Your upbringing sounds like Oliver Twist.
It does, yeah. It’s pretty unfortunate. I seemed to meet 12 assholes in the road as I was going through life, one after another — a nightmare at home and you’d go to school to meet this other fucking nightmare. I would go to other kids’ houses where there was so much life. Mine just happened to be fucking hellish, for no reason of my own. My mother fucked off when I was four with another guy. . . . I would be 15 when I left school. Worked in a bookshop. Then I delivered bread, then I became an apprentice welder. I went to shipyards and started to become a man. It was another world, a whole world full of adults, funny, weird, sad, wonderful people. I’m sure I discovered the comedy that I now have.
Did drinking fuel your humor?
It did certainly when I was young. I was a funny schoolboy, but I’d been drinking six years, and then the hippie thing started. I thought I was the luckiest man on earth. I had long hair, I was in a band. [He played banjo in the Stumblebums.] I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Then, drink came to the general melee that was going on in the ’60s, the new morality, the make-love-not-war — or get drunk and fall around and be a crazy man. The more crazy you got, the more people wanted to watch this craziness. When I got in my 30s, the fun went away. That was the first symptom.
How long have you been sober?
I do it on stage. I was drunk, locked in a phone box, and I couldn’t get out. Alcohol doesn’t make you clever. I think a mechanical thing happens in your 40s. You either listen to it or don’t at your peril. Your body says, ‘Whoa!’ I was two distinct guys at this time, the drinking guy and the sober guy. The drunk guy is horrible to people who love you and delightful to people you don’t know. . . . Over time the drunk guy and me had become two guys with different personalities.
Where is he now?
I don’t know where he is. Walking around. I learned the progression of your drinking is that, if you stop at point D and take it up at point M, your alcoholism continues and starts from where you would have been. So, the other guy gallops along. He’s still getting pissed in the ether somewhere. And if I start again, I join up.
You’ve certainly had your fun with religion.
Oh, I love to savage religion. All of them. All those dedicated non-thinking bustards and their imaginary friends. I grew up Catholic. I had a little spurt [of faith] around the age of 14. Then I went from that right over to nothing. There wasn’t a seminal moment. I just thought, “Why doesn’t he show up when children are being burned to death? Why doesn’t he show up in the middle of war and say, ‘Stop it, you fucking Nazis!’ ” Just once.
All your European wars, each country had god on its side.
And the king used to go to war as well. I think that’s a good idea. You declare war, you go. And you get a special hat.