As part of our Mongrels Takeover week in November 2011, TVO talked to some of the team behind the award-winning cult smash.
We caught up with one of the stars of the show, and someone who is a much stronger part of the TVO family than you (and indeed we) may have realised. The delightful Katy Brand voices maniacal chav-pigeon Kali, and she told us all about the new run, and much more below!
Hi Katy, welcome to TVO.
Mongrels returned this week: what can we expect from Series Two?
All the good stuff from series one is still there: the silliness, the swearing, the gratuitous sex and violence between puppets, the naughty little asides and the songs, but I think the scripts are even tighter this year, and a lot of the ‘secondary’ characters like mine, Kali the pigeon, have their own little story lines going on, which I think makes the whole show feel richer. It’s a very silly show, but every so often there’ll be a much tougher joke that takes you by surprise – I like that.
What attracted you to the series first time around, and how does the second series build on that?
The creator and director of Mongrels, Adam Miller, was the First Assistant Director on my first series of Katy Brand’s Big Ass Show, and we got to know each other then. I could see he was very talented, and was having lots of ideas on the set for how my show should be directed, so I decided I would like him to actually direct series 2 and 3 of my show, instead of first a.d.’ing them. He did a great job, but it was obvious Mongrels was his passion. During the first series of my show, he told me all about the idea for it, and showed me a short taster tape he had put together, which was brilliant, and also the pilot script, which was also incredibly funny. I made a few small suggestions, and did an early read-through and the pilot episode when it was commissioned by the BBC.
I was so thrilled to be asked to return as Kali for the series itself. This is showbiz, daaarling, there are no guarantees! I had really taken to the show from the very beginning – it has a great sense of noisy anarchy, which is right up my street, comedy wise. I like the way the second series has taken the playground elements of the first series and really pushed to the limits, and also the mini-film parodies have got very sophisticated. I think the characterisation is much more developed now, too.
As a writer yourself, do you get much input into the scripts?
I don’t have any input at all beyond the odd absolutely tiny suggestion here and there, so I can’t take any credit! The intensity of writing a show yourself is so enormous, and whilst I love the challenge, it is always a sweet experience to just turn up to the rehearsal room and be handed a great script with a load of funny lines to say, and then go home at the end of the day. Well, I say ‘home’, what I mean is ‘to the pub’.
Kali is something of an evil genius. Have you ever concocted an evil scheme up there with her best?
Once when I was a child, a new boy moved to my primary school from Canada. He was very good at Maths, and I was awful, and he was very snooty with me about it. So, I watched for when he put his Maths book on the teacher’s desk to give in his homework, and then when she wasn’t looking, I swiped it and dropped it back in his bag, so he got in trouble for not handing it in. I felt sick with guilt for the rest of the week, so in the end, I’m not sure it was worth it. I also tied him to a tree, but we really don’t have time to go into that here…
Fiendish! Now, some of the jokes on the show push the boundaries of what you can get away with. Has there ever been a point you felt a joke crossed the line?
Once or twice in rehearsals, we would pull apart a joke just to see if it was really ok and its place was justified. Usually it was, but there were a couple of times where the writers decided to drop the joke as it didn’t stand up to scrutiny, and I think that’s a great thing. Comedy should be self-regulating, and sometimes if you’re trying to get eight episodes written in double-quick time, the odd off-colour gag might slip through, but that’s when you listen to others around saying, ‘hmmmm’, and if you respect them, and there’s enough of them, and you’re not sure yourself, you drop it. I’ve done it myself.
I think comedy should always punch up, not down, but there’s no harm in taking on a sticky subject every now and again. As Frank Skinner once said, there’ll always be someone whose chicken has just died crossing the road, so don’t drop a joke immediately, just because someone is a bit offended. Poke it, prod it, pull it apart, and then decide.
I understand time on the actual set is limited, as you’ve done most of your work before filming begins. You’ve been quite hands on with your work in the past – does it feel strange to leave it in other people’s hands?
In this instance, not at all. It’s is Adam’s baby, 100% – he knows what he wants and how he wants it. In my show I was there right the way through from the first word on the page, to the last edit being signed off, and that’s right, because it’s my name on the title and it’s was one of those authored shows. For me to start crashing about, telling the people who make Mongrels what to do would be very unappealing. That’s not to say I don’t have my bossy moments every now and again, but I don’t mind being told to shut up. Though, I just got Marion’s voice very clearly in my head then, saying: ‘I do mind being told to shut up…’ Ha!
We’ve got the overriding impression from our interviews that the cast & crew have a real love and affection for one another. Is there anyone in particular you’re most proud to work alongside?
All of them, I know that’s banal, but it’s true. I worked with almost everyone on the crew before, and I know they are all tip-top. As I explained above, I know Adam of old, and the rest of the cast I have worked with in some capacity in the last six or seven years and they are real friends – many of our friendships have been cast in the refining fire of the Edinburgh Festival, when we were playing to audiences of anything up to four people, and relationships like that last forever. I got to know Paul Kaye through Mongrels, and he ended up playing St Paul in my show too. I have always been a massive fan of his, and I still quote some of his best Dennis Pennis lines to myself when I see people like Joan Collins on TV.
You’ve worked with a number of your co-stars before. Does the history together improve the end result?
I really think it does. There is a robustness to the group that you can’t buy – we have all seen one another succeed and fail live on stage, and nobody is worried about ego – we are quite cheeky with each other, and atmosphere is very giggly and naughty and I hope that gives the comedy a bit of a high-hat when it’s actually performed. Nobody has anything to prove to each other, we all find each other very funny, and that means no-one is afraid to experiment in the room, which can lead to great results.
Away from Mongrels, you’ve also worked with a number of our TVO regulars on projects like Tittybangbang, Annually Retentive and your own Big Ass Show. Do you feel part of the comedy ‘family’ we’ve dubbed ‘Booshdom’, for want of a better term?
Oh, I do hope so. I was a member of the Ealing Live team for years, and that was a fantastic experience. Also, doing three consecutive years with my own shows, and group shows at the Edinburgh Festival is like a sort of comedy university and I have found some fantastic friends there, not to mention collaborators.
We all go to each other’s weddings, go to the pub for birthdays, go to each others shows, and cast one another in our shows. It’s not trying to be cliquey and there’s always room for more, it’s just, when you’ve performed and written with a group of people week in, week out for a few years, you know how good they are and you both want and need them around. The bastards.
What’s coming up next for you?
I am writing a film, which I hope may be made next spring – Ridley Scott’s company is producing it, Emma Thompson is executive-producing it and it’s being supported by the Film Council, so it stands a chance at least, in a very uncertain world. I am also writing a sit-com pilot for Baby Cow and the BBC, and it’s a real privilege to be doing that. I am very excited about it all, and it’s nice to have a period of writing – it means I don’t have to get up at 5am every day.
Will you return for more Mongrels if given the chance?
Of course – the pigeon costume is so soft and comfy.
Finally, a suggestion we’re asking everyone about. Given the show’s popularity, do you think a live tour could work? It’d be a work-out for all involved, we imagine, but we’re putting it out there!
I think it would be more of a work out for the puppets than the cast, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Of course it could work – it would be like the Fimbles Live, except with more people calling each other a cunt.