Well, it's no Tony Le Mesmer...

Jude Evans talks to David Schneider about his new sitcom

Tell us a little bit about your new Radio 4 sitcom, Births, Deaths & Marriages

The sitcom is set in a register office. The first thing I learnt was it’s a 'register office' not 'registry’ – they hate that. The great thing about it is that you get people there from all walks of life, people who are in love, people who’ve just given birth, people who are pretending to be in love for visa reasons, people grieving. So it’s a big fat basket of potential comedy: The silly names – Harper Seven – the bad choice of wedding readings. It’s all there.

When I was doing my research, I came across a woman in her eighties, who said she was tired of her present husband and so asked at a register office if she could she have another one.

I came up with the idea after talking to my producer, who had just registered his own wedding. His registrar had his own stock anecdotes – about a naturist wedding I seem to remember – but was very proper and ‘picture-of-the-Queen-on-the-desk’ etc. I just thought it could be a fun subject to write about. We pitched the idea to Radio 4 and they said ‘yes’.

Do you have any characters as fantastic as the magician Tony Le Mesmer you created for the Alan Partridge series Knowing Me Knowing You?

And what if I say no? That wouldn’t sound good. No, there are no characters that are as good as that. I hope the characters are as funny but they are more real then Tony Le Mesmer, who really was knocking on the door of ‘I-don’t-quite believe-this-guy’.

The character I play is Malcolm Fox, he’s a bit of a modern day Captain Mainwaring I suppose. When you create a character and write their dialogue it’s not as if you go ‘Ooh, I hope this is the new David Brent or Basil Fawlty’ – you just have to write what you think is funny and hope that everyone else agrees with you.

How did your time at Oxford University influence your comedy career?

I was most fortunate to meet some great comedy people there who I went on to work with in the real world, like Armando Iannucci and Rebecca Front. Oxford was a good place to try things out. There was a lot of comedy going on there, stand-up was just starting to happen – Stewart Lee was there at the same time as me – although Armando and I had a more character based/visual act.

What is your greatest achievement in your career so far?

There were some great shows, it’s hard to say. Obviously a lot of the shows I was involved with in the Nineties have stood the test of time and I feel proud to have worked with people like Armando, Chris Morris etc.

But sometimes you can write a funny joke or a little line and that makes you feel very proud. There’s a stupid joke in my sitcom about Jabba The Hut which, for some reason, I feel proud of even though it didn’t get the biggest laugh or anything. I just think it’s quite a nice joke.

Which character have you enjoyed playing the most?

I’ve enjoyed so many. Working on Alan Partridge was incredible fun as it was all put together from improvisation. As we mucked about and rehearsed some of the characters, there were two occasions where I think you could technically say I lost bladder control. Through laughter rather than any of those things you see adverts for on daytime TV. It was like hanging out with your mates, having a laugh and then filming it.

What technique do you use to stop yourself laughing?

It’s hardest to not laugh when there’s an element of improv going on. There were times with Alan Partridge where Steve Coogan or the person I was acting with might improvise a line and I’d feel myself wanting to crack up at it. But you just try to stay in the scene, like a good little professional.

Which character is your favourite creation?

Hard to say really. I like the longevity of Tony Hayers – the monkey tennis scene seems to run and run. Adrian Finch’s swearing outburst [the Tory MP in Knowing Me Knowing You] is something I’m quite proud of. There are so many I’ve enjoyed doing.

Do you have any other projects to tell us about?

I have a couple of sitcoms I’m waiting for a decision on. I don’t want to the name them as that may be bad luck before a commission. There are also a couple of film projects in the pipeline that I will be acting and directing on.

  • The first episode of Births, Deaths and Marriages will air on Radio 4 at 11.30am on May 25.

And here's Tony Le Mesmer:

Published: 26 Apr 2012

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