When you take something as beautiful and indefinable as good comedy and regard it as ‘product’, then it’s spoilt | Kevin Eldon is hoping for a punky revolution

When you take something as beautiful and indefinable as good comedy and regard it as ‘product’, then it’s spoilt

Kevin Eldon is hoping for a punky revolution

Kevin Eldon has a peerless television résumé, after appearing in Brass Eye, 15 Storeys High, Spaced, Look Around You, Big Train, Black Books, I'm Alan Partridge, Nighty Night, Green Wing, Hunderby and plenty more besides. Having elevated the work of others for so long, he belatedly made his live solo debut at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe with the acclaimed Titting About. Now he brings his sketch show, It’s Kevin, to BBC Two, Jay Richardson has some questions...

Why has it taken you so long to get a TV series? Were the success of Titting About and Radio 4’s Kevin Eldon Will See You Now a contributing factor?

I was never particularly interested in having my own show so you can’t really say it took a long time. I’ve been about a long time, certainly. I remember threepenny bits. Not even the spell check on this Mac remembers threepenny bits because it’s putting ‘threepenny’ as a spelling error, the CPU-stuffed wanker.

But during the twenty-odd years I’ve been doing comedy I was happy enough helping out on other shows. Titting About certainly put me in a bit of a solo spotlight. And I know a nice man at the BBC saw it, liked it and got some considerably large cogs in motion which led to the pilot. Which then, to my astonishment, led to a series. Kevin Eldon Will See You Now was commissioned completely separately by the terribly decent chaps at Radio 4.

It’s Kevin retains the pace, variety and musical interludes of Titting About. Were you trying to create something markedly different from other sketch shows?

Well, I don’t really have it down as a sketch show. Although that might be its official description. It’s more variety I suppose. With sketches in it. They’re so damn hard to write, decent sketches, so we tried to just have ones that we hoped would work. It’s a strange beast, a sketch. Sometimes on paper it makes you roar but on screen goes flat and, similarly, what looks utterly bland on paper can really come to life once you get it up and running. It’s a lottery I tells ya!

When you’ve got a celebrated live routine like The Pension Rap or Hitler as voiced by Beatles producer George Martin, is there trepidation about adapting it for television?

No trepidation at all. But you’ve got to understand that I was given just six months to write the series (with the help of co-writers), then prep it, cast, rehearse, record and edit. If there was anything around I thought would work, it was in. It was an insanely short time to do it all. Certainly a challenge to rise to.

The roll call of comic talent in the show is remarkable. Was there anyone you wanted that you couldn’t land? And did you worry about the jokes being overshadowed by viewers cameo-spotting?

I wanted Olivia Coleman to do some stuff but she was doing a big drama series. Similarly, Alexandra Roche for the same reason. That was a shame. But for the most part I was a very lucky and happy man, in that everyone I asked was available and willing. I didn’t worry about the cameo-spotting. I don’t think most people let that get in the way. I hope not. They’re just my mates, that’s all.

You share plenty of scenes with Paul Putner. Why do you work so well together?

Me and Paul go back quite a way and it’s always nice to have your pals about. He’s a great comedy actor and also such a lovely, easy-going bloke. He’s the rare exception – an actor who tells longish anecdotes that are genuinely interesting and funny. And not, as usual, tedious shaggy dog stories in which the thesp in question uses it as a pretext for doing some appalling, spare time, shit acting.

'Shacting' I call that. And people who do shit acting are shactors. Any actor can be a shactor at any time. Ooh, I’ve done some proper shacting in my time. Paul just seemed the perfect and only real choice when it came to finding someone for the character of studio caretaker Bob.

Despite writing and starring, you don’t over-dominate the sketches or even appear in some of them. Are you more comfortable in supporting roles?

Well, it’s three hours of telly. Nearly. I’m not going to impose my ‘orrible face on people for that length of time. It’s not fair. The clue’s in the word ‘variety’ I suppose. Also, practically, in the amount of time we had to record, I needed a break here and there. We did the pilot, I was in everything and actually thought I was going to die I was so done in. It being my show, I wanted to have a say on all fronts, so really had to keep focus all the time. And that’s knackering mentally as well as physically.

Sorry, I’m making it sound like working down a mine or something. But I was totally concentrating and needed to pace myself. Besides, the idea is to try and provide funny stuff. Doesn’t matter who delivers it, the joke’s the important thing.

Making the show in-house at the BBC, like Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, will you follow a similar pattern of developing material live, then recording it for the series? Can we expect a new live show soon?

To do that I’d have to be re-commissioned. Somewhat early days to be considering that at this point. I should do a new live show and I think I will next year. I’ve got to crack my stage fright. It’s doing my head in.

I understand you’re working on a book for your poet character Paul Hamilton. Can you reveal any more about that?

Not really. I’ll be starting work on it this month and I’m not entirely sure exactly where it’s going to go until I start battering at it. The intention is go to a room every day and spend a good few hours and just get it done. Stop talking about it and make it happen. I’m inspired by the famous anecdote of someone meeting Peter Cook at a party and saying ‘I’m writing a book’ and Cook replying ‘Neither am I’.

You’ve been involved in some great shows like 15 Storeys High and Attention Scum! that didn’t get the backing they deserved. How would you feel if It’s Kevin was similarly overlooked?

Well, at the time of interview, folks, they weren’t going to trail it and it’s not exactly got a premium slot [10.30pm, on Sundays]. But obviously these days it just doesn’t matter a jot. There’s online publicity you can do, imagine that, there’s tweeterooniness other people can do for me, bless their tweeting socks. Plus, I’ve done a few newspaper interviews.

Of course, most importantly these days hardly anyone actually watches a programme at the time of transmission. So hopefully the people who want to watch it will. And if any word of mouth stuff goes on, it can always get looked at later on the iPlayer an’ ting.

How has broadcast comedy changed over the course of your career?

There seem to be more people involved with no actual genuine love of, and for, comedy. They’ve chosen it as a career, like ‘oh, shall I do banking? or ‘I hear this comedy lark’s quite lucrative these days’. The moment you take something as beautiful and essentially indefinable as good comedy and start regarding it as ‘product’, then it’s cheapened and spoilt and then necessarily the result becomes comedy by numbers. No soul. No integrity. No fucking jokes. I mean, is it me or is there a lot of that about now? There always was of course. Maybe I’m just becoming more intolerant with my greatly advancing years.

What makes you reject a script immediately?

See above.

You were in the acclaimed Hunderby recently. Do you think Sky are changing comedy by allowing talent greater freedom to express itself?

I think it’d take a lot more than throwing 60 million quid at some comedy alumni to change comedy. Even though there have been some really good programmes that have come out of that particular dosh-flinging. What would change comedy? It needs some kind of punky revolution, brothers and sisters. People have to do what they all did at The Comedy Store in the late seventies and start doing their own stuff online and down the clubs. Because a sizeable percentage of the people who are responsible for what gets called comedy on television will keep it safe, bland and stupid and they’ll package it up in similar parcels and keep puking it out till we all rot.

Actually, if you consider what music was like in 1976. I’ll remind you. It was dreadful. Plastic disco acts and Americans with bad hair and high voices. And then along came The Ramones and Pistols and you could suddenly see how formulaic and complacent and artistically dead most of the ancient regime was. I reckon there’s a broadly similar parallel situation going on in comedy. Telly in general, if you look at the rest of the toss you have to not watch most nights.

Did your early stand-up career improve you as an actor and open doors for you in television?

Stand-up taught me never to be scared of acting again. Compared with stand-up, doing your own stuff in front of an unpredictable audience, acting with a script and a camera, is a slow stroll in a sunny garden. And yes, it opened up lots of doors. It all started with Lee and Herring. If they hadn’t got me on radio and telly in their shows, gawd knows what would have happened. I tug me forelock at ‘em.

It’s Kevin features Phil Whelans, Martin Trenaman and music with Bill Bailey. Are there any plans to reunite the punk band Beergut 100?

That’s Bill’s band. Ask him. I’m free!

Will there be any more of your radio serial Mr Bartlett and Mr Willis with Simon Munnery?

Don’t know. I think they’d make a good animation. Any offers?

You described Titting About as a challenge that you had to undertake. What’s your next big challenge?

Write a book. Write a sitcom. Conquer stage fright. See this wretched hateful government hounded back to their stinking castles. Be a good dad.

  • It’s Kevin begins on BBC Two this Sunday.

Published: 11 Mar 2013

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