Kevin Eldon speaks!

On stand-up terrors, lazy comedy and clueless commissoners

Kevin Eldon, star of just about everything that's good in comedy, including Brass Eye, 15 Storeys High, Spaced, Look Around You, Black Books, I'm Alan Partridge and Nighty Night, is appearing at the Pimm’s Summerfest in London later this month. To promote the show, he agreed to a rare email interview with Chortle...

So, what will you be doing at the Summerfest?

Speak ye of that gig in Holland Park? If so I'll be doing the same ten to twelve minutes I usually do as the poet Paul Hamilton. For those unfamiliar with said character, Hamilton is a pseudy rather right-on poet. He's fun to perform because he's an unutterable twit who has absolutely no idea what a goon he is. If I ever met him in real life I would have to get him in a headlock and drag him about for an hour. I'd have to.

Why do you not perform live more often?

Well, the reason is hinted at in the last question. The only stand-up stuff I've got is as that character and doing the same old ten minutes gets a bit dull for me let alone the poor sods who've got to watch it. I wrote most of the material, ie the poems, over about two weeks in 1994. It all splurged out and I've found it incredibly hard, in fact nearly impossible, to write new stuff to my satisfaction ever since.

In fact I've only written about three new ones in all those years. Amazingly though in the last couple of weeks I've written a couple I'm quite pleased with. Stewart Lee says it's an act that has the growth rate of an oak tree. I took that to be a slur on my powers of creativity and challenged him to a duel with pistols and guess what? He didn't show.

Another reason for infrequency of live performance is that I packed it in cos I found it quite stressful. I did it for five years and the plus side is I had an absolute ball and met comedians who will be my friends for the rest of my life, but on every day of a gig I would be walking about with this feeling of low-evel anxiety all day. Kind of jangled me.

So now I mainly do benefits and that's lovely cos you're two-nil ahead from the start with benefit audiences. They're kind people who aren't there for the heckling. having said that having a room full of people screaming at you to get off is actually quite character building. I have massive respect and love for-stand ups. I'm honoured that they let me, a mere bloody ACTOR join their hallowed ranks for a bit.

Gawd bless em all I say. when i do live stuff and meet up with them again or meet new ones it actually makes me incredibly happy.

The world of live comedy's very different from when you started; do you think it's been for better or for worse

Hmm. Problem is that I don't go and watch stand-up much so I can't really do a completely informed comparison. The only thing that may be different in a negative way is when I started in early nineties there were virtually no 'career' stand ups.

These have appeared over the last ten years. They look at stand up from a market perspective and tailor their material to what they perceive an audience wants. Which I find a bit cynical and in nearly every case not funny.

The best comedians tread their own path. They say 'come to me' not 'where do you want me'. There was [and still is] an act called Jimbo who would approach the mike and never say anything just get tangled up in the lead and then fall over. This would go on for 15 minutes. Not always hugely funny perhaps though sometimes it was.

My point is there was something about that that is more admirable and courageous than some bland little twerp bleating on about getting stoned and then feeling hungry. Or the kind of comedian who decides that being 'edgy' is the way forward and then is just witlessly offensive. offensive is good but it's got to have jokes in it.

But I'm not going to go all gooey eyed about 'the great days'. There were shit comics then and great ones and the same applies today.

You have been involved in pretty much all the TV comedy that's been any good in the last 15 years, but it's always someone else's project. Have you any ambitions for your own TV show?

I don't think I'm very ambitious. For that maybe read I'm a lazy sod. I've always been a team player. I love playing my part in the ensemble. It's the end result that matters to me, looking at a bit of work and saying, look at what we all did together. I love collaboration and I find all pullling together towards a common aim really satisfying.

Having said that I have hired hitmen to assassinate people I thought would impede my career. No one stands in my way. No one.

With which show are you most proud to be associated, and why?

I really love Blue Jam. For lots of reasons. Working with Chris Morris is a joy for a start and then the others involved; Julia Davis and Amelia Bullmore, Mark Heap and David Cann. What lovely people. So we had a highly enjoyable working environment. We had a thorough full-on working process which was such a laugh... challenging and stimulating it was.

And then there was that marvellous material. and we'd record it and then Chris would take it all away and do his stuff on it and then we'd hear it all edited and woozed up with all the music we all used to think, wow.. is that us? That was very big fun.

Are you very selective about which work you take on, or have you just been lucky that most the comedies you've been involved with have been well-received? And how can you spot what's going to be a great comedy?

Well it's both really. I have been very fortunate in getting to be involved with some pretty good stuff. Very lucky. At the same time I am pretty selective about what I do. I'm a bit obsessive actually. If I see comedy which I consider, in my very judgmental little head, to be lazy or weak it actually offends me. I shout at the telly. I get so annoyed. It's awful really. I used to sit there wishing violent mishaps upon all involved.

I've calmed down a bit because sometimes I'd meet people involved in what I hated and they'd be lovely people. I mean its only bloody comedy, innit?

Oh maybe I'm kidding myself.. to me there's something a bit sacred about comedy. Laziness is the thing that gets me fizzy though. I call it cut and paste comedy. The best comedy dazzles. It makes you laugh and then think where the fuck did that idea/word/reaction/scenario come from!

You can't spot what's going to be good comedy straight away all the time. You can read something which on the page looks flat and dull and then in the final execution turns out to be great. I bet for sure if I'd been offered a script of The Office to look at probably would have totally missed what's going on. Having said that, though, most of the time I think I can usually tell one way or another in three or four pages. If you're reading lines and scenarios that are fresh and unexpected, then it's probably a goer.

Have you ever regretted agreeing to do something, work-wise?

Never anything where I've actually sat head in hands moaning 'why, why, why'. As I say, I only do stuff I want to have a bash at. There have been a few moments where Ive not been particularly chuffed at my input. Then out comes the back whip.

Why do you think some of the great shows you've been involved with haven't found the audience numbers they deserves - like 15 Storeys High and Attention Scum!. Do you think viewers only like safe, familiar shows - which the ratings might suggest - or is it that TV commissioners are afraid to take risks and schedule something more daring in the My Family slot?

15 Storeys High was treated with appalling disrespect by the BBC. They kept changing the transmission times, all of them far too late, and then they took it off for the stupid snooker one week. The result of that is that it had no chance to build a regular viewership. That programme was brilliant. It was intelligent and creative and hilarious obviously, and I think it looked absolutely fantastic.

I know for a fact that Sean Lock worked like a Trojan on those scripts, sweated blood the man did. Hopefully word of mouth will continue to circulate and people can catch up with it on DVD.

As for Attention Scum, I heard some bureaucrat in charge was so incensed by it they cancelled any prospect of a second series before it even went out. But such people are essentially accountants. they're not going to find any value, commercial or otherwise in Simon Munnery ranting at 20 people in a car park from the top of a camper van or me running around in a field in a red leotard shouting 'What am I?'

And do viewers only like safe familiar shows? Well, some do. Takes all sorts, doesn't it? But theres the old Paul Weller line 'the public wants what the public gets'. It's a shame there arent more commissioners with moreof a clue. I couldn't give a pre-decimal threepenny piece about whether a programme gets ratings or not. My Family does indeed get ratings but comedically it is of no worth or value in my opinion... so as far as I'm concerned ratings don't always equal excellence. my concern is whether I personally think the programme is OK or not.

Are we likely to see any more series of Nighty Night or Hyperdrive?


You don't do many interviews, why is that?

Well I think it's a bit boring rattling on about yourself isnt it. unless you're jade goody or something then you dont think that. Then you have to. Please dont forget i exsist! Ive done interviews before and then looked at what ive said and gone 'oh what a twat'. Basically I do a job I love and that's that. Nice but not very interesting is it?

And what are you working on next?

The duel-dodging Stewart Lee has been given a series by BBC2. See, they're not ALL evil, and I'll be in some sketches in that. Theres a film called Faintheart coming out late September, got a couple of scenes in that. There is a zombie thriller set in the Big Brother house coming out in October. I'm one of the housemates. Should be interesting. A right old gore fest.

And meanwhile it all keeps ticking along nicely thank ee very much. Thanks for asking me questions.

  • Kevin Eldon is appearing as part of the Pimm's Summerfest in London's Holland Park on August 28. Click here for the rest of the line-ups

Published: 7 Aug 2008

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