Norfolk comedy duo The Nimmo Twins’ 20th anniversary
PUBLISHED: 09:55 24 October 2017
Consistently so achingly hilarious that audiences are left gasping for breath, sometimes so close to the knuckle audiences gasp at the audacity, the Nimmo Twins have became a Norfolk institution. Rowan Mantell talked to Karl Minns about the running jokes, the shambling characters and (whisper it) his Suffolk childhood
Twenty years ago, three men took a sketch show to Edinburgh where, according to one of them, it played to two people and a dog.
Needing a stage name the trio ransacked a random sketch about being the test tube babies of Derek Nimmo and Su Pollard and so the Nimmo Twins sprang, fully formed, to the stage. Or rather, limped swearily, ranting and moaning in broad-as-Barton Broad Norfolk dialect.
“If I had known we would still be going, 20 years later, I would have called us something way sexier and way cooler,” said Karl Minns, one third of the Nimmos.
Today Karl and fellow twin Owen Evans (plus technician Nigel) sell out every venue they play, night after laughter-loaded night. Their comedy is as ridiculously clever as it is seemingly simple.
Two city councillors talk us through the news stories of the last few months paying particular attention to traffic chaos and planning wrangles; local news reports are mercilessly mocked; place names are twisted and contorted into a manic monologue; dialect words are translated for the un-Norfolk; local celebrities from the telly or, just as a likely, a market stall, are introduced alongside fictional characters so familiar they should be real.
A young woman (Karl in a blonde wig) talks us through her complex life in a breathless, smut-laden, filth-laced soliloquy.
She Go, for it is she, burst into an early Nimmos show as a teen mum and has treated us to every eye-popping detail of her life ever since. Once she had a name, but now we know her by her conversation style: “She go…, she go…, she go….”
“She started off as a tongue twister,” explained Karl. “Stephen Fry played a recording of her on a radio show he was doing about language and said: ‘Utter gibberish!’”
The latest news from She Go, mum to Destiny Aguilera, scourge of a succession of no-hoper Norwich blokes, with a voice Karl describes as ‘whiny like a band-saw going through Spam’ is that she has written a self-help book modelled on Eat, Pray, Love, but much, much ruder.
The Norfolk accent, the diet of Delia and disappointment that is the lot of a Norwich City football fan, life on the huh in Norwich Market, sex, second homes, the Fens, the concept of taking a family trip to the seaside to see a decaying beached whale – all of Norfolk life is covered.
A young man sings a country song filled with desolation and desperation. “Billy Boy is my favourite character,” says Karl.
“He’s a very damaged soul. He’s the character who is closest to me. I could write and perform him all day.”
And Karl does not allow audiences to lose sight of themselves either, with every encore including the fabulously funny Newmarket Road Blues, mocking middle-class obsessions with Waitrose, Boden and artisanal bakeries.
Many of the Nimmo sketches are side-splittingly hilarious because they are insular and inward-looking, but Karl’s genius is not contained by county boundaries.
“If you can write a joke about Trunch, you can write a joke about Trump,” he said. His career has included writing a television sitcom, writing for nationally famous television comedians, and writing the witticisms the ever-changing hosts of Have I Got News For You read from their autocue. “I have been watching that show for ever and I still get a thrill seeing my name on the credits,” said Karl, who has also worked with Charlie Brooker, Russell Howard and Matt Forde.
He was still at primary school when he began devising funny lines for other people to deliver.
“At school I was the very, very quiet one, catatonic really,” said Karl. “When I was very young I would think of funny things to say and tell my friend Paul, and he would say them and get the laughs.”
For a man whose schtick includes deep disdain for all things Suffolk, it is a surprise to learn that he spent the first seven years of his life in Bungay, before moving to Yarmouth, and then Norwich.
“But I never felt any affinity for Suffolk,” he insists. “I supported Norwich City Football Club, we went for days out in Norwich and Norfolk. And it was only 200 yards to the border.”
“I would never support Ipswich,” he says, and actually shudders. “I take the piss out of Bungay too, but it’s because I really love it. It’s such a beautiful place.”
Not that a Nimmo show is a hymn of praise to Norfolk. It is astonishingly, sometimes viciously, always hilariously rude about the county and its people.
But he has softened some of the blows over the past two decades. “When I was 26 it was all about getting the laughs. Now I go through the script really carefully. The one thing I’m not is PC, but I’m more worried about causing offence than I used to be.”
His career has also moved on from being entirely about the laughs. He has acted in television dramas. There might be some stand-up in the future. But this month Karl, Owen and Nigel are back in Norfolk with the last chance to see The Nimmo Twins – The Country Members, at Norwich Theatre Royal on October 13 and 14.
It is their sell-out 20th anniversary show, with many of the old favourites plus some new material including a song about nudists on Holkham Beach, and Norfolk Vicar giving a sermon about the Boy Jesus performing a miracle at Kirby Canaan.
But despite the adulation of adoring audiences through two decades of performances, the man who leaps (or limps, flounces or gurns) on to stage, to the kind of roar of recognition and approval more usually heard as a festival headliner launches into a hit song, has to overcome almost paralysing nerves.
“I get terrified. There are times back stage when I can hardly stand, I’m so convinced it is going to die. It’s the expectations,” he said. However, the Nimmos are already planning their 25th anniversary show.
Without wishing to add to the pressure of expectations higher than High Kelling on top of Topcroft, balanced on the Beeston Bump – book soon.
Back with place names, which are Nimmo favourites? “Dickleburgh, Garboldisham, Trunch, Repps with Bastwick...” Karl begins. And can he say something nice about Suffolk? “It’s close to Norfolk,” he offers. “It’s very close to Norfolk.”
Catch The Nimmo Twins – The Country Members, in two extra shows at Norwich Theatre Royal on Friday and Saturday, October 13 and 14. Tickets £7-£19.50 from 01603 630000 or www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk