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“Men are having to find their place in the world”

Masculinity

An interview with Rich Wilson about his podcast 'Insane in the Men Brain' and how it is making honest discussions about mental health and masculinity a point of pride for men.

Rich Wilson has undergone something of a transformation since joining the podcast world. As one of the UK’s top comedians on the circuit, a podcast of some kind was inevitable, but it just so happened that Rich was dealing with some of his personal issues at the time and decided to simply bring that into the show in an honest fashion with some guests willing to do the same. The result has been ‘Insane in the Men Brain’, one of the best podcasts out there and a crucial touchstone for anyone interested in what’s going on with male identity at the moment. Rich, in his customary easy mannered but brutally honest style, is not just funny but warm enough to bring out the best in the people who come on it, and indeed allow them the space to reveal all about their struggles. We grabbed a chat with Rich over the now customarily crushing Zoom…

How did the podcast originate?

It just sort of evolved on its own, I wanted to do a podcast and a lot of elements came together. I’d had counselling because I knew I wasn’t the person I could be and I didn’t know why. I was behaving in a way that was troubling me, and I thought ‘I’m a decent dude why am I mucking around? Why am I being this guy that I’m not?’ So I’d be in green rooms with comedians and they’d ask ‘How are you?’ and I’d just starting telling them. ‘I’m in counselling.’ And they’d be surprised. On the surface I’m this cheeky chappie, always smiling, but inside I was crying. And I’d start to tell them and then they’d start to tell me – they’d open up and say I’ve been feeling the same, and tell me some stuff they probably wouldn’t tell other people.

At the same time I was putting the podcast together, and it just kind of came together. I got the name Insane in the Men Brain, and that was it: it should be about men talking to each other. And to have someone who sounds like me – I used to be a van driver from Kent – talking about crying, blubbering all over Hamilton. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but I’ve had some guests tell me afterwards, ‘I told you things I’ve never said before.’ It’s just a safe space to ask questions and talk about stuff. You can’t do that on Twitter, you’ll get shot.

Is it also good for you to be talking to other people, to understand what happened to you?

One of the things I’ve learned and people have reacted to, from listening to the stories people tell on the podcast and me talking about things I’ve done – cheated and lied, things I’m not proud of – is the fact I’ve worked on it and now I’m the epitome of honesty. Sometimes to my own detriment. But there’s nothing better than being told you’re trustworthy.

I learn from every guest that’s been on and I always get listeners getting in touch saying they’ve been through the same thing. People are starting to realise that all these weird and wonderful thoughts aren’t just them, they’re not crazy: everyone has the same thoughts, everyone feels like they don’t fit in. None of us fit into this framework society has put upon us. That to be a decent citizen this is what you have to do. But we’re animals, we don’t fit into that system which is why we’re all spiralling now. Now in lockdown we’re clawing at the windows trying to get out, because we’re animals. And these conversations show we’re not alone, we’re all fucked in some way shape or form!

As a bloke you don’t admit it, that’s the bit you hide…

Yeah we’re starting to make the changes now but for years we had to portray ourselves as knowing what’s going on, how all things work – we don’t have to read the instructions for anything, we know the directions to everywhere, we don’t need to ask… all these cliches. But there’s a real relief when you turn around to someone and say, ‘I don’t really understand. Can you explain it a little bit more?’ Rather than saying yeah no problem and making a right hash of it.

What happens is, you go down a tunnel of trying to cover it up. You start lying and then the shame pours in and you feel like you’re not this geezer anymore, you feel weak, and then you start to get defensive, you get annoyed. All you have to do in the beginning is say, ‘I’ve never done that before. I want to help you but I don’t how.’ Those lines of conversation. The generation before us never talked about feelings, never said they couldn’t do anything, and 9 times out of 10 no-one knew what they were doing. That’s another odd thing: learning your parents didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on. They were blagging it like everyone else.

Men tend to want to be the person who gives a shoulder to cry on, but they don’t want to be the crier themselves…

It’s that animal in us the need to be strong. We were watching the show ‘Mindhunter’ last night and one of the characters is this big burly American dude, obviously a jock at school, might have been in the army, has a buzz cut. There was this moment where him and this female character had an argument, and they weren’t talking to each other, but he went to her and apologised. It was a really sweet moment, he said, ‘That was my fault, I’m sorry.’ It was so powerful. This need to be strong and not the one coming with the problems but sorting out the problems…if people just realise there’s something powerful in going up to someone and saying, ‘I really need your help I’m really struggling…’ I’m getting tingles just thinking about it.

I know some guys who have been in prison and have tattoos and to look at are quite unapproachable but you can have one of them put his arm around you and go, ‘Dude I don’t know what I’m doing, I feel lost.’ There is a power in admitting you’re struggling.

The idea of saying that you don’t know what you’re doing at work is particularly tough, the idea of saying, ‘I need help, I can’t do this,’ is unfathomable…

Petrifying. You’re not going to do that because you’re worried they’ll turn around and say, ‘Well we’ll get someone else who can!’

I remember years ago, I used to do a lot of gigs at Jongleurs, this big chain of comedy clubs, and Donna was one of the bookers. I remember Donna saying to me one day, ‘The thing is Rich, you’re not a very honest person.’ And I was really offended, ‘What do you mean? I am, I don’t lie to anyone.’ But what she meant was, I wasn’t able to turn around and say, ‘No I can’t do that.’ There’s a real buzz in being honest. I think people would be surprised at the results they’ll get it they’re just honest. Although it’s easier said than done.

Can you see this talk by men happening in a bigger way now?

For sure we’re now in a massive wave. To the point where I’ve heard men say, ‘Oh god this again. Talking about our feelings, I get it…’ but now we have to push through that and keep the conversation going. My dad is 75 years old, he’s a good dude he had a really crap childhood and that affected him in his adult life, but the other day he told me he loved me. And he’s 75. And you go wow, the changes are happening.

We might not be the generation who truly benefits from it but we are making a start for the next generation, so they don’t have all this bullshit to deal with. Or less of it. Men being shackled to this idea that we need to be proper men, real men that get shit done. That’s changing now. We used to be hunter gatherers and we’re not that now, women can be the hunter gatherers, so the roles are becoming equal and men are having to find their place in the world.

And you’re allowed to struggle with that, you’re allowed to say it’s hard. Talking is so important.

What’s the importance of having guests on the podcast who might be role models? Hearing them talk about what they’ve been through…

Absolutely, we all have people who we look up to, and idolise. Down the years they change but there’s always somebody. When Oasis came out Liam Gallagher was such a cool dude, but when you look at some of the interviews, he has a sensitive side and he struggles with it. We’ve still got these people to look up to but it’s nice to see they’re just like the rest of us. Although there are people like Al Pacino who live on Venus and you’ll never know what goes through his head.

We’re all starting to admit that being alive is fucking weird. It’s weird that we exist.

And weird that we always think that we should have it all figured out – when you’re younger you think, ‘When I’m an adult I’ll have it all figured out,’ then you get there and it’s worse…

Exactly, when I was a kid I wish someone had said to me, ‘This is going to happen when you become an adult…For the moment your mum and I are covering all the bills, paying the rest, you’ve got a roof over your head, this is nice. But what’s going to happen is one day you’re going to be older and you’re going to be in this position where you’re the one who’s going to have to pay the bills, you have to be the one to take charge of it all.’ But no one says that, we’re all rushing to be 18 but no one hands you a manual. You’re shooed out into the world and go, ‘Who’s the taxman? Who’s this dude who wants my money? What do you mean I have to pay for electricity? I thought the water was free…’

I just wish my mum and dad had turned around at some point and gone, ‘It’s all a bit fucked, to be honest…we don’t know what we’re doing…good luck!’

Are you missing performing?

It’s weird for 16 years my life was just travelling around going from gig to gig to gig. 16 years and then within 20 minutes that had all been taken away, gone. I didn’t realise how important it was. It’s not about getting attention – I love gigging I love making people laugh, but I love the community that has built up, all the comedians. I’ve said all human beings are fucked up – comedians are even worse. What’s wrong with us? Why do we feel the need to stand up in front of people and humiliate ourselves?

We found that all of us comedians are oddbods, we’re weird, but we’ve found a community and silently understand each other. We never said it but it was like, ‘I get you, I get you.’ And that’s been taken away we’re just back in amongst everybody else and the last place you want comedians is amongst everybody else. Were fucking weird. You don’t want this running around behind you in Tesco’s, I’m going to piss you off. So I miss that, the community, being part of this weird family.

What have you personally learned this year?

That the things I was stressing about before aren’t as important as I thought they were. I think this has shown us how fragile human beings are and the framework we live in. It was, ‘Right you’ve got to stay in, a lot of you are going to lose your jobs, a lot of you are going to lose your lives.’ And it was overnight. You’re like, ‘Oh my god I thought we were bulletproof,’ but actually we’re quite fragile. It’s made me appreciate things a bit more. It’s made me appreciate people and being alive. Instead of moping that I haven’t got money or I haven’t got this or that, I’m alive. It sounds hippy dippy but we’re alive, Jesus Christ, let’s try on focus on that bit. The small shit I was worried about isn’t important, trying to come out of this shit and out the other side and rebuild is. We need each other more than either.

Listen to Insane In the Men Brain.

Follow Rich on Twitter:

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