In 2013, I posted a blog in which comedian Matt Price talked about the violent physical attack in 2007 on his partner, comedian Martha McBrier, by four or five men in Glasgow. The attack permanently damaged her hearing.
He told me: “about a year later, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour and, between those times, a member of her family went to buy a gun to shoot the man who attacked her.”
Matt also looked into the possibility of taking violent revenge, but a career criminal persuaded him not to.
Last week, Matt told me: “If I’d have taken revenge, I wouldn’t be here eating a muffin with you; I’d have been in jail.”
He is still together with Martha and, now based in London, he has started a weekly podcast – released every Sunday – called Conversations with Criminals.
The fourth episode of the podcast was posted online yesterday.
Matt’s Edinburgh Fringe comedy show in August will be titled: Broken Hooters and Geezers with Shooters.
JOHN: Conversations with Criminals… Why?
MATT: Because I knew nothing about crime until I was on the receiving end of one, when Martha got attacked all those years ago. Had I taken revenge, my life would have been very different.
I would much rather hear about what it’s like to be in prison and how hard it is to hustle while I am here eating a muffin, drinking a coffee with you and not in prison.
MATT: Because I’ve spent about ten years in the company of various dodgy people.
I like podcasting as a medium and also I like the fact that people who are on the wrong side of the law have great stories to tell and a very bleak sense of humour. They have to in order to cope with what they do and what they’ve done.
I am casting my net wide. I’m going to Nottingham to speak to a guy who will talk me through what it was like to be an addict going in and out of jail. I’ve talked to a guy whose parents were heroin dealers and, in the 1980s, he moved down to London and started robbing banks. All interesting stuff.
JOHN: Why will they talk to you? You’re not paying them.
MATT: People like to talk about themselves. Or maybe I’ve just fallen in with the right crowd.
MATT: Brendan, Dave Courtney’s best mate and he’s a very funny guy. Just a funny man. What makes him so interesting to me is that he is a self-confessed coward. He made it very clear when he met Dave all those years ago: “Look, you’re great company, but I’m a coward. I don’t want to get involved in any violence. So I will run away.”
JOHN: So he’s not really a ‘hard man’.
MATT: Not at all.
JOHN: Or a criminal?
MATT: I think it’s well-documented he did go to jail. But I know he doesn’t want to be known as a ‘hard man’ in any capacity and that’s very important to him. Because if you make it clear, in that world, that you’re not a hard man, then people will leave you alone.
JOHN: And, if you say you are a hard man…?
MATT: …I imagine there will be more… ermm… challenges.
JOHN: Difficult to keep it up weekly, missus: the podcast.
MATT: Well, it’s not easy interviewing people who are on the wrong side of the law, because they tend not to make plans for the future. You can’t phone someone up and say: “Oh, can you have a look in your diary… We could do lunch next week?”
That’s not how it works. And sometimes there are misunderstandings, of which I’ve had a few. The most recent one was with a guy called Andy Costello, who was in Episode 3.
He really intrigued me because, in a way, he’s a vigilante. He was a policeman and lost his job because – this is 20 years ago – somebody punched his teenage daughter and he took violent revenge on the guy – He beat up him and his mates – and went to jail for it. But he has turned his life around completely now; he’s an amazing guy.
JOHN: What does he do now?
MATT: He teaches martial arts. He trains some of the best fighters in the country if not in the world.
I met him through a friend and I went out to meet him on a farm where his gym is and I thought he knew I was doing my weekly podcast.
But he thought – because he has just started doing stand-up comedy – that I, as a comedian, was going to interview him about his new career.
We met and I said: “Look, I’m not here to judge you in any way…” and he thinks Great! Because he’s just started performing comedy and I’ve been doing it a while. And then we start talking about crime and revenge and what it’s like to be in jail. And he was too polite to say anything. He thought it was odd but maybe I was trying to ‘big him up’ with an interesting angle.
It was only afterwards that our mutual friend told him the title of the weekly podcast was Conversations with Criminals.
But the interview was great and he and his daughter like it. So it was all fine and mellow.
JOHN: Have you had less mellow misunderstandings?
MATT: Yes. I met somebody else through a mutual contact and the three of us got into a car with Mister X who, to be honest, I knew very little about.
Our mutual friend says to Mister X: “You remember that time you chopped somebody’s arm off?”
And Mister X says: “No. I have absolutely no recollection of that whatsoever.”
“Ah, no,” says my friend. “You remember – that geezer with his arm hanging off and the claret everywhere?”
“No… I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. And, by the way, who are you?” says Mister X to me.
I said: “My name’s Matt and I’m a comedian.”
“Well, you don’t look very funny,” he says.
So we get to this strange pub and at that time I had flu – my eyes were watering and Martha had told me I needed to be drinking lots of water – so, of course, I downed four pints in one go and arm-chop man was already quite nervous and he says to our mutual friend: “Your mate looks a bit dodgy. What’s the matter with him? Is he a policeman? Is he wired-up? Is he a journalist?”
“No,” my mate says. “He’s just an idiot who is too scared to ask where the toilets are.”
So we had this very awkward, very tense interview with power ballads playing in the background and I said: “Can you give me some advice?”
And he said: “Yeah. You should chill out, mate. Relax. You look really twitchy and you’re making ME feel nervous now.”
Then two guys walked in – two total strangers – and my friend just walked out of the venue. So I followed him.
A couple of days later, I got a phone call from Mister X who says: “You really ARE what you say you are. Shall we start again?”
So we did and we had a delightful chat. He is going to remain anonymous not for any particular sinister reason. It’s just he has moved on with his life. He said: “You can have a selfie with my dog, but don’t put the picture of the dog online, because that will give away my identity.”
JOHN: Quite a few comedians have dodgy pasts.
MATT: One day I was in a car on the way to a gig with Mister A, talking about the podcast and he said: “Well, as comedians, we are on the periphery of society anyway, so we have a lot in common with these people. We’re just alternative people who are not going to work 9 to 5 staff jobs and neither are they. We are just people with a different lifestyle.”
Unfortunately, crime pays an awful lot more than comedy does.
Lets be honest, everybody says: “Ooh, I’d love to get on Netflix as a comedian but, failing that…”
JOHN: Do they?
MATT: True crime is very popular at the moment.
JOHN: I guess everybody thinks they would like the excitement of being a criminal.
MATT: Well, not me. I’ve met them. At various levels. And I don’t really know any one of them – yet – who says Oh yes! Crime is great!
Crime is great when you’re driving around in a BMW. But then you get caught and suddenly all the people who said they thought you were amazing don’t want to know you any more. I don’t see what’s glamorous about that.
CONVERSATIONS WITH CRIMINALS IS ON