An Interview with Phil Cool
Dubbed ‘the world’s only stand-up chameleon’, impressionist extraordinaire Phil Cool was first seen by viewers of the BBC’s Pebble Mill at One in the mid-eighties, an appearance which led to three phenomenally successful series for the BBC and international fame. We caught up with him on the brink of a new UK tour and DVD releases.
To date, what has been your career highlight?
My first concert at Leeds Grand Theatre in 1985. I’d just done my own national TV series and the venue was busting at the seams.
How did you first get into impressions, and was there one particular impression that lit the fuse?
I first did impressions in my school days of my teachers and headmaster, but I graduated to film stars and celebrities by first doing all the cowboys of the day. John Wayne, James Stewart, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. The impression that really ‘lit the fuse’ though was the American, comic actor Phil Silvers.
Do you believe the art of impersonating can be taught, and if so, how?
I don’t believe it can be taught, lots of people have a natural ability, but only those who develop an obsession for it end up head and shoulders above the rest and turn it into a profession.
How long, on average, does it take for you to master a new impression?
Every one is different. The ones that you look and sound similar to in the first place. Do generally come quicker. I don’t have the remotest chance of perfecting David Cameron. My wife tells me he looks like Basil Brush. I say, “some use that is, I can’t do him either”.
The Rolf Harris impersonation is a classic, but have you ever met – or been contacted by – someone you have done an impression of? What did they say?
Once, soon after doing a rather cruel Paul Daniels impersonation on TV I saw him in the reception of the BBC in London, fortunately he didn’t see me, so I gave him the widest berth I possibly could. I didn’t want a confrontation, because I feared he might get up on his tip toes and bite my knee. My producer did meet him though at the BBC in Birmingham and said: “Paul, I hope you didn’t mind Phil Cool’s impersonation of you” and he replied “Who’s Phil Cool?” Good reply Paul.
Do you have a favourite impression?
The impression that has served me well the most over the years must be Rolf, but the one that gets the biggest laugh in my current show is David Beckham. So I’d say that’s my favourite for now.
What’s your opinion on the current comedy/impressionist scene in the UK?
I don’t really have one, all I can say is that the job must be a lot harder now because at one time where there was only 4 channels on TV now there are hundreds, plus the Internet, so the viewing population is fragmented. Despite this Jon Culshaw and Alistair McGowan are doing a great job. Culshaw’s professor Brian Cox cracks me up.
I’m not familiar with the new ones yet on ‘Very Important People’. What can fans expect from the upcoming live tour?
Anything but an impressions only show. I do a two hour show with a break. This comprises of my trip to America which is full of impressions along the way. Then a stab at how show business has been reduced to a load of tribute acts, which includes a little clairvoyant character from Wakefield Yorkshire who can contact the spirit world and summon up Elvis from ‘the other side’.
Also a routine about broken Britain which culminates in a passionate speech by Winston Churchill from beyond the grave. And music impressions from Johnny Cash to Paul McCartney and from Jonathan Ross to Eric Morcambe. A lesson in ‘faceology’. Also a sketch featuring David Attenborough in the jungle. A Joe Brand routine, a poke at Brain Cox and much, much more.
Are there any modern day celebrities you would like to try and impersonate?
I’ve got enough on my plate at the moment, but Dynamo might be an impression impossible.
And finally, what advice would you give to any young aspiring impressionists?
Take up music or get a job at McDonalds, or both.
PHIL COOL/COOL HEAD (12) RRP £19.99