Vine is our generation’s Dogme 95, and Limmy is the app’s Lars von Trier – his hyper-surreal videos will be screened at this week’s London Short Film Festival
When I spoke to Limmy earlier this week, his Vine account boasted 128 million loops, a fine figure considering it’s essentially an unpaid hobby. Really, it’s no surprise: Limmy is a comic like no other, and his addictive Vines belong to a deranged genre of their own.
Among Limmy’s six-second masterpieces, there’s everything from spontaneous skits to cinematic set-pieces. Sometimes they’re semi-pornographic, sometimes they’re disgusting enough to require a compulsory warning. They could be a compressed Lynchian nightmare, or perhaps a reminder that Caitlin Moran’s anti-Limmy threats were a TV news story. Ultimately, Vine is our generation’s Dogme 95, and Limmy is the app’s Lars von Trier – except with spiders crawling into his mouth.
The Scottish comedian is, I believe, an underrated filmmaker. An auteur, if you will. As the sole writer and director of his cult BBC series, Limmy’s Show!, he crafts a specific rhythm and depressive mood, with each idiosyncratic detail evidently one person’s imagination gone wild. His Vines, though, are even more of a one-man circus. Each clip is a diligently edited glimpse into a hyper-absurd universe that mirrors ours, except it’s stranger, more anarchic, and populated by infinite, often topless Limmy characters.
So what will happen this Thursday when, as part of London Short Film Festival, an hour-long compilation of Limmy’s Vines will play to a sold-out crowd at Picturehouse Central? It’s unclear. One guarantee is a post-screening Q&A led by Armando Iannucci, whose first question may be: “Is everything OK?”
To find out more, I phoned up Limmy to discuss the art of Vine, the app’s upcoming death, and the damage social media can have upon mental health.
How often has your work been shown in cinemas? Did Limmy’s Show! get any screenings?
Limmy: No, this is the first time. I actually watched a wee bit the other day of the one-hour compilation. Like the plasterer sketch – I’ve got characters who pop up here and there, and I’ve put them together and shown them for two minutes at a time on Twitter. And people like that. But when you put the whole fucking lot together, one after the after, in an hour, I can imagine a lot of people just sitting there… even if they do find something funny, by the time they’ve laughed at that, the six seconds have finished, and you’ve got this other thing that’s unrelated popping up. So I’m looking forward to seeing what people are gonna be like. I can imagine fucking silence. Even the people who like this stuff – just silence.
They just show how much space is left in for audience reactions.
Limmy: Aye. I’ve noticed when you’re writing a live show and timing how long you think it’ll be, because each half is meant to be 45 minutes, you’re timing it and you remember: this isn’t me talking solidly. The whole pause for laughter, pause for laugher, pause for laughter. When you do that, it comes at fucking half an hour of actually talking, and 15 minutes of laughing.
Has Armando Iannucci seen your Vines? Or will he be watching it for the first time?
Limmy: I don’t know. There’s a few tweets where he said he likes something that I did – I don’t know if it’s Limmy’s Show! or any of the Vines – but that’s how this came about. I don’t know Armando Iannucci. I like him, obviously, and his stuff. But I’ve never met him. They were trying to find someone to do a Q&A, and they asked him, and he said “aye”. I don’t know if he actually went, “Oh yes, I’m a big fan of the one-hour Vine fucking compilation. I watch it every morning,” or if this is his first time seeing any of it.
Part of Vine’s popularity is it allows teens to pick up a phone and build a following out of nowhere. What was the appeal of Vine to you, when you already had a TV show and online audience?
Limmy: If I’m doing something on telly, the fucking lighting and sound’s got to be perfect. Everything’s got to be perfect. But if you’re making it by yourself, especially on Vine, then how much effort you put in technically is nae effort at all. You just press the thing and make a video. It doesn’t matter if it’s rough. I like that, and I like just wee tiny ideas. But it just so happened that some things I’d do, like the plasterer, I’d go, “I’m gonna do another one.” I’d just keep going.
Did you get any offers to monetise your Vine?
Limmy: No. I wouldn’t know how. I’ve seen things like someone going, “There’s a new fucking chewing gum.” There’s Jérôme, the French guy, who winds people up. He got on a gravity-free plane and he’s floating in the plane. It’s like, “This feels fantastic. Just like Wrigley’s fucking Airwaves,” or whatever the fuck it is. No, I never got anything like. I never got any fucking product placement. I didn’t get anything from fucking Frosty Jack’s.
“I wonder if there's a mental disorder that's specific to social media ... – an attention thing or judgemental thing that happens every fucking minute of every day. It’s always there, when you want it, to get judged or get attention“ – Limmy
How do you feel about Vine shutting down? When the announcement was made, I think you’d already stopped using it.
Limmy: I don’t care. I just don’t fucking care. Like you said, by that point, I’d stopped putting stuff on it. I kinda stopped when I made that one-hour compilation. I just thought, “Right, what’s the next fucking milestone with this? The next 600 fucking Vines? They’re quite funny, the ones you’ve done. You’ve got to make this next 600 equally as funny.”
If you see it like that, it puts you off, rather than just walking about and making Vines up. I just thought, “Fuck it.” I ended up doing Vines of me making bread. So I don’t really care. People were saying it’s a horrible thing. But you can download them anyway, and they’re all there. I lost interest in it, so I’m alright with it. I’m not grieving.
Social media often gets called detrimental for mental health, but for you, with Twitter and Vine, it seems therapeutic. Is that the case?
Limmy: I just really like it. I don’t know if I’d be fucking happy if Twitter and all that was gone, but I’ve definitely noticed my mental health fucking decline because of Twitter. Because I’m checking Twitter, checking Twitter, checking Twitter. I’m up at 3 in the morning checking Twitter. I’m ready to go to bed, and I check it again, 15 seconds later.
This is a habit. It’s like fucking overeating or people who smoke. It’s just checking it and checking it and checking it. It can be really good for some people, but for other people it can be really bad. I said not long ago, I wonder if there’s a mental disorder that’s specific to social media. Not made worse by social media, but it only exists because of social media – an attention thing or judgemental thing that happens every fucking minute of every day. It’s always there, when you want it, to get judged or get attention.
For me, personally, I just like it as a hobby. So maybe that’s good. But it’s got its downsides.
You’ve said meditation helps with your anxiety. Is part of that escaping from things like Twitter?
Limmy: Oh, aye. I suppose it’s different for everybody. I don’t meditate as much as I did a few years ago, but when I do it and it works, it’s like switching off everything. You’re not caring about what anybody thinks, or the future or the past, or anything at all. It’s just you, and you alone. That’s it.
Twitter is the opposite. It’s just them. Them, them, them. Me and them. Me saying something for other people and going, “I wonder how this will go down?” It’s just you and other people. When I meditate, it’s just you and you.
A lot of people know you from sketches, short videos and Vine, but I know you’ve been writing some sitcom pilots recently. Are you trying to move into longform material?
Limmy: A few years ago I fucking tried. I just got knocked back, knocked back, knocked back. I did this Falconhoof sitcom spinoff. I thought, “Let’s play it safe. They’ll like this.” The others that I wrote are a wee bit experimental and a wee bit less mainstream. Falconhoof was quite mainstream, but still in the way I like. But they knocked it back as well. I was like, “For fuck’s sake…”
So after that, I thought, “What the fuck am I going to do?” That’s when I happened to get the book offer, and I’ve gotten into that now, writing wee stories and going on tour and meeting people.
Is it frustrating that people know you for short, punchy material, but haven’t had the chance to see your longform work yet? The Falconhoof sitcom sounds amazing. I think you called it a mixture of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Frasier?
Limmy: Aye, a mix of Curb Your Enthusiasm and more The Larry Sanders Show – because Falconhoof has a programme, so it’s a behind-the-scenes of that and his real life. I’m just waiting for BBC Scotland or somebody to say, “We’ve changed our mind. We had a look at the script again and realised we made a terrible mistake. We picked up somebody else’s script by accident.”
Limmy’s Show! is on Netflix. Could they pick it up?
Limmy: I don’t know. Once you get that big fucking knockback with telly stuff, and you move into something like else like books, you go, “Why should I leave this book thing and do telly stuff?”
With a book, you write the fucking thing. There it is. The finished thing is there on the page. It’s not like, “Well, that’s just a script. I’ve got to get the money together for the actors and produce the thing. That’s a lot of money. Why should I do this?” All the hoops you’ve got to jump through, and the meetings, and wondering it’s gonna get knocked back at the last minute.
I’d like to do another telly thing, but nothing’s popped up in my mind since then. I’ve thought about another sketch show type of thing, but I’m too into writing these books. I’m thinking along the lines of writing a novel, in terms of something long, rather than writing a sitcom.
Recently, a percentage of Tim Heidecker’s fanbase rebelled against him when they discovered he’s left-wing and anti-Trump. Did you see any of that?
Limmy: (laughs) Aye, I did, I did. I watched it.
He seemed quite heartbroken about it – as far as I can read him. Do you ever think about who your fans are? Or are you quite relaxed about it?
Limmy: I wouldn’t be heartbroken about anything like that. I’m centre-left, I suppose, and come up with stuff that isnae right wing enough for some people or left wing enough for some people. I might say some anti-Trump thing or some anti-Tory thing, and I’ll get followers saying something about immigration.
I looked and realised this neo-Nazi cunt fucking follows me, with Adolf in his username. I was talking to him, thinking, “I’ll see if I can make him less of a Nazi,” rather than blocking him and going, “Fuck off, Holocaust denier.” It was a waste of time. You’ve got others who are just Tory types.
I also say things where I criticise some sort of social justice extreme thing, piling on people for getting a word wrong or not following the orthodox “this is what we’ve all agreed on”. I’ll have people on the left having a go at me, saying, “I’m really sad to see Limmy’s a Men’s Right Activist.” I’m like, “Did I fucking say that? That’s not what I’m saying.”
Then you see people saying, “He’s trash.” I saw somebody saying that – some fucking Scottish person using the worst “trash”. You’re not them, basically. They’re disappointed in you because you’re not them.
I used to care. I obviously still care to a certain extent what a person thinks about me, just in a human way, but I don’t argue with folk like that. I just think to myself, “Leave it. There’s no way you’re having an argument and converting them or they’re converting you.”
For a more positive finish, do you want to predict any celebrity deaths for 2017?
Limmy: I’ve got a wee feeling in my bones that Stephen King’s gonna die. He’s quite old. He had that crash, that accident when he got hit by a motor, or whatever it was. As he’s gotten older, he obviously looks older. But now, he looks fucking grey. He’s still writing, but he looks grey. He looks white, and he looks like he’s losing a lot of muscle as well – because he’s got that big jaw, and his neck’s thin and looks all fucked. He seems healthy, but dead and frail. I think we’ll get a wee surprise this year.
Here’s a celebrity non-death: I think Bruce Forsyth’s gonna make it. He’s not gonna die this year. I predict Bruce Forsyth disnae die this year. There’s a shocker.
That’s a nice uplifting ending to the interview.
Limmy: Aye, unless you’ve got money on him.
The Vines Of Limmy + Filmmaker Q&A, part of London Short Film Festival, is taking place on 12 January, 6.30pm, Picturehouse Central – http://shortfilms.org.uk