Iain Stirling

Iain Stirling

Runner-up in the 2009 Chortle Student Comedy Award and finalist in Scottish Comedian Of The Year 2008, Iain Stirling is also a presenter on CBBC with his puppet sidekick Hacker T. Dog.

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'I thought was going to be the next Bill Hicks, but wound up dressed as Queen Victoria and talking to a puppet dog'

Iain Stirling interview as Buffering return s

Iain Stirling has returned for a second series of Buffering, his semi-autobiographical ITV2 comedy about a twentysomething kids’ TV presenter and his flatmates – which he also co-wrote. Here he talks about the not-so-difficult second series, working with his wife Laura Whitmore and a terrible party he threw with Phil Wang.

How pleased were you with the reaction to series one?

Yeah, delighted. Obviously it's so hard to get, particular scripted stuff, made these days. So for ITV to want to make another one it’s nice to feel like you've done something right. And it was a mad slog, series one, because me and Steve [Bugeja, his co-writer] made episodes one and two almost like a pilot. We hadn't made anything like that before and then we didn't really have any input from anyone else.

We filmed in this house and then Covid hit. So filming was delayed for ages and we couldn't get back in the house so we had to build the house as a set. So I feel like episodes one and two are almost series one, then episode 3, 4, 5 and 6 are series two because there’s almost a year in the middle of them!

It's why, not all of us, but a lot of us in it are pushing our mid 30s now. We were in our late 20s when it was commissioned, then we filmed it, and then it took a year and a half to get series two…. Put it this way, we’re all shaving every day, well, the men are anyway!

When we came back for series two, like everyone does, we knew what we'd done wrong and what was right. We got an amazing script editor on board, something we've never had before and she really helped us structure these things and develop the characters. It feels like such a massive leap from series one. So yeah, I’m just excited to get it out there.

Did you feel a pressure coming back the second time around or was it easier because the characters were established?

I think it wasn't so much a pressure, I think we're quite lucky in that it felt part of the furniture quite early on ITV. We weren't that smash first album and you worry about the second. It was just a solid thing that everybody liked. So it was more a solid base to build from as opposed to a really hyped up thing.

To a lot of people that would sound quite glib, but it actually isn't. Especially having worked on Love Island where it is this phenomena, it is nice to make something that can slowly build.

I genuinely think series two is just so solid and so fun. We've gone a lot lighter and a lot sillier and a lot more character based rather than story based. So the only pressure was the pressure that me and Steve put on ourselves to make it work.

The effort that goes into a 25 minute scripted show compared to what goes into a 25 minute panel show, from a creative side anyways, it's unbelievable. It's a year of my life as opposed to ten days of my life. So I'm a lot more invested in this just because I've poured so much of my time, love and effort into it.

You mentioned you’d made tweaks to this series, what differences do you think you needed?

We've brought it a lot more into the flat. I think it's a lot more of a flatshare sitcom. My character’s background in kids' TV, that's still really heavy in there, [but]  it's a lot more about friends in a flat and how they navigate life.

The show's called Buffering and I don't think it really came across in the first year, but it’s called Buffering because all the characters are trying to load into adult life.

That's the idea. So this series is about all those stages you go through as you're approaching being a proper adult. Your friends are getting married, your friends are having kids and you're struggling to pay rent and it just feels like you're not a grown up yet, but you're not an adult. It's that in-between no man's land.

Is there a moment in your real life when you found yourself buffering between two eras?

I generally get it all the time! I have moments where if I'm making a spaghetti bolognese I will have this almost out-of-body experience where I'm like, "I can't believe I'm doing this".

I'm a parent, so pretty much every time I do anything that involves looking after a child, the whole time I'm going, "I can’t believe this". Every bath time I'm like, "I cannot believe I am washing a kid. This is insane."

Is there anything that happened in your 20s that's too naughty to put in this show?

The great thing about scripted is there's nothing I can't put in there because everyone can remain nameless!

I always find it quite stressful back in the day when I was doing interviews or stand-up and I have to talk about other people. I was always worried that they've not signed up for this. I'm getting better at it, but it's always a niggle in the back of my mind.

The great thing about scripted is there'll be people that watch the show and go, "He’s a major prick", but also there’s never one specific character that is one specific person from my life. It's always an amalgamation.

Even me, I play myself and I'm called Iain and there is stuff in there that I actually did do when I was in my 20s. There was definitely a point when I thought I was going to be the next Bill Hicks, but I was actually talking to a puppet dog called Hacker, dressed as Queen Victoria, thinking, "This isn't what I saw myself doing in my 20s."

You have famous faces that pop up in the show, what’s the thinking behind that?

What we love doing on Buffering and one of the things I'm the most proud of is we get those ITV faces and put them into a scripted comedy.

Someone like Melvin Odoom from this series who you wouldn't expect to see acting or Vicky Patterson who was in series one and was actually amazing.

How did you come to cast your wife, Laura Whitmore, in the show as the channel controller, Vic?

It's weird, although she is my wife, there's this no-brainer where you've got someone really known by the ITV audience and is acting in a West End play. Obviously you’d try and get that person. You'd be mad not to.

There were little bits written in for my own personal amusement, I still laugh every time I see it. There’s a bit where she's physically repulsed by me. I just find it so funny that it's just her going, "Oh, he’s vile", and I'm like, "I've definitely seen that face before!"

Is Laura’s character based on anyone real from the world of TV?

Anyone that's watching TV will have met a Vic, someone just so high up, who doesn't care anymore. I'm quite lucky I've got on with everyone but there is one boss from kids’ TV that she is strongly influenced by. Who shall remain nameless! But they've also got their endearing quality.

The worst thing with bosses like that when you worked in kids' TV is they would bring their kids in, but their kids grew up in that world. So they were the most unimpressed kids you've ever met in your entire life. They did not want to be there and then because it was the boss' kid, you had to be nice to these little shits…

What was it like having Laura on set?

It was really good. Actually, it's funny because when we did Love Island together, we were always asked about that quite a lot. But we didn't work together on Love Island at all. We were very rarely in the same building let alone being on the same show.

We've started doing a podcast which again is working together but it is just us talking nonsense for a couple of hours a week and someone records it and edits it, so all the work element of it is taken out.

This sounds a bit wet, but it is mad watching her, because Laura has got an acting background and for three, four months she's been in this play [2:22, in which she’s just been replaced by former Girls Aloud star  Cheryl]. So her acting muscles are so sharp. So it's quite cool watching your wife be really good at her thing. It's sexy, do you know what I mean?

We wrote this character as a ballbuster and then Steve said, "I wonder if Laura would be up for this?" And when it comes to work stuff, we always keep it work. So I never asked Laura, we sent the script to her agent [who] replied to the production. So it wasn't done over cornflakes in the morning, absolutely not.

What's the worst party you've ever thrown and have you ever called the police on your own party like Iain does this series?

I've never called the police on my own house. The police officer that comes to the house was influenced by Nessa from Gavin and Stacey, watch it again, you can't miss it.

Me and Phil Wang once threw a joint birthday party in an abandoned warehouse, it was a rave number. Unfortunately our birthdays are in January. So we had two industrial heaters that warm the space and they both exploded within about 45 minutes. So until the drinking and music got properly going we were just sat in the freezing cold, abandoned warehouse, slowly panicking that the whole thing had gone to nonsense.

At one point this late-night DJ showed up and saw everyone had drank to keep warm and no one was in the best of ways. The DJ was respectful, he was like, "I'm not going to bother with this." And we just said, "Yeah." Gave him his money and let him go home. We were all like, "Do you know what? I'm done." We just ended up going back to someone's house where it was warm, more of a damp squid than a mad one. I remember that very vividly.

I would like to say that subsequently we've had five or six [parties], we have one every year, and they've been absolutely banging.

There are lots of references to social media throughout the series, what do you make of it?

If I'm being honest, at the minute I'm really struggling with it. Our millennial generation, we were brought up by our parents to be told that you are unique and important and you're special. And then basically social media came along and was like, you can now perform to the world and your important thoughts can be heard all the time for free. Do that.

And we all went, "brilliant". And that was already problematic, I think, because then once you accept that actually your opinion doesn't really matter and you need to be part of a larger conversation and then echo chambers are created and all that sort of stuff happens and then you’re locked into their opinions. That's problematic.

But now we live in a world where all those social media companies are publicly floated, they've got shareholders and they've got goals they need to achieve. Instagram is now an algorithm and that algorithm is purely designed to make the company bigger to satisfy its shareholders.

And it gets bigger by using up more of your time. And that is a really scary thing to me. It's mad, it's like we've got these things on our phone that are literally in the company's financial interest to take away our free time.

But then also the counter argument to that is people are making really great stuff…. sketches and stuff that have got better production values than some of the stuff I do on television. And it's funnier than some of the stuff I do on television.

So I feel like what I want to do with social media going forward is I want to spend more time creating stuff to go on there than being on there. That's my goal. Rather than scrolling for an hour, why not get a camera out, light it properly, write a script and make a good thing to go on there as opposed to sit on there endlessly.

You've got one of the most recognisable voices on TV, when has that been a help and when has that been a hindrance?

Sometimes it's handy if I'm on the phone to tech support for something and they work out who I am and I get a very mild VIP treatment, that's quite nice. It's unhelpful when I'm on tour and I'm working late and the only place open is a 24-hour McDonald's and I'm trying to order in a Liverpool accent so people don’t recognised me.

Basically I'm in a weird position where as long as I don't speak, I don't get recognised. Which is probably quite the best of both worlds really.

You had your comedy special out on Amazon this year, would you like to do another one?

Yeah, I'd love to. I definitely want to talk about the next stage of my life. I'm always quite cagey about talking about becoming a dad and moving into adult life properly. But I feel like stand-up is a safe place for me to do that because I can put all my points across and then if anyone asks me about it, I can just send them the set and be like, "Look, I've dealt with it all there." It’s a safe place in stand-up where I'm in control of the narrative, you know what I mean?

Becoming a dad for the first time must have given you so many ideas…

Of course! There's really surreal moments. I think there's more cerebral elements of it about how it feels so unique being a parent that you feel like you must be the only person that's done it. It's so mental.

And then obviously on a really superficial level, babies shit themselves in annoying places, on public transport and in restaurants and stuff, which you can't believe! So yeah, I'll look forward to talking about that when the time is right. I don't want to just be another comic talking about how my kid said this funny thing or whatever. I want to get the tone right. But I'd love to talk about that.

• Buffering is on ITVX now. Edited version of an interview supplied by ITV Press Office.

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Published: 31 Jan 2023

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