Grammer schoolboy humour | Kelsey ditches the highbrow

Grammer schoolboy humour

Kelsey ditches the highbrow

You've seen the trailers promising 'comedy in unexpected places' well, this must take the biscuit: Kelsey Grammer, the $1.6million-an-episode star of Frasier, supping a drink in a nondescript works canteen on the edges of London suburbia. True enough, the 'works' in question are Teddington Studios, but the surroundings remain disconcertingly modest.

The Hollywood big-hitter's because of the Sketch Show, the ITV1 programme that could be heading to the States. Grammer's production company is trying to make that happen, and he's flown to Britian to oversee the filming of a not-for-boroadcast pilot to try to impress the suits at the Fox network.

He's appearing in it, too, and in an endearingly self-deprecating way. We see girls in nightclubs spurn his amorous approaches, or see him laid up in hospital receiving an intimate sponge bath from British stand-up Lee Mack. "How long have you worked here?" he asks. "Oh, I don't work here"

Sketches take place anywhere from a record studio to the moon, and feature the likes of flatulent women, promiscuous brides and, aptly enough, viciously uncaring psychiatrists. For the man behind the erudite Dr Frasier Crane, it's hardly highbrow.

"There's a certain type of thing people expect my name to be on," Grammer admits. "And farting isn't one of them."

But his motivation in championing The Sketch Show isn't just about a change of image now Frasier is endingafter more than a dozen years.

"I like the idea that there's nothing really like it on TV in America at the moment," he says. "And if you don't like the sketch you're watching, you'll be into the next one before you knew it.

"The only sketch show we have is Saturday Night Live, which is formulaic but worked for so long it became the only place sketch comedy was allowed to breathe. This is closer to Laugh-In, less apologetic about what it is."

Although Grammer does appear on screen at least some of the time, he describes his role is to "present rather than participate". Instead he has assembled a cast of little-known American actors to remake the sketches ­ but retained original star Mack, who he calls "a very funny gentleman".

"He is the pivotal guy in the show," he says. "He's got that manner about him. And he helps in the transition of the show from Britain to America."

And Grammer isn't worried about US audiences accepting a Limey in the cast. After all, Frasier fans accept Daphne's strangulated Lancashire accent. "Audiences are sophisticated enough," he says, even if studio execs are sometimes reluctant to accept the fact.

If the show takes off in the States, it will be a much bigger deal than the modest runs of the British series, demanding huge teams of writers to sustain the sort of 22-week seasons that are de rigeur Stateside. Grammer also sees the possibility of a rotating cast ­ as he expects his stars to be poached for solo projects once they've appeared on The Sketch Show. "It may be used as a place to garden talent," he suggests.

Although made by Avalon Television ­ something of a coup for a British independent production house ­ Grammer has been directly involved in almost every aspect of the production. And during breaks in shooting, he runs over lines with the actors and suggests minor script tweaks. "Bivouac", it transpires, is a funnier word than "Winnebago" and "woof, woof" funnier than "woof".

"You need little turns to adapt to contemporary culture," he says. "In one sketch the character said, 'the trains were a mess'. No one in America would say that, so we changed it to, 'traffic was a bitch.'"

The Sketch Show isn't Grammer's only post-Frasier project. His company Grammnet is developing a number of ideas, including a sitcom based on the real-life Latina singing group Soluna, but the star himself only has one major piece of work in his diary.

"I'm doing a TV version of a Christmas Carol," he reveals. "A musical version which has been done on stage in New York.

"After that, a bit of a break. I'm happy to sit back a little bit, and enjoy life without all the stuff. Fame can be a grind on your relationships."

It will be a new experience for Grammer, who's played Frasier for more than 20 years, since he first walked into a Boston bar called Cheers. Why the character's enduring appeal? "It's a Dick Van Dyke thing," he suggests. "For all his high-falutin, elistim, he's and affable guy who makes mistakes yet gets up the next morning and tries again. "

But all good things come to an end, and Frasier bows out in the States next month.

"We could have done it for longer," Grammer says. "But right now the show can end with a kind of grace about it; apt, fitting and interesting. We're getting out just at the right time."

First published: April 19, 2004

Published: 22 Mar 2009

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