As part of our Mongrels Takeover week in November 2011, TVO talked to some of the team behind the award-winning cult smash.
Now, this truly is a man with a legendary reputation. Blurring the lines between performance mediums for more than twenty years, the legendary Paul Kaye lends his voice to potty-mouthed proper, f***ing fox, Vince.
Then deep into previews for his role in Tim Minchin’s stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, in which he plays Mr Wormwood, Paul took the time out of his hectic schedule to tell The Velvet Onion about his work on Mongrels, having fun with Oram & Meeten, and his incredible career.
Hi Paul, welcome to TVO. So… Series Two of Mongrels: what can we expect?
A furious furry frenzy of fucking filth.
What attracted you to the series first time around, and how does the second series build on that?
I met John Brown about 8 or 9 years ago and helped out on a few pilots and tasters for Mongrels. He’s such a talented guy and together with Adam, Steven and Daniel, he and they always had such a strong vision and belief in the project. Creatively, it just gets better and better, I think.
As a writer yourself, do you get much input into the scripts?
Well as far as improvising or throwing in ideas into the mix, they’re are always up for us trying things out while we’re recording and we all have open auditions for new characters as we go which is fun. Nothing should be totally locked down in comedy. Why deny yourself the chance to make things funnier?
Your character, Vince, gets to really let rip the four letter words. That’s got to be fun, surely?
I was brought up quite religiously and strictly and wasn’t allowed to swear at home, so as a karmic result I seem to have gravitated towards foul mouthed characters. My Mum once stuck a bar of Imperial Leather into my gob after I meant to call her presumptious but actually said promiscuous. Not really a swear word, but thought I’d mention it anyway.
Some of the jokes on the show push the boundaries of what you can get away with, and Vince, perhaps surprisingly for all his swearing, isn’t always the one to do it! Has there ever been a point you felt a joke crossed the line?
With the increasingly paranoid and litigious society we live in I’m not quite sure how Mongrels snuck under the BBC’s barbed wire, but I’m jolly glad it has.
There seems to be a genuine camraderie between the cast and crew, too. Is there anyone in particular you’re most proud to work alongside?
They’re all brilliant, lovely people and extremely talented. We record in this little bunker of a studio, all slumped on top of one another. The characters written for us are so strong and the scripts are great so it’s just one of those smashing jobs you get every now and then.
Were you a fan of any of your co-stars before the show?
Lucy Montgomery, I’ve worked with a lot, she was Mrs Strutter in the MTV series. We also played a sexaholic German couple called the Spitvars and have dry humped one another on a trestle table outside the houses of Parliament ‘Fucking for Famine’. I have to say Marion is my favourate character, but Nelson is a close second. The chemistry between Dan and Rufus is a thing of great beauty.
I understand time on the actual set is limited, as you’ve done most of your work before filming begins. Does it feel strange to leave it in other people’s hands?
We met all the puppeteers before the first series started. I went down to see them filming Vince’s wedding in Shepperton and it was so exciting. The sets were unbelievable and even though it looked like extremely hard work, they seemed to be having a real blast fisting us all.
Are there any guest stars you’re really pleased with?
I know Zoe Ball’s in it somewhere. I saw her at the beeb the other week and hadn’t seen her for about 10 years. Always nice to see a fellow survivor of the phycotic‘90’s.
Away from Mongrels, you’ve had one of the most varied career paths of anyone working in comedy. You started off as an illustrator and graphic designer… do you still have an interest in it?
I still keep a sketch book and occasionally do murals. I did a Mexican Dawn of the Dead one for a friends recording studio recently. I’ll definitely go back to painting one day.
I’m currently scanning loads of old stuff for a website and it’s reminded me what a huge part of my life it was. I’m working in the theatre at the moment, and having done quite a lot of scene painting in the old days, I seem to still naturally gravitate towards the art depatrtment.
They say all comedians want to be rock stars, and a few of our regulars on TVO support that theory! You were actually a musician for many years – would you ever go back to it?
Music has definitely come back into my life in recently. I’ve done a couple of film soundtracks this year, and have just finished recording a load of music for Kathy Burkes new drama. She’s amazing and it was great to finally meet her. We’re both 1964 kids: she’s got the Clash carved into her arm and my youngest sons middle name is Strummer, so we were always gonna hit it off.
The last couple of years I’ve been playing in the Mike Strutter Group which has been great fun and brought out my inner maniac. We did a monthly residency at the Bethnal Green Working Mens club which was a great little scene. Lots of dressing up, all word of mouth, and more often than not I’d end up in A&E. But it was worth all the stitches. A dominatrix friend of mine, Kiria performed with us. It was basically a live punk rock sex show, with her dishing out blowjobs down the front and giving me Jack Daniels enemas.
Steve Oram and Tom Meeten used to support us with their outfit Wingnut. There was such a great vibe down there. I love those guys. One night we had Jarvis Cocker, Paris Hilton and Ian Wright all show up! I left Paris alone, cos I thought she was a look-a-like, but ended the night singing Arsenal songs with Wrighty in the dressing room. Doesnt get better than that.
It sounds epic! Going back to the ‘straight and narrow’ for a minute… you’ve concentrated on character acting for the last decade or so, with some high profile roles in film and television. Is it important to mix the comedic roles with more serious fare, or do you just go where the scripts are good?
I have to be honest and say I’ve never felt in a position to control my career like that. I do still feel like an outsider and I don’t expect that to ever change. I’ve never really been fully seduced by the industry and it’s never really been fully seduced by me, which I can completely deal with these days. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as a comedian. I don’t feel the need or urge to make people laugh.
Was it difficult to escape the shadow of Dennis Pennis?
Dennis Pennis was pure situationaism. I’d never written or performed comedy before that and had no time to learn. It just puked itself out as an antidote to the way I thought our culture was going. Mind you, with only Hello magazine on the shelves back then, it’s safe to say we definitely lost the war. I had so many opportunities offered to me back then and wasted them all, but I just knew in myself after a year of doing that kind of telly, that I never wanted do anything like it again, and I haven’t.
All the good stuff I’ve ever done has been about raw, circumstantial self expression and nothing to do with ‘career’ anyway. The movie It’s All Gone Pete Tong was me in complete meltdown as I approached 40, and Strutter was my way of dealing with the initial horrors of sobriety. With Dennis, I just figured it was job done and I didn’t want to be the kid with a stink bomb any more. For what it was, you couldn’t really top it. Anyway to continue annoying people, it was a far more titillating prospect going off and doing a safe BBC1 Scottish drama as a follow up.
And now you crop up all over the place! We at TVO really loved your guest slot in Being Human, recently…
Being Human was fun. I got to beat the crap out of Robson Green, which is something I’ve fantasized about for years on account of ‘that’ single. Disappointingly, he turned out to be the most lovely man.
the viewing platform, checking his emails on his iPhone.
If you could pick one project to be remembered for, what would it be?
I guess it will be Pennis, whether I like it or not. That’s cool with me. The writer Dennis Kelly thinks I invented reality TV. I hope that’s not true, because I’d never forgive myself.
I’m still amazed that people remember it, as we only ever did three half hour shows and it never got a big sell. I didn’t give a fuck who I pisssed off, cos I had no intention of staying in the business. I th ink that made all the difference really, and is why it probably won’t happen again.
Personally speaking, having fluctuated between being a Johnny Rotten clone, or a Ziggy Stardust clone long after it was dignified to do so, coming up with my own red headed alter ego was essential if I was ever to move on as a human being. Pennis signaled the end of my extended adolescence, and allowed me to be the naughty boy I never had the balls to be when I was a kid.
What’s coming up next for you?
We’re previewing Matilda with the RSC at the Cambridge Theatre and open next week. I did it in Stratford last year, and it’s been an incredible experience.
Tim Minchin’s a genius. Having originally studied Theatre Design all those years ago, it’s felt a bit like coming home, and I absolutely love being part of this company.
Will you return as Vince for more Mongrels if given the chance?
To f***ing right you c****.
Paul Kaye: Thank you.