“Are you going to do this thing at first?” Paul Black asks me. “I love it when investigators do that, when they write something like… Paul Black joins me via Zoom. He has a single curl hanging down and resting gently on his forehead.”
It’s something I had actually written down in my notes for how to describe him when he first appeared on my laptop screen, wearing a hoodie, a framed poster of the movie Pedro Almodovar behind him and a single curl that indeed hung and rested gently on his forehead.
Black has had a meteoric rise over the past few years, starting with a few funny tweets, then viral videos, then his own BBC sketch pilot and now selling the Armadillo with his show Self Care Era.
A major factor in his success I think, and something I also think he doesn’t get enough credit for, is his keen ear for dialogue and his almost forensic understanding of people. I always wondered where he got that from.
“I’ve always been quite observant of people,” he says with a shrug. “Trying to understand their mannerisms and their nuances and all that and that allowed me to create these characters.
“I think when you grow up in a scheme, you have a whole community of characters just waiting to be immortalized…in a Paul Black sketch,” he laughs. “A lot of the comedy I’ve done over the years is based on someone that no one else will really separate from me and my siblings or me and my buddies.
“But that doesn’t matter because people also recognize someone in them and I guess that goes to show that we all live more similar lives than we think. I noticed that when I first put sketches online, people would comment on things like he’s my mug or he’s my dad and I’m like we still have to live the same life! It’s a pretty nice feeling actually.
I ask Black if he always dreamed of a career as a writer and performer, if he always wanted to make people laugh for a living.
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“I knew I’d always wanted to do something creative, but I didn’t know what it was,” he says. “In school, my favorite subjects were media studies, drama and English. Those were the only subjects I liked and were really good at.
“When I was in fifth grade, I realized I wanted to write and direct movies. I talked to my career counselor about it and he was like, ‘It’s kind of unrealistic,’ which I realize now that’s a terrible thing to say to someone who’s just trying to share their ambitions with you.”
He said to me, “Why don’t we meet in the middle? Are you applying for a course like media studies because it means you can do marketing and stuff and it’s not just film? »
And I was like, “Yeah OK. But then I thought, ‘haud oan a minute… are you meeting in the middle of MA’s life? This isn’t your life, mate!”
Filming your own sketches and having the confidence to post them online for the world to critique is one thing, but taking the leap to stage a series of sold-out shows at the Armadillo is another. How did Black find this? “I love doing stuff live. It’s not something I had really considered before, but it’s so good to get the reaction of an audience in real time.
“It feels good. I always get really nervous every time and wonder if maybe I should have a drink before I go on stage, but I’ve never done that because I think if I do that , I’ll always have to. I’m just kinda sitting with the nerves instead and hope it goes well. They all got really decent. Even when I think a performance wasn’t as good than the previous one or other, the public has nothing to compare it to, unless it’s my aunt who came to the same show five times!
When you ask an up-and-coming Scottish comedy writer who influenced them, they normally mention Chewin’ the Fat and Limmy’s Show, but Black’s answer surprises me.
“Well, when I was younger I discovered people like Xavier Dolan and Pedro Almodovar (below),” he points to the framed Almodovar movie poster behind him and laughs. This was back when I was in my cinematic jerk off era, going to the GFT three times a week.
“Those are the kinds of stories I love. I want to represent working class and queer communities in a way that’s not depressing and dark. I mean you get amazing movies, but every movie by Ken Loach, it’s so depressing and I guess it’s depressing because it’s real life.
“But I think it’s important for people to remember that there’s also a lot of joy in those communities and growing up in those environments. It’s not like we all live the most miserable lives.
“There’s a lot of joy and fun in there and I want to show that kind of thing. I don’t want my stuff to be purely rooted in poverty pornography or tragedy. There are definitely some uplifting stories in these communities that I want to tell when it comes to film.
So what does Black have planned next after mastering the art of comedy and stage sketches?
“I’ve just had a pilot commissioned by BBC Three and BBC Scotland which we hope to shoot this year,” he says.
READ MORE: Paul Black: The simple reason I support Scottish independence
“It follows a character, based on myself, following the death of their father. It explores how complicated grief can be, especially when you don’t feel the way you might be meant to feel about it. It’s like therapy, exploring these themes through writing.
“If you can make people laugh while telling a story that might not be the most optimistic, it can be life-affirming. My dying dad was probably one of the biggest things that happened in my life, and it looks like a perspective it’s not the cliché perspective.
He pauses before smiling and adding, “Maybe that’s not what people expect of me.”
The few hours I spend chatting with Black are flying by and I’ve barely stopped smiling and laughing the whole time. I realize I’ve kept him stuck in conversation with me for way too long, but I have one last question.
“If you had an unlimited budget and you could cast whoever you wanted in a movie, what would you do and who would be in it?” I ask.
“I literally think about it every moment of my life,” he laughs. “I have this obsession with… Well, I have a savior complex that extends to Z-list celebrities. I like the idea of having someone who has had a big impact on pop culture, someone iconic but maybe didn’t get the applause he deserves and put him with a superstar actor.
“I want to do a critically acclaimed gritty drama that has Daniel Day-Lewis (above) alongside EastEnders’ Sonia. I want Sonia to win a Bafta, that’s my goal.