Mark Silcox

Mark Silcox

A middle-aged comic with a deadpan style, Mark Silcox originally started comedy in 2009, but after after 60 gigs went to Germany to work. He started gigging again in September 2012 with a new set, which gained him the runners-up place in the Squawker new act competition at the 2013 Brighton Comedy Festival
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Man Like Mobeen pilot was 'the biggest piece of shit I ever made'

Guz Khan on why he went back to the drawing board... as comedy returns for series 4

Guz Khan says the next series of Man Like Mobeen was inspired by his cousin being sent to jail.

The last series of the gritty comedy, which aired in 2020, ended with the comedian’s titular character in prison, which is where the new season picks up.

And in writing the new show, Khan said he wanted to do justice to the real experiences of people who found themselves behind bars.

Speaking at the BBC Comedy Festival in Cardiff this weekend, where the first two episodes were aired, Khan revealed: ‘My cousin, one of my best friends, was sentenced to eight and a half years at the beginning of Covid and one of the important things with this series was like showcasing what prison life was like. 

‘He wasn’t in for violent crimes, so he was supposed to go to a lower category prison – but because it was Covid and there was specifics on room sizes, he got sent for the first six months of his sentence to Belmarsh – with murderers, rapists, the whole thing.’

Khan said that his cousin changed from a ‘very confident, brazen dude before he went in’ to someone who would make whispered phone calls home ‘because he was sleeping under his bed’. 

It wasn’t clear if the cousin was a blood relative or whether Khan was using it as an affectionate term for a close friend.

Although Khan emphasised that ‘he deserved it a bit, if you do the crime you’ve got to do the time,’ he added of his TV show: ‘We want to make this stuff real, because that stuff that happens. You can get plucked out of your daily life because you make a mistake and thrown it in with people who are extremely dangerous, extremely violent, and that could shape the rest of your life.’

‘These guys make mistakes they get embroiled in things they don't want to do but they have sisters and mothers and family members. And there are moments of levity and enjoyment. So I think we get to showcase that with our characters.’

Man Like Mobeen in prison

Khan said that with authenticity so important to him he felt the pilot episode which aired in 2016, was ‘the biggest piece of shit I ever made in my life’. ‘I didn't like it at all,’ he said. ‘It didn't feel real, it felt too heightened.’

That version of the show had Mobeen working in a care home, looking after old white people, and he says now ‘If it was real life, we'd be robbing his pension!’

So he said when the show was commissioned they  went back to the drawing board, and he took  producer Gill Isles and director Ollie Parsons to the Small Heath district of Birmingham, where the show was set, to get a feel for the community. 

There a woman who knew Khan from his YouTube videos told them: ‘Do us one favour, don't mug us off, like we’ve been mugged off before before.’

And Khan said: ‘When I watched the pilot. I was like, Yeah, this is more mugging off. I don't want to make this.’

‘In the most wankiest way, the best art reflects real life,’ he added. ‘And if we hadn't gone through these experiences, we wouldn't be able to showcase them properly.’

The quest from authenticity mean he would get his old friends involved in the production process - even he wasn’t supposed to.

‘I never want to leave that raw element,’ he told interviewer Mark Olver. ‘All my friends are from the ends that I grew up with – the ones closest to me anyway. And I just think of always having their opinion, so I sent them this series. 

‘I got blocked off the edit, I think. You know, when they send you the full episodes? Because I didn’t realise they could see when you forward the email, and I was sending it to like Imran’

‘I always want to share​ it with the gang. They’ll tell me the truth.’

He explained that he also wanted to depict other aspects of life that aren’t usually seen on screen – such as his character’s close friendship with Nate, as played by Tolu Ogunmefun, below.

Tolu Ogunmefun‘It’s really kind of loving,’Khan said, ; I can't really recall a time when I've seen a South Asian British Pakistani character and a British Nigerian character be best friends… whereas my whole life, the way I grew up, that's my family background.’

‘My two uncles came from Karachi in the 60s and 70s with flares on and somebody managed to pull my auntie who’s white, Irish and from Kilkenny.  So we were very used to a really mixed family environment. 

‘Our area was West African, Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Pakistani Indian. We were eating everyone's food, speaking everyone's language – mainly the swear words – but everyone was in this melting pot.

‘I think that's another big reason why the show bangs off so hard for people who have experienced this because shit man, we never see ourselves like that on screen.’

Similar reasoning led him to ensuring there is wide representation of different groups on and off screen, where he ensures some of the budget is ring-fenced for trainees.

For casting this series he particularly sought out an actor from a Somali background for the role of fellow inmate Jamal, saying: ‘We found one [Moe Idris], he’s fucking incredible, Birmingham is is a city that has a huge Somali population. When you look at how many Somali performers get to even make it to TV, it’s diabolical. And so you have to take those conscious efforts and find people and put them in your shows.’

One of the people he has put into his show is Mark Silcox, who reprises his blunt Uncle Shady character this series as the prison chaplain.

Silcox headshot

‘Mark,  as a human being is an enigma,’ Khan commented. ‘He is Neo from the Matrix, teaches us all what life is really about. 

‘This is how we knew he was the guy.  We interviewed like a fantastic selection of South Asian uncles and they were really well-versed theatre actors, and so experienced. You don't get many opportunities, specifically at that age, and they were brilliant. 

‘Then Mark came into the audition and Gill’s worked with Mark before and she went "So Mark’s a leftfield suggestion…"

‘He came through the door with a plastic bag. There was nothing in the bag.’

‘Gill asked him, "have you read the script?" His one word answer was "no".

‘She said, "What draws you to your role?" He said, "Some money.’

‘He's amazing It's all about being in the moment for him.  He let his guard down a little bit and I've got to know him as a lovely human being who is still a school teacher across several SEN [special educational needs] departments and who does this for the purest reason. And that is to have fun, right?’

Asked why the show was returning after such a long hiatus, Khan said he thought the story of the friends being drawn into a criminal underworld had reached a natural conclusion after series three.

‘I was really satisfied with the way the last series ended,’ he said. ‘We wanted it to be like a learning lesson for the individuals involved in these kind of lifestyles,

‘But then we forgot that people enjoy it like people enjoy TV. So every single day, someone says to us, "when’s the new series coming back?"

‘One of the inspirations for this is we always wanted to see what our characters would be like outside Small Heath. Small Heath plays such an important role.’

Khan admits his own life has changed in the six years since the first series aired.

‘The first series writing this, I was broke as shit,’ he added. ‘But since the Uber Eats ads, the Walkers adverts, the Pop Noodles ad, life is in a different place now.  So it just gives me the ability to dedicate a little bit more time to ideas.’

He also joked: ‘When I started I had energy. Since then I’ve had way more kids than I should have [four]. The first kids are sick, they grew up in the ends –  those two used to sleep on like to double mattresses on the floor. These new kids I’ve got are dickheads! They are used to high-quality underlay under they’re mattress. They are completely different.

‘I should quit right now so their lives don't get any better. It's incumbent on older kids is when I’m not looking to kick the younger ones.’

Khan’s career has taken him to America, starring in the likes Judd Apatow movie The Bubble and the HBO Max pirate comedy Our Flag Means Death. Which meant coming back to work on BBC budgets was something of a rude awakening. 

‘I managed to work in America during Covid – then you come back and do this and it’s like Blue Peter, man,’ he joked. ‘The way our teams work behind the scenes [to] take relatively small budgets and make it look movie-like is incredible. 

‘It’s something I just don't think enough people get a shout out for. You wouldn't see the jokes for these guys being consummate professionals every day figuring out angles and lenses and [yelling] "can you lot shut up because we need to film this scene".’

And he said another factor in the ‘magic of Man Like Mobeen’ was the way the production was relatively loose

‘Since day one, we're not pedantic about the words,’ he said. ‘If it's a good idea, you can find where the funny is in the idea. 

‘I've worked on a lot of sets over the last few years, where people are getting told off about where the word "and" is in the sentence, right? And I'm like, "That's why everyone's having a shit time on this job".

‘So for me, improvisation is a massive part of how it works. It's the only thing I know. I don’t know how  to cry on demand.. all we know is be quick paced with our dialogue, have a laugh with each other. So we've used those strengths.’

• Man Like Mobeen launches on BBC Three and iPlayer on June 8.

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Published: 30 May 2023



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