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Onion Talking: Sarah Kendall on Touchdown

21 Feb
© Sarah Kendall

© Sarah Kendall / PBJ

Acclaimed stand-up comic Sarah Kendall returns to The Soho Theatre with the final run for her smash-hit show Touchdown this week, running from Tuesday 24th to Saturday 28th February.

With her follow up show, A Day in October, due to launch at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in March, this felt like as good a time as any to finally book ourselves some time to talk to the gifted storyteller, masterful standup and full-time mother.

Editor in chief Paul Holmes caught up with Sarah to discuss about her career so far, and the effects her life beyond it have had upon her outlook, with the following insightful results…

At the turn of the millennium, Sarah Kendall made a huge decision. Already a regular on the Australian stand-up comedy circuit, two years after her initial flurry of success, she packed up her bags and moved to England. By 2003, she was ready to take on the Edinburgh Fringe, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Flight of the Conchords, Gary Le Strange and Adam Hills. The following year, she was nominated for the Perrier Award’s main category of Best Show alongside Chris Addison, Reginald D Hunter and winner Will Adamsdale (best known internationally for his role in The Boat that Rocked).

As the years went by, Kendall built on this initial success, gaining a cult following through heavy touring, countless festivals, and numerous, award-winning live shows. In 2008, she stretched her wings and took on sketch-show comedy, with a role in the short-lived E4 show Beehive, and has spent the last four years voicing Libby McKenzie alongside Sally Philips, Nina Conti and Liza Tarbuck in the long running Radio 4 comedy Clare in the Community.

Recent years, however, have seen Kendall’s extra-curricular activity dry up, as she became a mother and, quite naturally, shifted her workload accordingly.  As TVO calls, she is in her London home with the kids tucked up in bed and a slightly burnt warm-up shepherds pie in the oven. Greeting us fondly, and stressing she isn’t the kind of person to make her own  shepherd’s pie, she confirms her eagerness to talk by exclaiming: “I’m going to stop doing the dishes and give you my full attention. That’s how serious I am, I’m walking away from the dishes. Fire away!”

© PBJ

© Sarah Kendall / PBJ

Naturally, the conversation turns firstly to motherhood, and TVO wonders exactly how having children has changed Sarah’s career plan. “Gosh, that’s a good question,” she says, thinking about the answer for a moment. “It’s a really big answer too. I suppose I’m not really at my sparkiest late at night, so you know, most gigs…” She trails off, laughing. “I generally need to go on early. I can’t do a late night. And I can’t do huge amounts of travel, either. I don’t wanna be away for weekends. I don’t wanna be away for a week, you know? It’s changed the practicalities of work.”

“But I think from a creative perspective,” Sarah continues, “when I do get that time to myself, and I do get that time on stage, I really wanna make it count. I suppose I don’t fuck around as much as I used to. Cos I suppose when I have got that time to work, and to be creative, it’s actually really special ‘me’ time. God, I really relish it. I think when my day wasn’t quite as occupied looking after little people, I’d just go and do a gig and not really think much about it. Now I wanna make that time count. I wanna do the very best material I can do.”

That material at present is Touchdown – the 2014 show she toured around Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe amongst other places, and is reviving for one last shebang at The Soho Theatre across the last week of February.  As with her previous show, it focuses on particular events in her teenage years, rather than Sarah’s life at present, a factor which may be a subconscious reaction to having to grow up and take responsibility for what Sarah endearing refers to as ‘little people’.

“Also, I think,” she suggests, “I don’t want to get on stage and talk about what I’m doing now. That’s only because if I went on stage and whinged about it, it wouldn’t be right. I don’t want to whinge about it, but I also don’t want to stand on stage and say how much I love my children. That’s not particularly hilarious.”

“I’ve been looking into different times of my life,” she adds, “reflecting on them, and thinking about them differently.  I suppose to me, I do regard those years quite differently now that I’m a mother. The thing is, that sounds really boring, but it changes your perspective on the whole time. I find that creatively it’s really energising. I really enjoy writing about it.”

© PBJ

© Sarah Kendall / PBJ

Kendall’s comedy has morphed from its early days of quick-fire stand-up into a more intelligent, thoughtful brand of storytelling that connects with anyone who was ever the slightly awkward kid that didn’t quite fit in, but wasn’t unpopular either. The gags are obviously still there, but it’s wrapped up in intellectual reasoning, emotional resonance, and the odd moment of childish humour for good measure.

“I think, ultimately, I’m a little bit of a whore for a laugh,” Sarah reveals. “Anyone who goes into comedy has to be. I don’t like to leave it too long without one. My training is as a stand up, so I do always look for the gag. I try not to do that at the expense of the story.”

“If it didn’t fit with where the story was at, I wouldn’t do it. But I try to make it a punchy show. I don’t think I’m precious about that sort of thing. I do want people to laugh and have a good time.”

If there’s one thing Kendall could never be accused of, it’s being precious about her work. There’s a remarkable freshness to talking to someone who, unsullied by the PR machine that affects so many in the industry, is completely open and honest about her work, right down to the point of Touchdown’s premise being the reality behind the fabrication of her previous show.

“I had this joke that I’d been doing for years,” Sarah discloses. “I knew in my heart what the real story was, but I’d made it into a good joke. I’d always been slightly plagued by the fact that there is a much bigger story behind it, but I didn’t know how to tell it. I didn’t think it belonged in a comedy show. Then I just thought: sod it. I’m gonna write about what really happened because it is a good story, and an important story. It means a lot more to me now that I’m older, and now I know how to tell it, and I’m not afraid of the serious or silly parts of the story. I think if you do something that’s got a bit of a darker edge to it, you’ve gotta be confident that you can treat it respectfully enough that you’re not gonna panic and try to make a joke out of it.”

© PBJ

© Sarah Kendall / PBJ

“It was a surprise for me,” she notes, in regards to Touchdown’s now deconstructed predecessor, Get Up, Stand Up.  “I enjoyed telling that story every single night I performed it. Generally during a festival there comes a point where you say: if I have to say these words one more time, I’m gonna fucking kill myself. I found that with this show, I never got to that point. I really enjoyed taking the audience on that journey.”

Thankfully, Touchdown offered a similar vibe. “This is my favourite show that I’ve ever done,” she states, firmly. “I was really crestfallen at the end of the festival because I kinda felt it was over. I knew I’d probably do a run at the Soho, but it felt kinda like the end. By the time I did Edinburgh, I’d already done quite a few other festivals, so I knew that was the end of that festival circuit. And I was quite sad.”

TVO notes that, given how precious Sarah’s time has become, this feeling may have been intensified, and it’s something that we’re seeing more and more of. When we began, five years ago, our thirty-something regulars were still riding high on their initial flurry of success, gigging around the clock and constantly making new and exciting things. Recently, there’s been a marked slow-down in the activity of some of them, as they’ve reached the age of having babies and settling down, just like Kendall.

“I suppose you kind of go through this huge sea of change when you have a family,” she suggests. “You do start to look back on events with fresh eyes. It can be a good and a bad thing. Sometimes you go: Ah, shit, I wish I hadn’t done that thing. I really regret that thing that I did.”

Such feelings came to the fore last year, when Kendall wrote a piece for The Guardian about her somewhat flippant handling on stage of a genuinely disturbing moment in her career, when a drunk heckler threatened her with anal rape at a gig. Whilst the routine was funny, as time went by it had increasingly made her feel uncomfortable.

“I hate looking at clips of myself,” Sarah confesses. “Someone sent me that clip and asked for permission to use it, and as I watched that piece of material, I was so struck by how untrue the emotions were that I was portraying on stage. That’s something that would never have entered my mind ten years ago. I would have just gone through and made sure all the jokes were strong without offending people. But I just thought: That is so not what happened. That is so not emotionally what that experience was like, and I have brought none of that to that piece of material. I think it would have been a much more interesting piece of material if I had discussed that.”

© Tiger Aspect Television

© Tiger Aspect Television

Another potentially difficult blip on her career came with the hugely divisive E4 sketch show Beehive in 2008. Designed by committee, it nevertheless gave a platform to Kendall on television, alongside Alice Lowe, Barunka O’Shaughnessy and Clare Thomson. TVO has previously waxed lyrical about the merits of the show: in spite of its obvious flaws, there’s a hell of a lot to love in there too.

“I haven’t watched it since we did it,” Sarah tells us as conversation moves on to the troubled production.  “It was incredibly rushed, from the commission to filming. My memory of it was thinking: This has been rushed. It was four people who’d never met each other, thrown into an ensemble and given a fairly small amount of time to turn a show around.  It’s one of those things where I did it as an opportunity, but in hindsight it could have been a lot better had we had more time. Knowing what I know now, I probably would have had a heck of a lot of alarm bells going off as it progressed.”

Kendall is genuinely touched by our admiration for the team, and the bits that worked really well, such as her magnificent Elizabeth I routine, in which Sarah portrayed the monarch surrounded by bullying lackeys, or the flat sequences with swearing lessons, special robots, love affairs with pot plants and confusion over Spiderman’s true identity. Sadly, the show was buried by E4 before it even had a chance to build an audience, splurged onto television across a couple of nights with no advertising, and never repeated.

© Tiger Aspect Television

“I don’t really know how it happened,” she sighs, “or how it works. I don’t understand who decides these things, but it just felt rushed through. I had a really good time doing it though. I loved working with Alice, Clare and Barunka. They’re such powerful, funny women, and it was such a pleasure to work with them. I don’t want to piss anybody off, but it just didn’t feel like it had a lot of backing.”

Despite the circumstances of its troubled production, Beehive did allow Kendall a break from being ‘herself’ when making people laugh. TVO is curious if she’d do something similar now, given her present work/life balance. “God, that’s a good question!” she explains, and thinks for a moment.  “I think when I was younger I would say yes and just fuck it and see. I think now it would have to be something that I’m really passionate about, because I don’t have a huge amount of spare time. It would have to be something I could really put 100% of myself in. I’d be slightly more selective at this stage.”

The one bonus of the show was that It introduced Sarah to a whole new set of collaborators – some of whom she has continued to work with sporadically whenever possible. In 2010, for example, she played a fellow mum in My First Baby – the Jackal Films short featuring Rich Fulcher as Alice Lowe’s very oversized toddler. A few years later, she cropped up in James Bachman & Tom Meeten’s BBC Nought project, during a spoof on The Apprentice. Evidently, she’s still a part of the family, even if her time with them is sporadic at best.

© Jackal Films

© Jackal Films

“We don’t see each other as much as we used to when we had more spare time,” Kendall explains. “Certainly, not as much as I’d like to. The funny thing about London is you kinda get into your borough. But they were people I really learned so much from working with. There were such a variety of skillsets that were brought to Beehive. I felt they were all quite accomplished actresses, whereas I didn’t come from that background, so every day was a learning curve.”

Thankfully, in this internet age, a buried show doesn’t have to stay buried forever. The dvd release still chugs away on Amazon, the episodes are still viewable on 4oD, and TVO will occasionally bring it up. It still finds an audience. “It’s extraordinary,” Sarah states. “It doesn’t happen very often, but occasionally I will get someone recognising me from Beehive, which is just really weird to me. It kinda got buried over three days on television, and yet it does still happen. It’s nice that you don’t live and die by whoever does the programming.”

Nevertheless, the show is firmly behind Sarah Kendall. Her comedic concentration right now, beyond remembering the finer points of Touchdown, is writing her 2015 show, A Day in October. Set to premiere at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the end of March, the show will tour the festival circuit before arriving in Edinburgh throughout August. To that end, Sarah’s already seemingly come up with an enthusiastic manta, when the subject of the new show is brought up.

“March 27th is opening night,” she says, rigidly. “The show will be finished by opening night. I will have a show by March 27th.”

As laughs erupt on both sides of the phone, TVO inquires as to how close that process is to becoming a reality. “I would say a third of the way into the writing process,” Sarah reveals. “I think I have a fairly confident idea of where the story is. It’s another story about my teenage years. It’s about a friendship I had with a guy and we went to a pool party one October, and the show is about the knock-on effect that pool party had on us throughout the rest of his life and my life.”

© Sarah Kendall / PBJ

With the deadline looming, it would be understandable for many comics to leave some of the details hazy, and let them arrive naturally as the show goes on, but not for Sarah. “This show and the last were quite heavily written shows,” she affirms. “There aren’t patches where I fuck around with the audience or bits where I think I’ll ad-lib that on the night. Because they’re stories, you do have to bring all the disciplines of storytelling to it. You do have to have structure, and you do need to have a big thing happening in the third act. All those things you don’t have to think about when you’re doing a standup set, but I find with a story if you just let it happen you can end up with a spectacular mess on your hands. I do tend to write them quite carefully.”

There’s also the potential weight of an unwanted baton to consider. To TVO, and we’re sure to a great many people – a comedian is a comedian, and that’s that. Yet as the debate about women in comedy continues to bubble to the surface, there’s an alarming amount of pressure put on female comedians to be funny for their gender, rather than their vocation.

“I think I used to feel that way,” Sarah considers. “But I think things have got so much better. I’m not saying they’re ‘good’. We’re nowhere near a situation that is equal. But things are so much better than where they were twelve years ago, even though they’re not great. I take real heart in the fact that I’ve seen more and more female talent coming through as the years have gone by. And it’s great female talent I’m really proud to work with and associate with. I do think it’s challenging, and it’s still there, but I think it’s unfortunate, but the media do play it up.”

“On the live circuit,” she continues, “people are out in the club and they want a laugh, and you will get bad audiences and the occasional knob heads, but generally speaking they just want you to be funny. The real problems I’ve faced and have seen, are really in media circles, and tv commissioning, and the people who book talent for shows. The live circuit isn’t really the problem, but there are people who genuinely seem to not want women on television.”

© Sarah Kendall / PBJ

© Sarah Kendall / PBJ

Male comics, TVO notes, are judged purely on their ability as comics. Female comics, however, are judged as ‘female comics’ for good measure. Sarah agrees, and adds: “I also think with social media there are a lot of voices. The really negative voices tend to get heard a bit more. For a hundred thousand people to go: She’s really good, she’s really funny, you’ll get a small proportion of people who just say something really vile, and that draws more attention.”

Not that Kendall will have seen most of this online, as the last few years have seen her maintain a relatively low profile. “I didn’t mean to!” she protests, laughing. “Our Twitter conversation today is the first Twitter conversation I think I’ve ever had.”

TVO explains that, if it wasn’t for Patrick Bustin at PBJ (the management company who handle a sizable chunk of our roster) casually mentioning her Twitter profile, we would have no clue that Sarah was even on there – and we take extra care to try and make sure we’re following everyone we need to in order to keep tabs on events.

“Oh yeah,” she says firmly, and a little guiltily. “Look, I know. I have been so not interested, and so busy. But I was talking to another comic who said: You really need to sort your shit out on that front, cos you’re off the grid man. I thought: Oh, really? I just sort of had my head buried in the sand for five years. I’m learning it, and you know, I’m gonna have to just get in there and do it.”

“It’s extraordinary, though,” she continues. “You do a couple of tweets, and suddenly you get all these pinging noises, and suddenly you’ve got twelve or thirteen new followers, and I just think: What the fuck? To me it’s very curious. It’s a very interesting, weird experience. And I know there are a lot of people who can’t remember a time before it, but I happen to be a billion years old.”

One thing that Kendall does have a lot of time for, however, is Jaws 4. No, really.

“I don’t know why,” she says, as she tries to justify the number of times she’s sat through it.  “I think I just like watching really good actors in terrible films. It’s like a schadenfreude thing. I just really enjoy seeing Michael Caine in this explicably awful movie. I can’t look away. I really like good actors in shit films. It’s like my favourite genre. It makes you feel better about yourself too.”

“I saw a movie with Henry Fonda in it called They Swarm, about bees attacking civilisation. It’s this great actor in this really weird horror film, where he’s being attacked by bees. I love it. It’s a fantastic film, I enjoy it thoroughly. Everyone’s just pulled together to get the product finished. I love that. I like the nose to the grind attitude. They’ve just thought: We’ve gotta bring this thing to life, and we’ve only got 50p. Let’s just use the car park. Fuck it.”

That attitude enthuses Sarah’s work, but is matched by her perfectionism and professionalism, and above all else, her genuine charm as a personality and a performer. As TVO bids her a fond farewell, so she can get back to her dishes and shepherd’s pie, we can’t help but feel that we’ve just spent a good half an hour being delighted by her company, and as a comic whose livelihood depends on storytelling, that can only be a good thing.

Sarah Kendall: Touchdown is at the Soho Theatre between February 24th – 28th 2015. Sarah Kendall: A Day in October is at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival between March 26th to April 19th 2015. Sarah will be at the Edinburgh Fringe in August 2015. For more info on future live dates, keep an eye on her Twitter page… hopefully!

Hunderby & Partridge Return!

16 Feb
© Sky Atlantic

© Sky Atlantic

Now there are two more reasons to get Sky Atlantic – and they come in the form of two productions from Baby Cow.

The award-winning Hunderby, Julia Davis‘ darkly comic homage to Daphne Du Maurier, will be returning to the channel for a Christmas special. Co-written with fellow TVO-er, Barunka O’Shaughnessy, the two-part special will precede another (hush-hush) new project from Julia for the channel, which is due to air in 2016.

© Sky

© Sky

Head of Sky Atlantic, Zai Bennett, has also confirmed that Steve Coogan will be back on the channel as Alan Partridge, as part of his attempt to dial up the comedy content of the channel (alongside dramas like Fortitude and Game Of Thrones).

In today’s Media Guardian Bennett said: “Game of Thrones and Banshee are brilliant but they are quite visceral and hard. That’s why landing the comedy is important, it will give us emotional breadth. A lot of our drama can be … heavy going, it can be hard work. People might draw breath before coming to Atlantic; I want them to come a little bit more.’

Sky’s head of comedy, Lucy Lumsden, has said of Hunderby’s return: “We couldn’t be happier…Julia Davis is such a rare talent and Sky Atlantic the perfect home for her unique voice and vision.”

The special will introduce two newcomers to the cast: a French sexpot and a homophobic locum pastor with a taste for hanging. At TVO we’re hoping that Rufus Jones will be reprising his role as Dr. Foggerty and Julian Barratt as the Narrator. Series one also featured Kevin EldonArnab Chanda and Antony Elvin, so we’re holding out for a few other familiar faces in the Christmas special!

 

RIP Charlie Philips

6 Feb
© Charlie Philips

© Charlie Philips

The Velvet Onion would like to extend our sincere condolences to the family of Charlie Philips, who died earlier this week.

A BAFTA winning editor for his work on Sherlock, Charlie’s editing career began in 1996, with the Ben Elton penned sitcom The Thin Blue Line starring Rowan Atkinson, Mark Addy and Mina Anwar.

Philips was, however, perhaps defined by his work with director Matt Lipsey on a string of the most widely acclaimed comedies of the last fifteen years, which amongst them manage to include a huge number of the names we feature on these pages.

First working together on The Armstrong and Miller Show, the duo then worked on Lenny Henry in Pieces before being charged with bringing the twisted world of Julia Davis and Rob Brydon’s superlative Human Remains to life in 2000.

The following year, the pair began their first collaboration in the form of Dr. Terrible’s House of Horrible - a comedy horror anthology in the style of Hammer and Amicus movies of yesteryear, which featured an appearance by Julia Davis alongside Mark Gatiss, Honor Blackman, Warwick Davis and Armstrong & Miller.

This was followed by Catterick - the seminal comedy drama from Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, which co-starred Matt Lucas and Reece Shearsmith amongst others. They then joined this creative team, alongside Steve Coogan once more for sketch show Monkey Trousers, followed by a sitcom for Coogan’s new character, Saxondale, co-starring James Bachman.

© BBC

© BBC

After short-lived sitcoms The Cup and Lunch Monkeys, came Psychoville - the sublime comedy mystery saga from Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, which ran for two series featuring Lipsey & Philips at the helm.

The duo then worked on Chris Brann & Justin Chubb’s bonkers treat, This is Jinsey - co-starring Alice Lowe, no less, across two series either side of Psychoville‘s second run, as well as helming the first series of Greg Davis & Rik Mayall vehicle Man Down - produced by another TVO regular, Spencer Millman.  Sadly, these would mark their final collaborations.

Away from Lipsey, Philips also worked on Tittybangbang and the sixth series of Shooting Stars , as well as editions of Rev and Russell Tovey vehicle Him & Her, as well as the pilot episode of Psychobitches.

© BAFTA

© BAFTA

He moved into drama with mini-series Vexed, and followed that with work on Monroe and five episodes of Sherlock: the latter of which won him a BAFTA Craft Award in 2011.

Details of Charlie Philips outside of his work are limited, and it’s currently unknown exactly how he died. However, he has left behind an extraordinary body of work that has shaped the British Comedy scene for almost two decades, and will no doubt continue to do so in the years to come. He will be missed.

In Between The Inbetweeners

10 Aug

© Bwark Productions

It’s hard to miss the current PR onslaught for the new Inbetweeners movie. But did you know that there are a few TVO connection with the film and its cast? Please allow us to enlighten you…

First up is a connection which we’d probably categorize as ‘Type A': the Second Unit director of the Inbetweeners 2 movie, Spencer Millman, was also the producer of The Mighty Boosh.

(We assume that Spencer’s experience of  keeping the Boosh gang under control may have come in useful on this latest project too!)

Next is a TVO connection with Channel 4 show Friday Night Dinner, which stars actor Simon Bird (Will from The Inbetweeners). We spotted that Laurie Rose is the Director of Photography on the latest series. Rose is director Ben Wheatley‘s ‘go to’ DOP for most of his productions, many of which feature a bevy of TVO folk.  What’s more, series 3 of Friday Night Dinner also included two further TVO faces, in the shape of Paul Kaye and Dan Skinner. If you missed them, you can still watch all of the series 3 episodes on 4oD.

And finally, a connection from a year ago, in the shape of a short film called Straw Donkey. We covered it at the time, but for those of you with a short memory, the film features TVO people  Tony WayLaura Patch and Barunka O’Shaughnessy, alongside Inbetweeners star Joe Thomas (Simon from the show). It also includes a cameo from Justin Edwards too, just for good measure. If you missed it, take a look below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9W5ewBP1SOI

Luxury Gallery, Ooh-Yeah!

1 Aug

Suck my beans! Luxury Comedy officially launched last night, and with Episode Two now on 4oD, there’s still lots we have to share with you as the series progresses.

© Dave Brown / Channel 4

© Dave Brown / Channel 4

For starters, there’s our making of featurette: a rough-n-ready rumble-tumble through the madness of filming Luxury Comedy.  TVO hung around for four very different days on set and highlights from the organised chaos will be seen very soon.

There’s also a competition coming later today, and a few more surprises to come – including our own behind the scenes photo galleries.  But it’s only right and proper that we begin such proceedings with the official photography, lovingly crafted by the incredible Dave Brown and the genius that is Nigel Coan. Enjoy, and keep coming back for more!

Obviously, we’re aware that, given TVO is read in 161 different countries at last count, that a large number of you have no access to Channel 4.  In that case, we heartily recommend you order Series 1 and Series 2 on dvd from The Velvet Onion Amazon Store now!

Coogan’s Run On Gold

28 Jul

© Sky Atlantic

Some of you may have seen Steve Coogan – The Inside Story on UKTV GOLD last Saturday evening – a look back at Steve Coogan‘s comedy career, with contributions from Reeves and Mortimer, Ben Miller, Kevin Eldon, John Thomson, Mark Williams, Matt Horne,  Julia Davis and many others.

Following on from this, UKTV GOLD is hosting Summer Nights of Coogan – every weekend from 9pm during August they will be showing a variety of shows from Steve Coogan, including I’m Alan Partridge, Knowing Me, Knowing You, Dr Terrible’s House of Horrible, The Trip, Paul Calf Video Diary, Coogan’s Run, Saxondale and Live Shows, so it really is a variety pack of Steve Coogan TV.

UKTV GOLD can be found on Sky channel 110 or Virgin 126.

Steve was a guest on Radio 2’s Steve Wright in the Afternoon on Thursday to talk about the UKTV GOLD shows – the same day Noel Fielding was on talking about Luxury Comedy 2. Catch up here, Noel is on at – 01:38:05 and Steve is on at – 02:13:20.

Don’t forget you can stock up on all your favourite Steve Coogan titles at TVO Store.

An Early Look At Luxury 2

24 Jul

© Channel 4

Last week we were lucky enough to get a sneaky peek at the new series of Luxury Comedy. So without giving away any spoilers, what can we expect when it finally hits our screens on 31st July?

In interviews about the new series, Noel Fielding has been pretty open about his decision to move away from the sketch show format of series 1, towards a more narrative programme structure with a beginning, middle and an end to each episode. He says it’s because he’s a story-teller at heart, and it’s what he does best. This change of structure is certainly one of the most noticeable differences between the two series. So does it work?

Luxury Comedy is Noel’s stand up in visual form. That’s not to do it down; the fact that anyone has managed to capture the fantastical mayhem that goes on inside Fielding’s mind is impressive enough. Noel’s stand up material is at its best when allowed to slowly weave its shapes, layer upon layer, over a period of time. Stories unfold, characters evolve and concepts crystallise through repetition. By contrast, on the occasions I’ve seen him perform short slots on crowded comedy bills, his ideas don’t always have time to develop. This is not a man for the rat-tat-tat of machine-gun punchlines.

In the same way, expanding his TV ideas into 30-minute stories gives them proper form, allowing the viewer to step inside, appreciate their complexities and get carried along with the narrative. These are ideas rich enough for full episodes; and to reduce each of them to a sketch of a few minutes would underplay them. For me, then, the new format isn’t just about telling stories – it’s about telling strange stories much better.

© Channel 4

The different characters whom we encounter across the series are now part of each week’s story, which gives them purpose and makes the interaction between them feel genuine. The relationships between the characters are one of the aspects of the new series that gives the show its heart. This is no longer a disjointed collection of strange misfits; they’re friends, neighbours, and occasional enemies – as the story requires.

The friendship between the main four – Noel, Dolly, Andy and Smooth, allows for a solid dynamic at the centre of the action. The series 2 versions of the core team feel more ‘human’ and rounded, and as a result more sympathetic than before. Noel, in particular, presents a very different on-screen persona to anything we’ve seen from him previously: awkward, eager to please and uncool, he’s the Howard to Dolly’s preening Vince. Devoid of Howard Moon’s pomposity, however, this Noel is a character with whom we empathise, not just the one we laugh at.

Noel has said that he and Nigel spent longer writing the second series, and this comes across. I loved the first series, but there are more funnier moments in series 2 (based on the two episodes we saw). The writing’s sharp, the physical comedy is hilarious, and the characters are beautifully honed and gloriously wonky at the same time. Look out for star turns throughout from a whole host of TVO faces, including Richard Ayoade, Steve Oram, Dave Brown, Rich Fulcher, Arnab Chanda, Tania Wade, Barunka O’Shaughnessy, Stuart Silver, Simon Farnaby and others.

© Channel 4

This series is arguably the most self-aware output that we’ve ever seen from Fielding, with a number of knowing references to the public reaction that series 1 generated. He’s said that it’s a natural reaction to criticism – you try to get in there first before anyone else does. And it works well in this context, tethering the strange Luxury world to our own experience from time to time (thereby making it more relateable), and imbuing the series with a large helping of humility which, one hopes, the cynics out there will respond positively to.

Added to all of that, Luxury Comedy is still a fabulous feast for the eyes: the distinctive day-glo sets, wardrobe, make-up and animation all combine to create a uniquely visual world. Huge credit to Nigel Coan and his production team for putting it all together; you can see that it’s a labour of love in every single scene.

So will the rest of the world like it? I hope so. If people enjoyed the Boosh and the naysayers can get over their disproportionately extreme reaction to series 1, they would like this. Genuinely funny, beautifully magical and full of heart – what’s not to love?

Don’t forget to tune in: Luxury Comedy series 2 airs at 10pm on E4 on 31st July. For the less patient amongst you, episode 1 is available to view from TODAY –  a whole week early, on 4oD here.

St Albans Welcomes The Baron & Philomena

1 May

The Baron, the short film directed by Gareth Tunley, starring Tom Meeten and written by both of them, will be shown on Saturday (3rd May) as part of the St Albans Film Festival. The film also stars Steve Oram, Steven Evans and Barunka O’Shaghnessy, with music by Waen Shepherd and Nick Gillespie (Sightseers) as Director of Photography, so plenty of TVO connections there!

The film will be screened alongside 18 other films as part of the Programme of Main Shorts. This is divided into two parts – Beauty and Futility – and The Baron is in the ‘Futility’ section. Entry to see all the films, from 3pm to 7pm, is a tiny £8, so it is well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Philomena starring Steve Coogan and Dame Judi Dench will be shown at 7.30pm. The film has a special relationship with St Albans as the real Philomena lives there. Tickets for this are £6 – £8.

The Awards Ceremony and Closing Party takes place on Sunday 4th from 7.30pm until late. Tickets for this are £20 and include entry to the ceremony and party featuring Cassette Boy Vs DJ Rubbish, or for £10 you can attend just the party. Tom Meeten is nominated for the Best Actor award, so it might be worth going to both.

For information on times, tickets, venues and the rest of the extensive line-up for the Festival, take a look at the Programme.

If you can’t make it to St Albans and have not seen The Baron yet, you can watch it below.

Toyaaaaaaaah!

28 Jan
© Toyah Willcox

© Toyah Willcox

Actress and post-punk legend Toyah Willcox has been confirmed to star in Steve Oram‘s directorial debut, Aaaaaaaah!

We first told you about the film a few weeks ago, after hearing it discussed in hushed tones for some time, but the news of Toyah’s casting came to us twice over yesterday evening – first via Oram himself at Julian Barratt’s live show, then via Toyah’s web-master as the news was revealed on her official website.

Typically oddball, the film will contain no spoken dialogue, with the cast – Oram, Tom MeetenJulian Barratt, Tony Way, Waen Shepherd, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Hannah Hoeskra and now, Toyah Willcox, will communicate like monkeys.

Low-budget and self-financed, the film will also be produced by Andy Stark (Sightseers), and Steve has promised “lots of inappropriate sex and violence”.

Oram and Meeten will play marauding characters who encroach into the hostile territory of the kitchen, and Barratt is the former alpha-male who, now deposed, lives in the garden.

It sounds like a surreal treat, of course, so the addition of Ms Willcox to the project is the icing on the cake.  For the uninitiated, Toyah first became famous as an actress at the height of the punk movement, before forming her own band and recording a number of smash hits such as I Want To Be FreeThunder In The Mountains, It’s A Mystery and Brave New World.  Imagine a cross between Siouxsie Sioux, David Bowie and Yoko Ono, and you’re not too far off.

Going solo in 1985, Toyah continues to record music to this day, with 15 studio albums and a number of critically acclaimed side projects to her name, plus regular sell-out concert tours.  She’s also been a lifelong influence on several TVO regulars – most notably Alice Lowe, who based the short film Junglophilia on the singer’s 80s excesses.

We can’t wait to find out more.  Until then, revisit Junglophilia – directed by Jacqueline Wright and co-starring Barunka O’Shaughnessy – below.

TVO’s Review Of The Year 2013: Part Three

3 Jan

If you’ve previously taken a mosey through Part One and Part Two of our Review of 2013, you’ll already be aware that it’s been a busy old year in Onion Land. July to September was no exception, with news, reviews, new shows and live performances from both our regulars and the new names on our roster.

So here are the best bits from the third quarter of the year – hand-picked from over 700 news stories across 2013, and jam-packed with forgotten treasures and instant classics alike. Enjoy.

JULY

The month began with the release of Dan Clark‘s debut album, Dan Clark & The Difficult Three, which had been funded via a successful Pledge Music campaign. Combining genuinely funny lyrics with proper tunes played by a bona fide band, the record offered fans of Clark’s musical comedy an opportunity to re-live some of his live show classics and enjoy some newer compositions. For a wee taster, here below is a live recording of ‘Don’t Kiss Me’ (and if you fancy buying a copy of the album, head on over here):

We also featured a series of introductions to the TVO-recommended artists you could see at 2013’s Edinburgh Fringe. We intentionally mixed up the folk who we already write about with the people who we define as “beyond the Onion”; those featured included Colin Hoult, Tony Law,  Paul FootSpank, Joey PageAisling Bea, Late Night Gimp Fight, Tim Fitzhigham, Jonny & The Baptists (+ Jonny Donahoe), Pete Heat and Glen Wool.

On 19th July the world of comedy sadly lost one of its pioneers, in the shape of Mel Smith. Whilst Smith’s contribution to modern comedy is undeniable, we can also claim a link between him and the TVO family, with Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthew’s first TV sketches being written for Alas, Smith And Jones. You can watch one of them below:

In terms of new TV and film projects, this month saw the release of Ben Wheatley‘s hotly-anticipated follow-up to Sightseers, the psychedelically historical A Field In England, which launched simultaneously in cinemas, on TV and on DVD on 5th July.

Filming also began on the second series of Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy, and the Marmite-like TV adaptation of Graham Linehan’s Count Arthur Strong also hit our screens. Chris O’Dowd continued with his world domination of the airwaves with a role in the part-improvised US sitcom Family Tree:

Finally, fans of The Mighty Boosh got all hot and bothered over Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt‘s first live performance together since 2010 when the pair performed at The Barbican at a concert to honour the musician, Beck. Expect a bit more of the Boosh boys down below (honestly not as rude as it sounds)…

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Be Comically Challenged By Two TVO Folk

23 Nov

© United Agents

Two TVO faces will be appearing tomorrow at LOCO’s series of talks about challenging comedy. Barunka O’Shaughnessy and Jacqueline Wright are two of the speakers at the event which is taking place at Hackney Attic, Hackney Picturehouse in London.

Co-hotsed by LOCO and Underwire Film Festival, Challenging Comedy offers a packed afternoon of discussions, revelations, trade secrets and live workshops which explore the ways in which women writer-performers challenge conventional ways of looking at others, and of presenting themselves.

The session runs from midday tomorrow – so get your skates on! – until 5pm (with drinks afterwards) and tickets are £25, which includes lunch.

The full list of guest speakers includes:

Filmmaker Becky Brand (SUPERSTAR ROLE MODEL, THE CAMPAIGNER)
Costumer designer Claire Finlay (NIGHTY NIGHT, GAVIN & STACEY, HIM & HER)
2013 Fringe First award winner Bryony Kimmings (SUPERSTAR ROLE MODEL, SEX IDIOT, 7 DAY DRUNK).
Writer/Performer Barunka O’Shaughnessy (SCHOOL OF COMEDY, HUNDERBY, BEEHIVE)
Writer/Performer/Producer Poppy Roe (THIS WAY OUT)
Director Jacqueline Wright (OUT OF WATER, LIFESPAM, STIFFY).

For more information about the event, including the schedule for the afternoon (which looks fascinating, by the way)  take a look at this.  And to purchase tickets click here.

 

A Glimpse Behind The Boosh

26 Oct

© Proud Camden

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, most of you will by now be aware that Dave Brown’s behind-the-scenes photos of The Mighty Boosh have become an exhibition, Behind the Boosh, which is currently showing at Proud Camden.  A few of our gang were lucky enough to be at the opening night; here’s a summary of what it’s all about from Velveteer Mog:

© Mog / The Velvet Onion

The opening night of Behind the Boosh was buzzing. The gallery was full of friends and fans, including the Mayor of Camden (!), and a bevy of TVO-connected folk such as Noel Fielding, Julia Davis, Tom Meeten, Steve Oram, Arnab Chanda, Nigel Coan, Barunka O’Shaughnessy and Mr Bingo - plus Dave Brown of course.

You may feel like you’ve seen a significant chunk of Behind the Boosh reproduced in the various newspapers and websites that have been writing about the show. Trust me, it’s worth seeing the pictures in the flesh if you can.

The images themselves are undeniably aesthetically pleasing, and all the more so in larger dimensions than the recent online coverage has provided. But more than that, the photographs really come to life when viewed in the physical form: from the gentle undulations of the photographic paper beneath the glass of the frames to the signature delicately scratched onto the bottom right hand corner of every shot, it lends the images a warmth and authenticity that feels just right for the Boosh. It’s something you simply don’t get from a computer screen. The real life photographs present personal glimpses into their world as opposed to being just a visual report of something that happened.

© Dave Brown

Some of the photographs are so familiar they’ve become synonymous with the Boosh ‘brand'; it’s odd to think that someone actually took them. Others have never been seen before, and for those of us who are familiar with the TV show’s visual history, it’s these which have the greatest initial impact. An ambiguously moody shot of Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt in Buxton, which draws you in and holds you there, being a case in point.

Some of the photos depict the Boosh as a modern day rock band on tour: skinny jeans, tousled hair, stages, tour buses. By contrast, the black and white images from behind the scenes of the TV show have a timeless quality about them – the costumes, the intense conversations and the camera and lighting equipment that frames the shots makes them feel like they could have been taken in the early days of television.

© Dave Brown

Across the exhibition we get to see The Mighty Boosh in all its colours and shapes: the daftness and the the seriousness, the joy and the boredom, the camaraderie and the loneliness.

Throughout, their personalities come across as human, likeable and open for scrutiny. The result of the photographer being a trusted part of the story, one suspects. Dave’s absence from the images is the obvious downside of this arrangement, however.

The only complaint one could make about the exhibition is that it ends too soon. When we came to the final picture we were left wanting more; as if we’d been offered a window into the fascinating world of the Boosh rather than being told the full story.  We live in hope for a part 2!

For more photos from the opening night visit Proud’s Facebook page. Behind the Boosh is running at Camden Proud until 1st December, so there’s still time to get yourself down there.

Vote For The Baron!

11 Oct
© Gareth Tunley

© Gareth Tunley

Last month we told you about the digital release of a new short film featuring Tom Meeten, called The Baron.

If you were at the Mighty Boosh’s recent gig at The Pleasance, you’ll have seen Tom in character as The Baron (clue; he was the one who kept himself tucked in).

A long-standing live favourite (also appearing in short-lived Channel 4 show Blunder), the character has been reimagined as a gothic comic drama via Tom Meeten and director Gareth Tunley.

Co-starring Steve OramBarunka O’Shaughnessy and Stephen Evans, it also features music from Waen Shepherd and photography from Sightseers cinematographer Nick Gillespie. Quite a stellar cast and crew, then, so it’s no surprise the film is a delight.

Now The Baron has been entered into the’ Driven Creativity Competition 2013, a UK scheme that rewards inspiring and driven creativity (various media). It recognises not only the aesthetic qualities of entries, but also the innovation and drive that went into creating each of them.

To vote for The Baron, click here (you simply rate the film via the simple star rating system).  On this page you can also see Tunley’s explanation for why he believes that the film would be a worthy winner. As he says: “With a budget of just £500 we faced many obstacles: an arduous night shoot without HMI lights meant we had to innovate every shot to make it work.” We think you’ll agree that the end result is pretty impressive!

If you’ve yet to see it, you can watch The Baron in full below.

Tough Crowd On The Move

24 Sep

Dave Brown‘s exhibition of intimate comedy portraits, Tough Crowd, will be leaving its current home in Norwich and heading to North Wales next month.

© Dave Brown

The exhibition will be moving to Oriel Colwyn from 21st October, and it’ll remain there until 4th January 2014. The collection includes stunning images of a number of big name comedians, including a bevvy of TVO regulars: Alice LoweArnab ChandaBarunka O’ShaughnessyDan ClarkDolly WellsJoey PageJulia DavisJulian BarrattKevin EldonKim NobleNeil ColeNoel FieldingRich FulcherRichard AyoadeSarah KendallSteve OramTom Meeten and Tony Law.

There will be limited edition prints on sale in aid of Afrikids, so there’s good reason to get yourself down there and part with your cash. If you can’t make it in person, the prints are also available on the Afrikids website.

Oriel Colwyn can be found upstairs at Theatr Colwyn, and admission to the show is free. For more information about the venue visit its website.

However, if Wales feels a bit too westerly for you and you haven’t yet caught Tough Crowd during its stint in Norwich, there’s still time to experience it at Flint Hair on Benedict Street and Fabulous Frames on Upper St Giles Street before it moves. Its Norwich run finishes on 12th October.

Don’t forget that you can also see Dave’s brilliant photos of The Boosh at Proud Camden, London NW1 from 24th October to 1st December. It’s not yet on the venue’s website, but it’s definitely happening.

The Baron Is Unleashed

24 Sep

The Baron - a short film by Tom Meeten and Gareth Tunley - is now available to view online.

© Gareth Tunley & Tom Meeten

Inspired by the character Tom used to frequently bring to life on stage (and in C4 sketch show Blunder), the short co-stars Steve OramBarunka O’Shaughnessy and Stephen Evans.  It also features music from Waen Shepherd and photography from Sightseers cinematographer Nick Gillespie.  

All in all, it’s an impressive lineage for a delightful short film that we’ve been itching to share with you since we caught a preview many moons ago.

Now you can download the tale of a downtrodden office worker dreaming of wreaking revenge in SD, HD or even a mobile variant via Gareth Tunley’s vimeo page, so get on over there and savour its delights, which you can also see below.

Onion Selling

16 Sep

Whilst TVO appears to be in a ‘proper telly’ lull as we await a few big name shows coming soon, there’s no shortage of Onion faces cropping up on our screens thanks to the world of ad-breaks.

© Reed.co.uk

© Reed.co.uk

Such is the fickle nature of the acting profession – and stand-up comedy for that matter – every once in a while, TVO regulars crop up in commercials.

Whilst some may baulk at the notion of talented people turning up in adverts, let us remind you that, much like voiceover work, it pays well, doesn’t take long, and adds to the portfolio.  And hey, if it’s good enough for John Cleese, Dawn French, Kylie Minogue and Kevin Bacon, to name but a few big names who succumb to acting in ads, then who are we to complain.   Plus… it gets our good friends on the tellybox when we least expect it!

In the past, we’ve rounded up a number of commercials featuring so many faces of Onion Land, and the last month or so has seen the debut of three more such ads.

First up in this latest collection is the return of Rufus Jones as the face of job website reed.co.uk, in an advert which debuted during this weekend’s top-rated edition of X-Factor, no less.  Once again Richard Sandling is one of his potential targets for new work after a rude awakening…

Elsewhere, Channel 5 is keen to push it’s own catch-up service, Demand 5, which is now available on smart televisions, as well as NOWTV boxes, their website and YouTube.  Catching up on Neighbours with a rather heavy hangover in this commercial is none other than Rachel Stubbings

And then there’s Virgin Media, who are using athlete Usain Bolt and company founder Richard Branson in a series of adverts, all of which are voiced by Richard Ayoade

Lastly for now, is the return of Paul Kaye in typically maniacal form as the star of BetVictor’s long running campaign.  Here, Victor Chandler is enjoying a nice, gentle, first-class train ride, but typically, Maurice can’t quite leave him in peace…

As long as there is an Onion Land, it seems, there will be commercials featuring its inhabitants.  There are far too many for us to possibly collate, but we’ve done our best to dig into the archives and find you some of the better moments via the handy playlist below.

Included here are such classic moments as Julian Barratt advertising Metz way back in 1997, and his co-hort Noel Fielding being creative with handcuffs for Carling Live five years later.  There are big name ads you’d never realise had TVO links, from Simon Farnaby voicing a horse with a penchant for NutriGrain through to Ben Wheatley helming recent Go Compare ads.

Of course, there’s a huge chunk of voiceover king Matt Berry, but his IT Crowd co-stars Chris O’Dowd and Katherine Parkinson get a look in too.  Regular collaborators Tom Meeten and Barunka O’Shaughnessy pop up in a few ads, and we’ve got loads more to savour featuring the likes of Richard GloverLaura PatchAlex KirkRhys ThomasJustin EdwardsDan TetsellAnna CrillyKaty Wix and the well trained eye of Paul King.  We’ve also got a ridiculously early tv appearance by Steve Coogan, and a couple of later ads in character as Paul and Pauline Calf. Enjoy…

Tough Crowd Returns

12 Sep
© Dave Brown

© Dave Brown

Tough Crowd - the exhibition of intimate comedy portraits by Dave Brown – will be given a new lease of life from tomorrow in Norwich.

Split across two venues, the collection includes shots of a number of big name comedians.  TVO regulars Alice LoweArnab ChandaBarunka O’ShaughnessyDan ClarkDolly WellsJoey PageJulia DavisJulian BarrattKevin EldonKim NobleNeil ColeNoel FieldingRich FulcherRichard AyoadeSarah KendallSteve OramTom Meeten and Tony Law are just the tip of the iceberg!

With the likes of Adam Buxton, Bill Bailey, Bob Mortimer, Chris Addison, Harry Hill, Lenny Henry, Phill Jupitus, Ross Noble and Tim Minchin amongst the various other names featured – and there are many more – it’s a fascinating collection to peruse, and the good people of Norwich can do so from tomorrow – Friday 13th September, until Saturday 12th October.

The free to view show is housed by Flint Hair on Benedict Street, and Fabulous Frames on Upper St Giles Street.  As ever, there will be limited edition prints on sale in aid of Afrikids, so get on down there and part with your cash.  If you can’t make it, the prints are also available on the Afrikids website.

If you missed our extensive interview with Dave on all things Tough Crowd late last year, you can swot up on it right now.

.

Straw Donkey Unveiled

18 Aug

© Outsider

The short film Straw Donkey is now available to view online.

We first told you about Matt Huntley’s short back in January, as it features Tony WayLaura PatchBarunka O’Shaughnessy and The Inbetweeners star Joe Thomas, plus a cameo from Justin Edwards

At the time, all we could share with you was a preview clip, though TVO were lucky enough to see the full piece soon after posting, and we’ve been itching to share it with you ever since.

Now at last, this delightful little film is available to all.  So sit back, relax, and enjoy a classic tale about a food allergy, a shotgun and a meddlesome neighbour conspiring to make a dinner party an evening that everyone involved would rather forget.

Soho Fantastico

5 Jul

© Mog

Wednesday night saw the hotly anticipated Club Fantastico, Steve Oram and Tom Meeten‘s wildly demented comedy show, take place at the Soho Theatre.

The TVO contingent were out in force, with a star-studded and appreciative audience that included Alice Lowe, Tony Way, John Hopkins, Noel Fielding, Dolly Wells, Nigel Coan, Kim Noble, Dan Clark, Arnab Chanda, Gareth Tunley, Waen Shepherd, Barunka O’Shaughnessy and Bob Pipe. Phew!

Reviewing Club Fantastico presents something of a challenge; it’s difficult to do justice to a performance that features the techno dancing antics of Shaun the Prawn, an apparatus for feeding peanuts to ladies from a distance, an mind-melting version of Paper/Scissors/Rock, a phonecall with a pet lizard and “..but I won’t go South of the River” as what could possibly be one of the best comedy catch phrases ever. It also features Mary, who we will continue to find hilarious until the end of time. For their charm, energy and downright silliness Oram & Meeten are hard to beat.

So instead of a written review, we thought we’d share a few photos from the night. We think they tell their own story!

© Mog

© Mog

Continue reading

Prepare To Meet The Baron!

25 May

Earlier this week we were lucky enough to get a sneaky peek of a new project from Tom Meeten and Gareth Tunley.

© Tom Meeten

The Baron is a short film written by Meeten and Tunley, which features performances from TVO regulars, Stephen EvansSteve Oram and Barunka O’Shaughnessy. Waen Shepherd also provides the musical score for the film; and if a further TVO connection were needed, then Nick Gillespie (Sightseers) is the Director of Photography!

Tom stars as a downtrodden office worker who dreams of wreaking revenge on his co-workers in the guise of his alter-ego, the evil Baron. It’s difficult to describe the film without giving away the story, but suffice to say it’s brilliantly silly and very funny indeed, with performances that perfectly balance nuanced observation with comedic excess. And like all the best comedy, The Baron manages to be both surprisingly poignant and utterly demented at the same time. Wonderful stuff!

The screening we attended was packed out with the great and good from the pages of this here website, and the volume of the cheering and applause afterwards is a testament to how much everyone enjoyed the film. For now there are no plans in place for distributing The Baron, but with any luck it will be unleashed on the world very soon. And when it does, we’ll be there to forewarn you…

Don’t forget that you can see  Tom Meeten as part of the epic Oram & Meeten TONIGHT at Knock2Bag and also at Club Fantastico on 3rd July at the Soho Theatre. Be there, or be forever kicking yourself for not being there.

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