out is stopping you from 
doing other things, then it's time to find the door.”

That door led to Utopia, a compendium of short plays by the likes of 
Dylan Moran and Simon Stephens, in which six clowns tried out different 
versions of a utopian dream. As an attempt to redefine political 
theatre, such a concept reminded Hound of his theatrical roots.

“All the words the director Steve Marmion used to describe Utopia were 
the exact same words my teacher used about Willy Russell and political 
theatre,” Hound says. “I knew I couldn't say no to it, otherwise I'm 
just Mr Fucking Clown Shoes.”

This reawakening had already fed into Hound's stand-up act.

“I was at the point where I was getting angrier and angrier, so I 
wasn't able to write jokes. Rather than churn out the same kind of 
bile, I decided to take a step back. It's very hard to make people 
laugh by saying positive things, so when you're looking for an angle, 
it's usually about things that are terrible. When you start thinking 
those sort of thoughts, you can't stop. I'm aware that in etymological 
terms, cynicism and cyanide have the same root, and once you're on that 
train, you can't get off.”

Hound's salvation came through domestic bliss. He married Beth Johnson 
in a Las Vegas wedding in 2007, and the pair now have two children.

“We're all lying to each other about this impending apocalypse and are 
basically getting to this terrible point of human existence, and about 
how it becomes very hard to live day to day,” he says. “Then you get 
two kids, and you have to find somewhere to put all this stuff.

“I was quite happy to be drunk at work when I was on my own, but since 
having kids, you have to start being a grown-up. I went to wanting a 
full-scale revolution to make a better world for my kids.  In a way 
Utopia was about where politics is now, and it's all about carrying on.

“The thing I want from my art is to get a holiday from how shit 
everything is, and the people who can give me that holiday are the 
people I don't just like, but who I love.”

Beyond One Man, Two Guvnors, Hound is in talks with ITV regarding a 
“big idea” for a new show.

“I'm not saying populist TV is beneath me,” he makes clear, “because 
it's not. I'm not a high art guy. The books I buy are comedy books, and 
the albums I buy are generally by four blokes with guitars shouting at 
each other. But I suppose the thing I want to have in my work is a 
quality I can be proud of. Being a self-employed person, it comes as no 
surprise that I do some things for money, but that allows me to do 
Utopia, and it allows me to do One Man, Two Guvnors. I want to feel 
increasingly proud of what I do. But listen to me,” he says, as if 
Robert Simpson had just decided to  rein in Rufus Hound. “I've been 
going on like a school-girl in her diary. Ooh, listen to me. Look what 
I did.”

One Man, Two Guvnors, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, November 13th-17th
www.atgtickets.com
The Herald, November 3rd 2012

ends

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