Rob Brydon: How I got into comedy

...and how I nearly turned down Gavin & Stacey

At the TV Comedy Forum at the Royal Opera House last week, Rob Brydon told the audience how he got involved in comedy. Here are hightights from his session:

My writing started annoying late. I was wanting and yearning but I didn't think I could write. I thought writers were different people. I wasn't academic at school so didn't think I had it in me to put something down. It took a long time to have confidence to do that.

I'd been at drama college and got spotted by a BBC producer when I was doing a comedy act on the radio and I ended up being a DJ, playing Chris de Burgh, doing travel reports. For a while, I was quite happy with that but then got frustrated. It was probably out of frustration that I started to write characters.

One of them was Keith Barret. I also had this German guy who was fixated with Victor Spinetti, an American cable host based on Casey Kasem, and a guy called Jeremiah Fanny from Bodmin's finest trad folk band. I had lots.

We made a couple of comedy pilots for BBC Wales but they weren't very good. Ruth Jones was in one of them. She and I had worked together for a long time. But they weren't very good. I feel like I hadn't matured.

I ended up getting a part in that Guy Ritchie film Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels as the traffic warden. Not an enjoyable experience. But Empire magazine mentioned my name, which I was surprised at because it was such a smart part.

The business side of my brain said, ‘I can use this’ because I wasn’t getting anywhere beyond playing newsreaders or football commentators, crappy parts that don't go anywhere. They are just a waste of your time.

So I went out and shot a videotape. It's never been easier for aspiring creative people to get their stuff seen, especially with the internet.

I wrote a script, went out and shot four characters, one of which was Keith Barret who was sitting in his car, talking to the camera. I made this tape using the money I was earning as voiceover artist. I spent a lot of money on it to get it edited in an old-fashioned edit suite. Now, I could do it on my Mac.

I sent it out to about 30 people and most got sent back. But two people saw this tape and that changed my life.

One was Hugo Blick. I had been at drama school with him but lost track of him. I used to carry this tape around with me in my bag in the hope I would meet someone. I was at the BBC doing a voiceover and I'd been thinking of sending it to Hugo because he was now ensconced at the BBC in the comedy department and he came around the corner. He watched and he liked Keith, who was the last of the four characters, so thank God he stuck with it. Then we started to create Marion & Geoff.

The other person who saw it was Steve Coogan. I got to Steve through Julia Davis, who I'd been in an improv group with. Julia phoned me one day and said: ‘Guess what. I'm going on tour with Steve Coogan.’

It was very easy to get it on screen because of Steve and Henry Normal at Baby Cow. Hugo and I made this tape, put it into Jane Root, it sat there for nine months with no response. Everybody was loving this tape we'd made – except the people who needed to buy the bloody thing. Once Baby Cow wanted to get involved, because Steve was king of the world and had just signed his deal with the BBC, we were away.

At the same time, Julia said to me, ‘Do you want to write something?’ We got together, got a pad out and nothing came for a whole day. It was soul-destroying. I said: ‘Let's just do what we used to do in improv.’ The next day, I brought my video camera to her flat, we sat on her sofa and you can see that actual session on the DVD, and that's how Human Remains came about

We bring out the best in each other. Nighty Night is incredibly dark but in Human Remains that darkness is leavened by what she calls my Red Coat tendencies. We complement each other.

The best shows are when someone wants to say something. With Marion & Geoff and Human Remains, I was so hungry for success, in a way that I'm not now. I wasn't as happy a bunny then as I am now and with contentment I think you probably lose a bit of edge. I had that hunger before. Now, I look for good projects and want to do them well. It's not so dramatic.

David Walliams and I dabbled with a gaggy sitcom with Ronnie Corbett, and it was alright with some cracking lines in it but we got to a point where I was concerned that I wasn't playing to my strengths.

I don't feel qualified to sit here and chat about writing because I've not written that much stuff, to be honest.

You can never predict what's going to capture the public's imagination. But with Gavin & Stacey I remember thinking it was great and I wanted to be in it. I was at school with Ruth so I suppose they were running things by me but not in any big way. One dayshe said: ‘There's a part we think you'll be good in’. 

I was thinking: ‘I don't know, I'm pretty busy… and I had reservations because he was Welsh and isn't a million miles away from Keith Barret. But then I found enough differences from Keith – they are very different people. That came out in the second series where I could play his frustration a bit more.’

The other thing that the best stuff has is a work ethic Ruth and James [Corden] put in the bloody hours on Gavin & Stacey, and for all of David's gallivanting, he and Matt Lucas got one hell of a work ethic. If you want to know anything about working, you watch those two, because they work their balls off again and again.

When I did my first ever paid work, Jimmy Savile said to me: ‘It's very, very hard getting to the top but it's a fuck sight harder staying there.’ If I've learned anything, it's that.’

Published: 22 Sep 2008

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