Onion Talking: Neil Cole is… Man Vs Ride!
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION.
Tonight sees the proper UK launch of Man Vs Ride – the new science adventure show featuring Neil Cole taking on some of the biggest and best rollercoasters, thrill rides, races and unusual modes of transportation in the world.
The show airs on National Geographic at 10pm, and to celebrate, we thought we’d catch up with one of the busiest of TVO’s regular faces.
The results are below…
Neil Cole’s resume has to be one of the most varied in the business. By day, he’s an alternative comedian, a theatrical actor of stage and screen, a radio dj, journalist and television presenter. In his time, he’s presented Olympic Games coverage and the World Rally Championships, interviewed celebs on the red carpet for NME, and played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One could almost suggest “Renaissance Man” be his middle name.
To TVO, it’s his comedy work that has attracted the majority of our attention. A long-standing friend of The Mighty Boosh, Neil first shared the stage with them back in 1998, when Noel Fielding, Julian Barratt & Rich Fulcher guested in his Edinburgh show Psycho Vertigo Disco.
Over the years, he’s also worked with Dave Brown (on his 2011 Edinburgh show Neil By Mouth), Tom Meeten, Steve Oram, James Bachman, Barunka O’Shaughnessy, Waen Shepherd and The Actor Kevin Eldon to name but a few. He opened for Russell Brand on tour, popped up in The Day They Came To Suck Out Our Brains, starred in Uxbridge Swain with James Wren & Richard Glover, and was a founder member of seminal cult sketch troupe Pros From Dover.
Today, we’re catching up with him to discuss his latest project – the epic Man Vs Ride for National Geographic. Already airing in Australia, the series sneaked onto the UK version of National Geographic last week, without anyone – least of all Neil – noticing.
As such, TVO and Cole have decided to treat tonight’s airing, with a bit more prep time, as the (un)official launch. It is, after all, a show worthy of our – and your – attention.
Asked to describe this globe-trotting documentary series in a nutshell, Neil suggests: “In a nutshell, it’s about everything you do to get OUT of your nutshell. It’s a popular-science look at thrill rides, adrenaline, roller coasters etc and what effects they have on our bodies.”
“Of all the amazing jobs I’ve done in my life,” he continues, “THIS is the one that everybody says “You call that WORK?!” – and I am very aware that there are rollercoaster fanatics who spend all their spare time and money to make a couple of theme park pilgrimages per year, maybe even per lifetime. As someone who already travels a lot for work, this was pretty special.”
Taking in race cars, camels and anything else that looks like a thrilling challenge (yes, we did just say camels), it’s understandable that rollercoasters and thrill rides feature heavily. They are, after all, perhaps many people’s first brushes with thrill seeking on this scale. Neil, himself, has been a fan for a long time indeed.
“I went on my first proper rollercoaster in New Jersey, USA when I was 8 years old,” he explains, “and have loved them since then. Easily the one that genuinely took my breath away first time was Formula Rossa in Abu Dhabi. It accelerates SO FAST you think something’s gone wrong. Your brain is like “shiiiiiiiiiiiiit! this can’t be right??!” as your lips flap around your ears. It is SO fast it has to slow down before the first climb, otherwise your eyes might pop out. Ridiculous!”
The great thing about Man Vs Ride is that it doesn’t just focus on rollercoasters. For every Pepsi Max Big One, there’s a thrill that’s so far out there, it’d be very easy to say no. For Neil, the biggest challenge lay in Soweto, an area of Johannesburg featuring the world’s largest Suspended Catch Air Device Freefall. Taking riders 70m off the ground via a winch, it then simply lets go…
“That was really scary,” admits Neil. “I did it 5 times in the same day, and I screamed EVERY time. But there was never a question of not wanting to do it. The issue for me is safety: “How likely am I to die or get seriously injured doing this? Pretty low? Then let’s goooo!” When it comes to things with genuine risk, then me & the producers have to have a serious conversation… and then I’ll normally do it anyway!”
Obviously, for all the natural fear of a near 230ft drop, it is, nevertheless, in controlled conditions. That camel, on the otherhand…
“I rode a camel,” he tells us, “and that doesn’t have a seatbelt or a harness or a safety lap bar. However, it does have a mind of its own! That was strange, and possibly the weirdest experience for me.”
TVO wonders if he’s ever done anything stranger on previous globe-trotting endeavours. “Before the show,” he suggests, “I guess the weirdest ride related thing I’ve done is the steel luge they’ve built to get down from the Great Wall Of China. I mean, you go to visit one of the Wonders Of The World and, oh – by the way, to get down? Slide down this wicked metal slide! Amazing. It’s like having a helter-skelter down the Eiffel Tower…”
That luge could be an idea for Series Two, and Neil has plenty of other possibilities to ponder if the show’s a hit.
“I would love to do some NASA astronaut training,” he tells TVO, “and experience genuine anti-gravity. After experiencing 6G, I think it’s only fair I get to try zero G. Plus there are some amazing coasters in USA & Japan. We have barely scratched the surface. The production company that makes the show have shows all over terrestrial TV, and Nat Geo shows frequently get syndicated, so if enough people watch it and like it, who knows where we could end up?”
So while it may be tucked away on National Geographic at present (admittedly with a worldwide reach!), there’s every possibility we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of Man Vs Ride in the future. Either way, Neil’s hectic lifestyle is showing no signs of slowing down, and he’s already prepping a potential return to Edinburgh…
“My second solo show is under construction,” he reveals. “It’s called Neil Cole Has A Problem With Gravity – a title and theme which existed long before Man Vs Ride came up. It’s basically about my lifelong propensity for falling off, onto, over and under things… all while believing the rules of gravity don’t entirely apply to me, so filming the show has given me even more material.”
“Dan Antopolski liked me to Beast from the X-Men,” he adds. “I think he means in the sense that I’m a strange mix of clever-pensive-guy and simian-jumping-loon-guy. Now I just need to find an August I will be in the UK, and that will be my sophomore solo Edinburgh.”
There’s also more collaborations with fellow TVO regulars on the way, with one particular project whetting our appetites most of all…
“I have a comedy filming project on the backburner which involves Dave Brown and Tom Meeten in very funny roles,” Neil confesses. “There’s always people I’d like to work with who I haven’t, like Matt Holness and Richard Ayoade. I’m a big admirer of both, and I was lucky enough to see the original Garth Marenghi’s Fright Knight show at the Pleasance, Edinburgh in 2000. It remains one of the funniest live hours I’ve ever seen, so working with either of them would be great.”
If all else fails, TVO suggests, the news that 24 will be filming in London, means Neil could utilise his experience playing Jack Bauer in Pros From Dover spoof sketches 42, could be put to good use.
He thinks for a moment, then opines, “It will be interesting to see if they mimic our running-past-London-landmarks joke from Ep4. And if Keifer needs a bum double, I’m there.”