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Bullshit Tours of London: an interview with Reuben Williams

23 June 2017 | Will Rathbone

Reuben Williams is full of Bullshit. His walking tours of London, where he guides guests around the city and makes up facts, have been running for four years – with several special commissions and the possibility of European expansion. They are funny, light-hearted affairs, with Williams’ easy charm and quick wit making for a thoroughly enjoyable two hours spent learning absolutely nothing.

Reuben Williams has funny bones – there’s no denying it. With a cheeky grin and a glint in his eye, he is an excellent guide and a first-rate bullshitter. It’s not surprising considering his family trade. “My dad was a comedy inspiration, and also a clown: an actual, big-trousered clown. So I genuinely had really big shoes to fill”. Alongside his father’s influence, Williams’ also learnt from, and devoured, classic British humour. “As a kid I loved Monty Python, Harry Hill and Vic and Bob. There’s quite a bit of that absurd and often satirical humour in the tours.”


Image courtesy of Reuben Williams
 
Whilst there’s an undeniably silly aspect to Williams’ show, there is a slightly more serious element, born from an appreciation of comics like Ricky Gervais and Louis CK. “I love that kind of desperate rebellion against the more depressing aspects of modern life. The truth is so accessible now, and there’s a perception that we can understand the world more easily. Things make sense; everything makes sense. That kind of mindset can lead you to stop actually looking at the world. You’ve got it figured out, so why look twice? Comedy thrives on the subversion of expectation, so by surprising people with an absurd fact I can sometimes help them to re-examine the city, and appreciate just how absurd and hilarious it actually is. Sometimes the truth is that things just don’t make much sense.”
 
The tours themselves started out rather innocuously and, like many of the best ideas, began at the pub. “I was booked to do a real walking tour at very short notice and didn’t have enough time to research. I had never done a walking tour before, and I was in the pub, so I did what any reasonable person would do. I finished my drink; had another one to celebrate getting a job; then went home to do some research. The next day I did the best I could, despite making an unusually high number of visits to the toilet to desperately Google stuff. There were times when, in a bid to appear halfway competent, I just made stuff up - and thus Bullshit London was born.


Image courtesy of Reuben Williams
 
Another striking feature of the tours, aside from the humour, are the routes themselves. The Southbank Tour is picturesque on a balmy summer evening – starting at St. Pauls, via the Tate Modern and a wonderfully calm oasis near the OXO Tower that was a real ‘hidden gem’, and ending up in Trafalgar Square. “The Southbank route was the first ever Bullshit tour – my friend Rob and I created the route together many years ago. Initially we cobbled it together in a matter of weeks, although it’s changed and developed a lot since then. I’ve done this tour more than any other, so it’s had the most refinement.
The City Tour took longer to develop, and in some ways is still in development. It’s a slightly more experimental journey through the financial district – which is a huge, experimental part of modern London itself”.
 
The ‘audience’ themselves also play a big part. The group London Calling was part of included a couple, two friends and a larger group of actors. Hand-holding and audience participation form part of the tour and, as the evening progressed, the group dynamic warmed. Williams agrees. “The crowd are hugely important. I think most performers would agree that the crowd ultimately make or break a gig. Although I don’t really do personal material, my tours are quite intimate because there’s no stage, so the way people respond makes a big difference. I’ve been lucky enough to have some brilliant crowds who got really stuck in, and lifted the tour to a whole new carnival level of joy”.


Image Credit: Will Purcell
 
So, with the London tours firmly established as a popular, alternative evening activity, are there any plans to expand? “I’ve done 3 commissioned tours to date. Two have been in London and the other was down in Falmouth – which was absolutely brilliant. A marvellous copywriting agency ‘The Stranger Collective’ were planning an event and wanted a fun way of moving people between their different venues. It was a glorious thing showing up in a new city and working out what the hell was funny about it. So many people said I’d pointed out things they’d never seen – even though they’d lived there all their lives! There is also the possibility of a tour of a town called Aarhus in Denmark next year, which could be very fun. If I do it I’m definitely going to play the Madness song Our House as much as possible.”
 
Bullshit London operates two regular tours – The Southbank Tour runs every Thursday, Apr – Oct, from 7-9pm starting at St Paul’s. The City Tour runs every Sunday, Apr – Oct, from 2-3:15pm starting outside Moorgate station. Tickets are £10.
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