MEET SIMON BRODKIN
BUT BE CAREFUL
After several hours in a Swiss police cell, Simon Brodkin, the comedian and prankster, was released by Swiss police to catch his flight home. That morning, in a televised stunt, he had showered Fifa President Sepp Blatter with bank notes, and been arrested for his trouble. Now, he went to the airport, checked in and started queueing for security. Then he noticed that there was a lane without a queue – but it was for first class passengers only.
“I couldn’t help myself,” he says: he talked the security guard in to letting him on to the exclusive lane.
Brodkin is a consummate, incorrigible blagger. Right now he is the world’s most famous blagger, too, thanks to his ploy at Fifa. Until this year he was probably best known in the guise of a comic character, Lee Nelson, an amiable South London geezer in a baseball cap, who had his own ‘Well Good’ BBC3 TV show for two series in 2010-11. But over the years Brodkin has pulled several stunts both as Nelson and as dimwitted premier league footballer Jason Bent – in 2013 he managed to get on the training pitch with the Manchester City team at Goodison Park, and last year he nearly boarded the England team’s charter plane to the World Cup, merely by wearing the same Team England suit that he’d picked up in Marks & Spencer’s.
Then, a month ago, Kanye West’s headline show at Glastonbury was interrupted by none other than Lee Nelson. Add West to Sepp Blatter and Brodkin has claimed two sizeable scalps, as well as front pages around the world, in a single month. He has graduated from making mischief to making headlines.
You could argue that with his Fifa ambush and that one enduring image of Blatter in a cloud of cash Brodkin was also making a statement. Swiss police certainly took him seriously – he was charged with trespassing the next day, so that when I met him back in the UK earlier this week my first question was whether this whole funny business had suddenly become rather sombre.
“It is, unfortunately, serious. Am I worried? I know I’ve been charged and I don’t know if I can say too much. I can say that it would be the greatest irony of all if I was the first person to go to prison over events in Fifa HQ.”
Brodkin is short and muscular, dresses less than his 38 years in a tight T-shirt and high-top trainers, and has flecked highlights in his hair – a remnant of Jason Bent’s footballer’s haircut. He has a strong chin but a rubbery face, in which no feature is so distinct as to stop him from looking like someone else. The comedians he admires are Steve Coogan, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ricky Gervais and he, like them, is a shapeshifter.
But it’s one thing to inhabit a character, quite another to get that character on to the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury or in to Fifa HQ. He won’t go in to detail about how he inveigled his way in to Blatter’s press conference:
“It might land me in a bit of trouble. But a lot of it is just feeling like you are meant to be there and looking the part. Big balls definitely come in handy a lot of the time.”
The $600 that Brodkin bunged at Blatter was real, and it was his own.
“For me that’s part of it – if you’re going to do it you do it properly. The Fifa guys couldn’t believe it. In the end it cost me nothing because they gave it all back. I can assure you there might be corruption in Fifa but the Swiss police are corruption free. They gave back every penny. ‘Here you go sir.’”
Gatecrashing Glastonbury began with Brodkin turning up at security holding a microphone he’d bought from Argos the previous day.
“I got turned away a couple of times from the stage. It’s never easy. There’s a sort of golden zone where you are just not meant to be. The security ups a level. One time I just got ushered away by this woman who thought I was in the wrong place. But I kept at it. I went downstairs and suddenly I was in the hospitality area – Pharrell [Williams] was there, but there wasn’t time to chat. I went in to the toilets, psyched myself up, got my game face on and went for it. A guy said, ‘Where’s your ID?’ I said, ‘I’m meant to be ON STAGE mate.’ He went, ‘Oh, sorry.’ I went up and there was the same woman who’d ushered me away moments earlier, but because I’d got through to this point and I was bouncing and had the mic she let me go on.”
Why Brodkin does whathe does may be more complex than how he does it. At first, he tells me that like most comedians, it’s all about the laughter.
“First and foremost I try and be funny. This just seems to be the type of comedy I feel comfortable doing, and fortunately other people seem to find it amusing as well.”
But his Fifa stunt was more than just poking fun – there was real satirical punch behind it.
“I guess that I’ve looked at people in the public eye who maybe could do with being taken down to earth a little bit. I think Fifa and Sepp Blatter are probably in that mix.”
Not everyone finds Brodkin’s interjections amusing. Fans of Kanye West, for one, took to twitter condemning him for ruining an expensive and much-anticipated evening. He counters that you can’t please all the people all of the time. The general feeling towards his pranks, he feels, is positive.
“Even with the Fifa security you could sense were smiling and joking about it. Sepp, not so sure. After arresting me and me being in a cell for several hours, the Swiss police showed me that the video had made it on to the website of the big national paper. There was a warmth there. And I hope there’s a warmth to the stunts that I do as well. I wasn’t going up to Sepp and going, “You fat, corrupt bellend. I didn’t do that. Well, I didn’t say fat.”
If the Fifa take-down has been his crowning glory to date, I would argue that it’s Brodkin jumping the security queue at the airport that tells you most about him. There, he wasn’t trying to get a laugh or make a point. He just couldn’t stop himself trying to pull a fast one.
“It just comes naturally. Looking back maybe I’ve always done similar things at university [in Manchester]. I’d try and get all my mates in to a club by pretending we were all from Barcelona, do silly things, assume different characters. It’s trying to see how far you can get.”
The biggest oddity about Brodkin’s CV is not that the class clown ended up in comedy, but that he got there via medical school. He was a qualified doctor before he started doing stand-up full time in 2007.
“I loved doing the medical degree and I loved medicine, science, helping people. To ditch that to do the comedy shows how much I wanted to give it a go.”
The only remaining question, then, is how far he can take it. At one point he talks about bringing down the government, which I think is a joke, although you wouldn’t bet against Lord Bent of Bognor turning up at the State Opening. (He once tried to run for election in South Shields as Lee Nelson, until he was told he wasn’t allowed to as having a show on the BBC gave him undue prominence.) I wonder if he might be suffering from the law of diminishing returns. Surely every security guard and official has his mugshot on their blacklist?
“Maybe there is a recognition thing, but it’s all about how you carry yourself. How you dress, how you hold yourself, your attitude and look… that can get you a very long way.” This particular show, I would suggest, is far from over.