Comedian Rhodri Rhys Does Welsh-language Stand-up
Nov 28 2009 by Staff Reporter, Western Mail
He may not be famous at home quite yet but Rhodri Rhys is making waves on the international comedy circuit. Now he’s about to debut his first Welsh-language routine. Wil Treasure finds out more about his extraordinary story
DEATH threats, money laundering and the fall of the Berlin Wall don’t sound much like the building blocks of a budding comedy career, but then little about Rhodri Rhys is as it seems.
His warm – almost public school – and rather English accent belies the fact that Welsh is his first language, but he hasn’t lived here since leaving for London when he was eight years old.
Now 46, Rhys started his comedy career late compared to many of the circuit regulars, but has found success both in the UK and overseas during the past five years. With his first Welsh-language stand-up show on S4C tonight, he says he always intended to pursue his comedy career, but got distracted by the excitement of the real world in the meantime.
“I watched the fall of the Berlin Wall on the news and thought this was great. I had just qualified as a quantity surveyor, so I took a rucksack and went to eastern Europe. It was an exciting place during the early ’90s,” he says with a nervous laugh.
He says he didn’t experience much hostility as a Westerner, at least not initially. “There were so many people coming in, trying to make their fortune – some were lucky, some weren’t.
“But later there was suspicion. People thought we were millionaires with money to burn, but it wasn’t true and doing business was difficult.”
Rhys had set up his own building and property development business in Prague, which he ran until his return to the UK in 2001. He says he was pleased to be able to sell on what was a viable business to new owners with “more muscle” than himself.
“I had received quite a few death threats and we were having most of our cars stolen every other week,” he says. “I had no idea it was such a good business for money laundering, but I wanted to be able to sell it on because it was making money – it was a good business.
He admits: “We didn’t really know what we were doing. A larger company simply wouldn’t have allowed us to set up like we did.”
Moving back to London during a property boom would have been the perfect time for a chartered quantity surveyor with a bucket of experience and a third language (Czech) in his quiver.
But, never one to take the easy route, Rhys invested some of the money he’d made from the sale of his company and set about establishing a reputation as a stand-up comedian. He has performed around the world, with dates in Warsaw, Moscow, New York, Amsterdam, Budapest, Prague and Bahrain, as well as a more standard UK circuit.
Ironically, Rhys is still a relative unknown in Wales, but it’s something he is looking to change. He was excited to perform his show in Welsh for the first time.
“The show was an eye-opener for me and it’s something I would definitely like to do again,” says Rhys, who now lives in Wandsworth with his English wife and their three young daughters.
The recording for Noson Lawen took Rhys back to his roots in Tregaron, Ceredigion, where his father grew up and a place where he spent many summers as a child. He is accompanied on the Pontrhydfendigaid Pavilion stage by a host of local talent.
He draws on familiar strands in his story-telling comedy, but is cagey when it comes to naming his influences.
“Everybody is so different,” he says. “Some people are doing it because they’ve been traumatised, others because they were bullied at school and some are funny but not ambitious. What’s funny is funny – if you do something that’s related to everybody’s lives people laugh. ”
Perhaps surprisingly Rhys does not draw much of his material from his time in the Eastern Bloc.
“I’ve got plenty of stories,” he says. “I’m not sure you could print some of them, maybe if you’re working at a lads’ mag in a few years you could give me a call then,” he adds with a laugh, describing his 12 years in Eastern Europe as a “sabbatical”.
“Everything seems to be set back 10 years – they might call me the late Rhodri Rhys!”
But, more seriously, he says he thinks this is to his advantage. “I have a wealth of life experience that I haven’t yet drawn on. It’s good to know there’s plenty of material left.”