“An outrageous talent,” is how Stephen Fry described him.
“Bellowing, manic chutzpah,” said Robin Ince.
“Brilliant! Berserk! Simply wonderful!” wrote the Guardian.
But now Michael Livesley is quite literally only Half The Man he was and that is the title of his first ever show at the Edinburgh Fringe this August.
He has appeared in this blog a few times before, when he was staging Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Vivian Stanshall tribute shows with, among others, Neil Innes, Rick Wakeman and Stephen Fry .
Half The Man is totally different…
JOHN: You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time this year… Why?
MICHAEL: It’s time for me to move on.
JOHN: The show is in the Comedy section But you’re not a stand-up comedian, are you?
JOHN: So what are you?
MICHAEL: I don’t know. I suppose the word Storyteller fits. I was a singer and then I ended-up getting into acting. I’m just talking about me life, really.
JOHN: The show is…?
MICHAEL: The line that sums it up is: Losing weight is a thermodynamic process. Eat less; move more. But it’s one that’s complicated by emotional baggage.
It’s not just about losing weight. It’s about what leads people to the psychology of locking themselves indoors and hiding away from society and filling the void – the dearth of having a social life or a life in general, filling that emotional void with food and drinking. Which is what I was doing.
JOHN: But with humour?
MICHAEL: It definitely has laughs!
JOHN: So you have lost a bit of weight…
MICHAEL: Yes, I started on the 20th of September 2018 when I was 23 stone 4lbs and, by January 2019, I’d lost five stone.
JOHN: And how much are you now, at the start of July 2019?
MICHAEL: 13 stone.
JOHN: And that’s the show?
MICHAEL: Well, I found out a lot about myself, not just by going through the process of losing weight but in the process of writing this show. I found out where my triggers were. Did you have breakfast this morning?
JOHN: Two boiled eggs. Two slices of toast.
MICHAEL: You see, in the past, I couldn’t have done that. I would have had to have 12 pieces of toast and 10 eggs. And it’s all down to this thing called the Scarcity and Abundancy Mentality.
People who have a Scarcity Mentality have… well… How many pies would you like?… ALL of them… How many pints of beer would you like?… How many have you GOT? I want to have them all because I don’t know when there’s going to be more.
It went back to all the poverty when I was growing up. Me nan had a saying: It’s like giving a donkey strawberries.
The donkey won’t stop eating strawberries and that’s kinda what I’m like. It’s not what I WAS like. It’s what I AM like.
So I changed me diet to this ketogenic diet which removes carbohydrates.
MICHAEL: Because carbohydrate for me is… Once that chain reaction of glucose and sugar and everything within my body starts, it gives me a reward in the brain – a hormonal reward – it spikes insulin – whatever you want to say – that is addictive to me. That pleasure feeling is addictive to me.
That’s the physical addiction side of it.
But then there’s the attachment side of it. That goes on in a part of the brain I refer to as the pub-conscious. The attachment side of it is: Remember when that person split up with you, you had that big pizza and that big bottle of cola and aaah you felt good? Or: You remember when that person died, after the funeral you got really pissed and you were having a laugh with your mates?
All these things ‘leave a ring around the bath’ as they say. And you try to emulate these things like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations where she’s in her wedding dress and has the wedding cake. You try to surround yourself and build an artifice dedicated to the past. But the past has gone.
So the day you realise the past is dead, that’s the day that things start to change. Because you realise that actually there is a life to lead. It’s about the hard work of recognising that. Letting go of the past. Letting go of all the emotional crutches that were sustaining you in a non-life.
All these shitty things happened to me in the past, but I’m still worthy of fulfilling the potential of living my life.
That’s what I realised.
German compound verbs seem to come up an awful lot when I’m writing. The one German word that describes all this is torschlusspanik – ‘gate shut panic’ – which means ‘time is running out’.
We call it a mid-life crisis.
That feeling is what happened to me. I got this torschlusspanik.
People like you were telling me I should be getting on with things. You know you’re capable of at least having a go at this stuff. Get on with it. What’s standing in your way? – Oh, well, I don’t want to stand out there being 24 stone because of all the criticism and all the public shaming.
Public humiliation forms a big component of fat people’s lives. And the name-calling and all the other shit you go through in life… which bit by bit by bit makes you retreat and shrink your world down to your basic ‘Sitting in a room surrounded by things that give you comfort in the hope that you can reignite that fire within your mind and within your emotional being’.
So that’s kind of the story. I lay on my side for so long that the hair on my left leg stopped growing. Honestly. Truly. I was so lazy, my hair couldn’t be arsed growing.
JOHN: But you weren’t just sitting in a room doing nothing. You were constantly going off on stage being jolly and singing and joking.
MICHAEL: I was doing that every now and then but, in-between, I’d lock myself away and drink and drink and drink – just crazy fucking drinking.
JOHN: And you moved back from London to Lancashire. Was that linked?
MICHAEL: I suppose now, looking back, you could say that gave me the support that I needed and made me feel less anxious. Because anxiety and depression were completely and utterly ruining me life.
MICHAEL: Charles Bukowski, the American poet, has this great poem called The Spark about how shit his life was but how he kept this spark and how he would have to blow on it to keep it alive and it was kinda keeping him alive. The poem ends with the great line: A spark can set a whole forest on fire. Just a spark. Save it.
My show is about me trying to do everything I could to give me the outward confidence to match what I believed I could potentially do to improve myself and improve the life of others.
It’s a modern phenomenon: eating all this crap and locking ourselves away. We didn’t used to have the option. You had to get off your arse and go out to work every day.
JOHN: You don’t want to lose any more weight, do you?
MICHAEL: Well, I could but I can’t. I’ve been on these monitors at the gym that tell your body fat and I’ve got no body fat to lose. I’ve got so much muscle now. I’ve never been that guy. I’ve become muscular by accident.
JOHN: What are you going to do after the Fringe?
MICHAEL: I’d like to tour the show. And I do the videos online. I’ve been doing videos talking about the process.