FIVE YEARS ago, Richard Gadd was the victim of a sexual assault. By way of coming to terms with the incident, and achieving a form of catharsis, he wrote his current show Monkey See Monkey Do about the attack and his subsequent mental health issues. The show also focuses on the idea of masculinity and the damage gender construction can cause.

In previous years Gadd has been a hit at the Edinburgh Festival, not least with his show Waiting for Gaddot, based on the idea that he didn’t arrive on stage for hour-long show until the last five minutes. The comedian has described his older routines as “loud romps, a few degrees away from me as a person”, whereas Monkey See Monkey Do is “the most truthful” work of his career. EDWIN GILSON reports.

You said you’d been thinking about writing this show for years but always postponed it. What was the catalyst for finally going ahead with it?

I felt that the personal stuff was beginning to creep into my previous work. A lot of my previous shows would hint at sexual assault but not elaborate on that in the right way. I was finding it difficult to separate what had happened to me with the show itself. It was time to be honest with myself.

You can go around and tell people one by one or you can stand on stage and announce it and tell the national press. It’s more cathartic that way. Also, I think it’s an important story that needs to be heard. We’re going through a bit of a masculine revolution at the moment so it’s timely in that respect. Having battled with it for so many years, my deep feeling was that the time was right.

Did it take a while to get comfortable with being so personal? Do you remember feeling very anxious about it in early shows?

It still is very uncomfortable at times. I sometimes have this out-of-body experience where I almost can’t believe I’m saying what I am. I think, “Am I really doing this?” It’s good though, it’s healthy. The uncomfortable aspect comes from the years of strife. I was repressing a lot of things. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s important.

The show is also very well-worn by now. Is there a danger it could lose its rawness the more you perform it?

Yeah, that can be a worry. There is a part of me that is still very hurt about what happened, though. I’m getting through it and making progress day by day, but I still feel those things. The second I stopped feeling them I’d have to re-evaluate. Ask me how I’m feeling about it in May! It would be very dangerous to do a show like this on auto-pilot, and I would be cheating my audience. I did a slightly sloppy show when I was ill once and I’m still kicking myself for it now.

You perform the show on a treadmill. It must be physically and emotionally gruelling, night after night.

It is absolutely. I had a sports massage recently and the masseuse said mine were some of the worst-kept legs she’d ever seen. The day to day pain is a real struggle, but usually the adrenaline will take me through the 10 miles I have to run every night. Next show I’m just going to do a show that is Skyped to the venue from my bed – I think I deserve that.

Does the treadmill act as a vehicle for your monologue?

The running acts on a number of levels. I used to run a lot after what happened, because I had some bad insomnia. I would run a lot to put the monkey in my brain to sleep. Too many people run away from their problems, and I think the treadmill has significance for that reason too.

You said you used to run to a lot of “angry” music like The Pogues and Flogging Moggy. Does that anger permeate this show?

There was something about [Pogues’ singer] Shane MacGowan that really struck a chord with me. He was a guy who moved from Ireland to London and felt alienated, and I moved from Fife to the big city where something very bad happened to me. I felt alienated by it too.

I did so much running back then – I’m talking at least ten miles a night. I don’t think I even realised I was doing exercise back then, my brain was so wired. I was overdoing it, but it helped me enormously. It doesn’t allow your brain to run away. If I haven’t slept of exercised my brain beats me up a bit.

At the start of the show you ask yourself, and the audience, “who is Richard Gadd?” Does this identity crises form the backbone of the routine?

Critics always used to say that my shows were comedy romps but that it didn’t reveal anything about who I was. There’s a review that said “he just comes on stage and shouts and swears, but who is he?” I remember wondering if my comedy was missing a bit of heart. But if you want to know who the real Richard Gadd is, well, you’ve opened a can of worms there! I thought I may as well give it to them.

Do you get people coming up to you at the end of your show and talking about mental health issues or similar experiences to the one you suffered?

All the time. I wasn’t ready for that, to be honest. I wanted to bring about personal catharsis and then all of a sudden everyone else related to it. It’s scary how many people have been sexually assaulted. It’s harrowing, really. I’m not putting myself up there as an expert but I do what I can.

Do you experience severe emotional triggers when talking about the incident on stage?

There have been a few times when I’ve almost cried on stage and wondered whether I’d be able to get through it. It doesn’t sound like comedy at all when I describe it like this. It gets easier with time.

Are you looking forward to coming to Brighton?

I look forward to Brighton. The show explores some dark themes and goes into complex territory and Brighton, as famously open-minded as it is, should receive that well.

Richard Gadd, Komedia, Gardner Street, Brighton, Wednesday, March 1, 8pm, £12, call 0845 293 8480 or visit