Interview with author of Captain Bollytadger and The Foreign Badger
As I sat down with humourist Callum Gordon, author of the upcoming novel serialisation Captain Bollytadger and the Foreign Badger, one thing was eminently clear: I was in the presence of genius. This was a man who had entranced thousands of loyal readers with his biting political satire; irreverent comedy articles; and funny, funny tweets. While that would be enough for any of us, Mr Gordon felt he had more to give to the world and, lucky for us, a whole lot of free time in which to give it. I caught up with him to ask about his process, his influences, and just how much of a pirate he is.
Callum, thank you so much for meeting with me, the release of the first chapter of your upcoming serial is just a few short days away, how are you feeling?
Well, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tired, the press junket for this project has been an absolute slog, I often think I should let my work speak for itself, and I think it does do that. But that’s never enough for the fans, they want to meet the man behind the laptop, and it can wear on you, but I’m happy to do it, I’m happy to do it. I just hope they like the story as much as they like me.
I got my hands on an advance copy of Captain Bollytadger and the Foreign Badger, and I have to say, it’s quite the departure from your previous works, what inspired you to change form and release a more long-form project?
First of all, it wasn’t a conscious choice. To paraphrase the captain himself: “I didn’t choose the pirate life, the pirate life chose me”. The genesis of this idea came a couple of months ago when I sat down to write one of my usual articles, I can’t remember what the idea was, but it was such a stilted idea, I was staring at a blank screen and nothing was coming out, I needed inspiration, so I just decided, there and then, to think of a funny-sounding title, Captain Bollytadger and The Foreign Badger came to me almost instantly, and the words started pouring out of my fingers and onto the screen. I couldn’t believe the way it flowed, each paragraph more witty and charming than the last. I still believe that first chapter (releasing tomorrow) is as good as anything I’ve ever written, even if your readership engage with only the first chapter of this story, they ought to feel they’ve got their money’s worth. What publication did you say you work for again?
So the title came first, before any of the jokes or even any of the plot structure?
Yes, indeed. I just needed a prompt to use as a jumping-off point and Bollytadger provided just that. I try to keep an open mind when I write longer pieces like this and let the comedy naturally flow into where it wants to go, rather than having an outline for the plot, I find that my best writing comes when I don’t know any more than the reader about where this crazy situation will take the characters, and we’re all along for the ride.
And what a ride it was, I don’t think it’s too much to say that with the eponymous Captain Bollytadger, you’ve created an instant literary classic character. What can you tell our readers about his characterisation and appeal?
I think that a lot of what Bollytadger is, is the reader seeing their own reflection. He starts off as a stereotypical pirate, think Captain Barbossa mixed with that one Family Guy where Peter becomes a pirate for the first half of the episode. But if the reader stays with it, he develops into a really fleshed out character, almost a tragic figure, with his own insecurities despite his unhalting ambition, and all that without losing what made him funny and engaging in the first place.
Do you think that there’s a lot of you in Captain Bollytadger as well?
I like to think so, while I’ve never been an actual 18th century pirate, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t engage in a few pirate-like activities like buccaneering and pillaging every now and then. In fact, in my teen years, I actually commandeered a large cruise ship and held the passengers at gunpoint.
In the middle chapters, it seems you really give the French a hard time, can you tell me more about why you made that creative decision?
If there’s one lesson I have learned from the early seasons of The Simpsons, it’s this: If you want to establish an audience, you’ve got to really go in on the French. There’s just an oasis of comedy that comes with having French characters and there are all sorts of different angles you can take with it. I like to think I’ve gone for a good mix of all of it, the lecherous side, the wine-drinking, cheese-eating side, there really is something for everyone!
You mention Simpsons as an influence on your writing, what other works do you think the readers will be able to feel the impact of when they read your comedy?
Well, of course, The Simpsons naturally is the holy grail of scripted comedy, while I can’t claim to be as good as the golden age of that show, I think my writing is at least as enjoyable as a Season 17 episode, hopefully moreso. But it doesn’t stop there, Futurama’s comedy form is very classic and feels so hard not to slip into an imitation of. While we’re still in the cartoon realm, the new show Smiling Friends has really opened my eyes to ways emerging writers can still push the boat out.
In terms of written comedy, I’ve been reading a lot of S.J. Perelman lately and loving it, a lot of it makes me think that my writing style was already quite similar to his, probably because he’s influenced all the greats, but there are also ways in which he brings the humour out of a piece that I could never do. Thinking closer to home, I’ve been told by a friend that Jeremy from Peep Show really reminded them of me, I took that as a massive compliment because so often when I’ve been writing, I’ve had characters of Robert Webb and (his Peep Show co-star) David Mitchell in my mind, delivering my lines.
Who else have you been told is similar to you?
When I was in school a friend of my brother’s told me that I was a lot like Napoleon Dynamite, I watched it after that. I don’t see the similarities and I don’t take it as a compliment.
If you had to sum up why people should read Captain Bollytadger and the Foreign Badger in less than 15 words, what would you say?
It’s a better use of your time than scrolling Twitter or watching TikTok.
The first instalment of Captain Bollytadger and the Foreign Badger releases tomorrow, Friday 23rd September 2022 on this Medium!
Check back the same time tomorrow to read the hilarious first chapter or subscribe now to get notified!