What I’m instructed to note doesn’t always make a lot of sense out of context, but it certainly indicates how discursive their banter can be. Key phrases include: ‘diuretic’, ‘nymeh, nymeh, nymeh’ and ‘cock like a knotted cricket jumper’.
Listeners to Peacock’s podcast, which start its fourth series on Chortle and iTunes today, know James by his full title: ‘Little Raji James Who Used To Be On EastEnders But Ruined It’, as Peacock and fellow stand-up Ed Gamble perpetually mock the actor for being virtually unemployable since being axed from the role of Ash Ferreira. The humour can be bitingly cruel – and Raji can react very tetchily to the more personal teasing – but despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary, the trio insist they are all friends.
‘People don’t always get the point that the place that all this comes from is one of friendship. It’s theatrical, a little bit,’ Peacock says of their on-air relationship. ‘We would know if we pushed it too far… we wouldn’t necessarily stop – but we would edit it out of the podcast. People do get defensive on Raji’s behalf. But I haven’t got a gun to his head. All right, we have got one of his kids – but he’s got another one.’
Raji agrees: ‘Others can perceive it as harsh. But I know Ray’s doing it because he cares.’
Peacock can’t resist another dig at his friend’s career doldrums. ‘It’s a good outlet for Raji,’ he says, patronisingly. ‘It’s therapeutic.’
Gamble chips in: ‘It would either be the podcast or crying….’
‘I always wanted a shit celebrity friend,’ said Peacock. ‘If someone had asked me which celebrity I would like to be friends with, I’d have probably eventually come up with Raji. But I couldn’t have manipulated the situation. It came about very naturally.’
They became pals after James attended one of Peacock’s stand-up shows, although, predictably enough, their accounts of what exactly happened differ.
‘He heckled me,’ says Peacock
‘No I didn’t,’ James protests.
‘He was talking and shouting.’
‘I wasn’t, it was other people on my table.’
‘He told people he was in EastEnders.’
‘He was so out of his depth. Everyone was laughing at his stupid face.’
‘I said that you’d spent far too much time on me and that the evening wasn’t about me.’
‘Yes, like you were a big star trying to act like a normal person, not being famous for the night.’
Peacock and Gamble became friends on the comedy circuit. ‘I worked with Ed in Durham and he was polite and keen, and was well smart, like a tax inspector,’ Peacock says. ‘Last time we gigged together he looked like a homeless, with a kebab stain on his front. That’s what working with me does to people.’
Peacock says he launched the podcasts because ‘I wanted to do a radio show, but one where I had the freedom to say anything’. They are, he says, ‘the most important thing I’m doing professionally, I’d do the podcasts over everything else, even stand-up, any time.’
‘As I’ve progressed, my horizons have narrowed. There are more and more things I won’t do. I won’t do panel shows: I don’t like comics being made to jump through hoops.’
But while they enjoy the creative freedom, there’s no direct way of making much money from it, a constant problem for comedians creating content for the internet. But could it lead to a radio show? After all, Peacock has form: he previously hosted a show on BBC London as part of the triple act Big And Daft.
‘We can’t put it on the radio,’ he says. ‘We’ve been talking to radio people about doing it, but I’m not sure we could do it with all the restrictions. It’s not the language – I did used to be on the radio, so I could easily do it without swearing – but it’s the content. We’d only agree to radio if we could do all the things we do on the podcast, otherwise it’s too restrictive. I started to hate doing Big And Daft on the radio – though it didn’t help that we were falling out at the time. I wouldn’t want to start hating this.’
There’s plenty in the podcasts likely to give radio executives sleepless nights, not least the politically incorrect insults directed at James, in which the comics flirt with racism.
‘We call Raji rubbish, but in a well clever way,’ Peacock claims. ‘And we do say he is rubbish and happens to be brown. He is not rubbish because he is brown.’
James does seem to have endless capacity for providing material for his friends to mock. The very day before our interview, all three had visited the Forbidden Planet comic-book shop, where the actor filled in a suggestion card, under his own name, asking why there were no action figures of him, since he played Dr. Rajesh Singh in a couple of episodes of Doctor Who.
And if James doesn’t give them a helping hand, Peacock is always ready with a prank. Such as the time he got a supermarket to put an appeal over their Tannoy for ‘Little Raji James’. Or the time they were driving in convoy, and he told police he was being followed though the country lanes by a sinister man, resulting in James being pulled over. Or the time he made a 900-mile round trip London to Fife for a cheeseburger, just to wind up Gamble, who had fallen asleep in the passenger seat.
Peacock insists he would be playing such practical jokes even without the podcasts. ‘I like doing things for no other reason than it entertaining to me,’ he says
Gamble agrees: ‘It’s never for the podcast. We never plan on it. Only once we did – when we pretended to be dead.’
‘More people should do things like that,’ Peacock adds. ‘When we told the policeman Raji was following us, the rush of that walk back to the car was incredible… there was the great feeling of “this is actually happening!”’
Gamble adds: ‘It’s good to have a story, whether you’ve got a podcast or not.’
The conversation is, indeed, peppered with stories of over-the top behaviour. Peacock tells of the time James gave him a gift of a ventriloquists’ dummy – in the form of an aborted foetus. Peacock admits to deliberately breaking James’s glasses ‘but we did get two monocles out of it’, and James recalls, with no apparent ill will, the time Peacock smashed up his lava lamp and all the pictures in his house.
No wonder that during a recording of the podcast in front of an audience at the end of last series, there was some sympathy for James’s plight. Not that Peacock believes they were really on his side.
‘It’s like the kids at school that no one likes and everyone teases… then it comes out that their dad has been fingering them. You don’t really stop teasing them, but you have a bit of sympathy.
Gamble, however, suggests a more gruesome analogy. ‘He was like a twitchy fox that has been run over a little bit.’
Which implies that for this series they’ll have to put Little Raji James Who Used To Be On EastEnders But Ruined It out of his misery with a metaphorical tyre iron. I wouldn’t put it past them…