Across the Arts interview


We Can Be Heroes

Lorna Irvine speaks with Kenny Boyle about Hero Worship.

Co-director of Sonic Boom Theatre, actor and writer Kenny Boyle is not one to do things by halves. Following on from his successful Edinburgh Festival show from last year, We Never Land, as well as roles in The Tempest at the Tron and Bard in the Botanics’ The Comedy of Errors, among many others, he follows up his portrayal of Robert Burns in As Others See Us: The Story of Robert Burns at the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr by bringing his one-man show Hero Worship to the Comedy Festival. I caught up with him to discover the man behind the mask…

Lorna Irvine: Your new one-man show Hero Worship is just an excuse to indulge your fetish for tight Lycra and Spandex, isn’t it?

Kenny Boyle: Ha! What can I say? It’s just so tight! It’s like getting a hug from your clothes all over your body.

LI: But seriously, in your show you explore identity through superheroes. Do you think everyone struggles to express who they really are at some point?

KB: I think so! All the best people anyway. I think that’s why superhero comics are so popular, it gives us that hope that somehow we’ll be magically granted the strength or bravery to stand up and say “I’M SPECIAL! I HAVE SOMETHING TO OFFER!”

And I think everyone has that point in their life – whether it’s when they are leaving school, or university, or looking for their first job, or moving to a new country where they think “I’m special! I have something to offer!” but they may not necessarily know exactly what that something is. That’s when the hero in my show turns to escapism to try to make sense of his life!

LI: You reference The Flash’s failings. Did that appeal to you, making heroes as fallible as the rest of us?

KB: Firstly, thanks for watching my trailer!

Yes, I love thinking about these silly ways in which superheroes might still have the little irritations everyday life offers us normal non-super-powered folk, only they’d be different.

Things like where on earth does the Hulk find such a plentiful supply of stretchy purple trousers and, my current favourite, if Superman is flying really really fast then how come he doesn’t arrive places with bugs squished all over his face and in his teeth?

LI: I was definitely a bit of a bookish geek at school. Were you? Do you think adulthood is the time to settle scores?

KB: Oh yeah, I was a super geek. I was also a goth and I was rubbish at it because I was too cheerful and kept smiling and laughing all the time instead of writing poetry about how dark and empty my soul is or whatever. I’ve pretty much always had a comic, video game or book at my side and I could probably, to my shame, tell you a lot more about the history and geography of a whole host of fictional worlds than I could about the real world.

Settle scores though? Steady! That’s super villain talk! I think in school everyone is just as lost and confused as everyone else and those bullies probably had a terrible time of it too… but I always feel like if they didn’t and they were truly awful horrors the best punishment you could possibly dole out on them is living up to your potential and leading a wonderful fulfilled life despite their sinister thuggishness!

LI: If I could have a superpower, it would be a plasticiney amorphous quality- handy for getting to the front at gigs, etc. What would yours be?

KB: I have thought about this a LOT! At first I wanted big ol’ wings like Angel, I thought that would be cool. Then I wondered where those went when I wasn’t using them because if I just folded them behind me I’d wind up knocking stuff off shelves if I went to Tesco.

So I settled for just plain flying like Superman or Ms Marvel – but then I thought “some scientist will see me flying about and get the army to bring me in for testing,” which sounds unpleasant and I don’t want to be dissected.

The same problem with superspeed, like Quicksilver or the Flash, they’d want to know how I was doing it and dissect me, plus I think running super fast all the time would burn a lot of calories and I’m a vegetarian so I need to keep a hold of as many of those as possible or I fade away into anaemia (my one true weakness!)

So I think I’d like to teleport, or “bamf” like Nightcrawler or Blink. Because it would save me the trouble of walking places or getting the bus.

So yeah, essentially what I’m saying is if I was a super hero I’d be really lazy.

LI: Who is your favourite super hero?

KB: What a question! There are SO MANY good ones! I literally can’t hope to answer this. I’ll give you a quick list –

Gambit: he’s cool. Deadpool: he’s hilarious. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver: Really interesting. Green Arrow: Doesn’t have super powers but is still really awesome.. ah! I give up! There are too many!

LI: You have been portraying an altogether different hero- Robert Burns. (WORD POWER! BLAM!) How does that compare to this?

KB: It’s odd, because you’d think playing a poet and a superhero the poet would seem the more vulnerable of the two. In actual fact it’s Burns that feels almost untouchable and able to bounce back from tragedy and Anachronism (that’s the name of the hero in Hero Worship) who is actually very delicate and a little unable to deal with the world!

There’s a lot more pressure playing Burns as well – he’s a real hero to a lot of people and there are loads of people who feel a certain kind of ownership over him, so it’s important to get him exactly right and not accidentally say any of his poems incorrectly!

Anachronism is a brand new character, so no one has any preconceptions. Plus he’s more like me. I’m far more comfortable in his character (though I love the challenge of being Burns!)

LI: Why do you think male (non-super) heroes are still running around in their older age (Liam Neeson, etc.)? Faintly ridiculous…

KB: It’s about the difference between appearing tough and the specimen of masculinity, right? See these guys aren’t superheroes, they’re action heroes. Action heroes are invincible. You can shoot guns at them all day and they won’t get hit. They can take out hundreds of bad guys and not break a sweat. Their white t-shirts get ripped and dirty but you can be absolutely certain they’ll be just fine and have a list of gruff witty catch phrases. I guess the reason older actors want to play these parts is because it showcases what a he-man they are and plays into society’s fantasies about what being a man means and that must be appealing in a way! But they aren’t super heroes, super heroes – despite all their powers – CAN die, and it’s that element of risk that makes them a far more interesting subject matter. They have powers that should make them live forever but, hey, Superman? BLAM: died. Wolverine? BLAM: died. Even Professor X snuffed it.

And super heroes have to be vulnerable because we only liked them in the first place because they started as the underdog and we related to it. We thought “I wish I could be in a gamma explosion, then I could stop being a geek who gets picked on and be super strong.” Super heroes can never be action heroes because on some level they always have to keep being underdogs. That’s why we relate to them. That’s why we root for them.

LI: Your piece is hard to categorise: a blend of theatre, comedy, drama and monologue. Is that something that interests you, blurring genre?

KB: ABSOLUTELY! Why should we box ourselves in? The show is on during the Glasgow International Comedy Festival and there are only about three other plays on amid hundreds of stand up comics. But I don’t see why “comedy” can’t mean theatre as well! There’s also some poetry in the play because I don’t see why performance poetry can’t be seamlessly incorporated into a theatrical piece. We all love hearing the rhythm of words, right? That’s what all good writing is about! Well sometimes, in this play, the rhythm is also rhyme. I think it works.

I hope I’m right!

LI: What is next for you, in terms of acting and with Sonic Boom Theatre?

KB: Hey, what is it they say at the end of almost every single issue of a comic?

To be continued…

Hero Worship tours Scotland in March and is part of the Glasgow International Comedy Festival. For more information please go to