Even amid a banner year of success for Scottish-based comedians at last year’s fringe, Liam Withnail‘s show ‘Chronic Boom‘ stood out as something special, earning a full quota of stars from us. He’s now about to take the show on tour, kicking off in Glasgow and taking in dates in Perth, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh. We spoke to Liam ahead of his Glasgow show about dealing with chronic illness, moulding adversity into a show, and the best and worst places he’s gigged.

Can you tell us about ‘Chronic Boom’?

Wow, where to start? Okay, so I had an unfortunate accident. A couple years ago, after running the London Marathon, I fainted, and… shat myself. That led eventually to a diagnosis of a condition called ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease. So I was given some medicine and sort of told to get on my life but unfortunately, it progressively over the next six months or so got worse and worse. Until the point where I ended up being admitted to hospital for a couple of weeks. So I came out of hospital and basically, I’m a comedian, our brains are poisoned, so any dreadful thing that happens to us, we go, ‘I could get a show out of this, maybe.’ So I got to work on that year’s Edinburgh show and the show is the story of the 10 days I spent in hospital, as well as some stories about what it’s like finding out you have a chronic illness, what it’s like to live with, the changes I had to make ,and some funny stories about actually having it.

Has it ever affected you while you’re actually onstage. Given you gig most days, presumably you’ll have flare ups?

Something weird happens when you’re onstage. I call it Dr. Showbiz, right? Because no matter how ill I am, and it’s like a running joke I say to my partner, ‘So Dr. Showbiz will kick in!’ So like for the period of time I’m on stage. It’s like I just go into some sort of protective bubble and I don’t tend to feel illness that much. There have been times where I’ve had really bad flu or whatever and I probably shouldn’t have been performing pre-pandemic before we knew germs were bad. And I’ve had coughs on stage, but generally, on stage I’ve been fine. The issue is the order around that. So if I am having a flare up, which I haven’t had for some time, but could happen at any moment. Then I really have to think about well, can I travel? Can I spend a day on a train? What am I going to be able to eat and when? Also, the fatigue which is the secondary symptom of losing like a lot of blood and water from going to the toilet so much. It makes it more around [the disease]. I haven’t quite had to pause the show to run off and go to the toilet yet.

How does that factor in to preparing for a UK tour?

All you can do is just do it, you know. There is only so much I can do to try to avoid it, you know. So what we’ve done is we’ve broken the tour up into four day chunks. You can either do a tour where you go out and you do a gig every night a week for a month in a different city. But what we’ve done is we’ve limited it mainly to Thursday through to Sunday, so that there’s a few days rest in between to try and counteract it, because one of the things that can cause issues is stress. And I don’t know if you’ve been on a train in this country recently, but it’s a pretty stressful situation. So we’ve tried to limit it a bit that way, but ultimately, there’s only so much we can do, and fingers crossed we get through the whole thing without any flare ups or any illnesses. But if I tried to try to do everything I could in order to avoid having a flare up, I wouldn’t leave the house. So we have to do what we can.

The show was really successful at the fringe and it’s been quite a while since then. Has the show changed at all in the six months since?

It’s interesting. I haven’t done the show in about six months, and then I did a warm up for the tour the other week in London. Just to run through the material again, to make sure I’ve remembered it all. Having some distance from it actually served as a reminder of how scary the whole situation was. I’m physically in about as good a place as someone with a chronic illness can be at the moment, give or take, and then saying all the material on stage you’re like, ‘Oh, wow!’ You notice a reminder of how serious this was. That’s one of the messages of the show; even though I might be in a good bill of health today, that could change at any moment. So it was quite intense to suddenly be reminded so strongly with my own words, that this could all fall apart at any moment!

In terms of changes to material in the show, not a huge amount. There is some material I’m doing in my club set, so naturally you do that over time and it gets a bit tighter and you find a few new lines and bits like that. Also, in the show, when I did it in Edinburgh fringe I spent about four months on quite strong medication, one of the side effects was weight gain. So there were s a few lines about all this extra weight I was carrying. I’ve now lost that weight. So I have had to write my way around that a bit. When you’re carrying some extra weight, it’s quite easy to roll out the self deprecating jokes about being overweight, but when you’re in shape, the status has changed. I’m quite trim now. It’s really difficult as you know, so it’s hard to talk about because it’s changed a bit. But there’s one or two lines. The show for the most part is the show that was at the Edinburgh Festival.

And from your experiences gigging n all kinds of different countries, what have been the best and worst venues that you’ve played?

The worst venues ever in the world… So I remember doing a festival gig. It was a it was a private festival. So it’s like a corporate festival, essentially. And I was on the main stage in between Fatherson and Twin Atlantic, two Scottish indie rock bands. And we were in the very north of Scotland in a town called Dufftown and it was pacing down with rain. And on the main festival stage Fatherson finished, and the audience fucked off whilst the comedian came on. So I went out and did a set to an empty field in the rain on an uncovered stage where I was also getting rained on. Just as I finished the audience returned to see Twin Atlantic. So I think that’s got to be out there with one of the worst ones.

In terms of the best, that’s hard to say because there’s so many amazing venues all over the world. I love the local clubs, Monkey Barrel and the Stand. I love being able to walk there and play. That’s not the only reason I like it!. But it just feels like home, you know? I was lucky enough to play the King’s Theatre last year in Glasgow, which is just a beautiful room to be in. There’s so much history there. So maybe maybe that I’ve got to play the Harpa in Iceland, the very famous opera house, which was pretty incredible. But then sometimes the absolute best venues are the sort of smallish ones that feel like a living room. You know, random gigs in the middle of nowhere. So the best is actually harder to say than then the worst, but the worst is always more funny.

Can you tell us a bit about the Enjoy an Album podcast that you do with Christopher MacArthur-Boyd?

Me and my good friend Christopher MacArthur-Boyd – during the Pandemic, I don’t know if you remember but we were all locked in our houses for about 10 years? – Me and Chris decided to start a podcast. We’re big music fans. We always spoke to each other about about new albums that we liked, with a lot of crossover in the musicians we like. So we found the list of the top ‘500 Artists and Albums to Listen to Before You Die’ by Rolling Stone. The initial idea was to just work our way through that, an albums a week and see how far we got. After about 100 we decided to abandon the list just because I couldn’t bear to listen to another country album I’d never heard before. I was just done. There was just so many of them and I wanted to listen to something else. So then we just get a little bit loose and we started bringing in albums that we liked, or didn’t like, or something that had just been released. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been successful. We did a live show at the Glasgow Comedy Festival there, and sold out our show at the Glasgow Glee Club, full of people that love the pod and love music, and we got to meet them after. It’s been an awful lot of fun and I’ve listened to so much crazy stuff that I would never have listened to before. Some of it good, some of it shite. But that’s all the fun.

What’s been your favourite discovery from the podcast?

It’s so difficult to say because there’s there’s been so many I mean. The most recent one that I really loved and I now listen to all the time is is Jeff Rosenstock, who Chris was a huge fan. He’s sort of a pop-punk pioneer and his album last year Hellmode is one that I’ve had on repeat and I listen to whenever I’m going for a run, and that’s that’s been really good. I remember very early on we listen to Boys II Men. I’d never sat down and listened to a Boys II Men album, and I was like, ‘You know what? This fucking slaps!’ It’s great. There’s also there’s been some random jazz albums, so Alice Coltrane‘s Journey in Satchidananda was a real crazy musical experience that I would never have picked up otherwise. Bands like Can; German Krautrock stuff. Really interesting. My whole musical knowledge has just broadened so much from it.

And who are your comedy heroes and undead? And should you meet your heroes?

Should you meet your heroes? Interesting. So I love John Mulaney. Whenever he releases a special, I’m watching on day one. I just think he’s probably one of the best around at the moment, and his last show – in particular about going to rehab and dealing with cocaine – I think that’s one of the best specials of the last few years.

I don’t know if you get this many other careers, you know, you turn up to a random open mic gig when you start out and there’s there’s a chance that you could be on with someone who’s on TV who’s trying new material. That does happen a lot. So very quickly you come to meet all these people you used to watch on TV, and for the most part they’re pretty alright. Then you occasionally meet somebody and you go ‘Guys, he was a wanker wasn’t he?’ Or some people…  I think they’ve been famous for a bit too long. They’re a bit fucked in the head. But that’s a small percentage. Most people are pretty good to work with, I’ve found.

How concerned should the comedy industry be about the introduction of the new hate crime laws that could mean comedians falling under that banner?

Not at all! I think that is something that has probably been misquoted and overhyped in order to pursue a right-wing media narrative that we can’t say anything anymore or anything like that. I would be amazed if anybody sees anything remotely like interest from the police for saying jokes on stage. I just can’t see it happening.

‘Chronic Boom’ is at the following venues:

Glasgow, The Stand on Fri 29 Mar 2024

Perth Theatre and Concert Hall on Sat 13 Apr 2024

Aberdeen, Lemon Tree on Sun 14 Apr 2024

Edinburgh, Monkey Barrel on Sat 20 Apr 2024