Big Face Strikes Again: An Introduction to John ‘Willie’ Hopkins
The world of comedy is an ever-changing, shape-shifting beastie. New talent pops up, develops, and is clasped to our Velvet Onion bosom – if it’s any good. But we get just as excited about discovering existing hidden talent in the nooks and crannies of The Velvet Onion. We’ve mentioned him on several occasions, but now’s the time for Velveteers Paulyne and Mog to bring one such hidden gem to today’s show and tell:
John ‘Willie’ Hopkins (recently of For The Win fame) was first introduced to us as “The only man to have survived Old Gregg”. Once we’d finished our range of over-enthusiastic impersonations, we discovered that not only is Mr Hopkins one of those rare, genuinely lovely and naturally funny men, but his contribution to comedy and his linkage with other TVO artists is far, far greater than we ever imagined. What’s more, he was also the assistant director of Spiceworld…but that’s a whole different story!
John was part of the Ealing Live Alumni, a group of cutting-edge comedians who helped to light the performance touch paper for many of the artists who grace our pages, and who, still to this day, work closely together. To see for yourself the extensive reach of the Ealing Alumni, just take a look at the sub-category in our tags column!
During the Ealing Live days John partnered with (and indeed lived with) Richard Glover, and together they performed some brilliantly fun, quirky sketches: “We thought we knew what we were doing – we didn’t – and suddenly we found ourselves on stage with all these people like [Simon] Farnaby.” Laughs John. “They assumed we must be good, so we had to come up with something. It was all an accident, no actual decisions were made.”
We’re very excited to be able to show you an original Hopkins & Glover sketch from back in the day, featuring a fresh-faced duo!
The pair’s talent and chemistry didn’t go unnoticed, and they were picked up by Paramount Comedy, where they brought us a spoof of two other famous BFFs, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, in Ewan & Thingy. Comprising of nine 2-3 minute shorts, the series also stared Tony Way and was filmed by TVO friend Bob Pipe . The story revolves around guitar-clad Ewan and disregarded ‘Thingy’ (Charley) taking an eventful trip through the woods to reach a pub on the other side, and it’s very funny indeed. John says of it, “I loved the actual series [The Long way Round], and to make a good spoof you have to like the thing you’re spoofing. Otherwise it comes across as a bit bitter.” Apparently the real Charlie Boorman was rather tickled by John’s impression of him, and rumour has it there may be more on its way!
Most of the work to come from Hopkins & co has been under the banner of Big Face Productions, his own production company, which has also produced some genius sketches featuring Gareth Tunley, along with other regular contributors. John has exciting plans for Big Face, ultimately hoping to create a collective of interesting and like-minded talent who can workshop together to create stand-out comedy. He explains that he’s reserved a rack of BBC costumes (“With silver suits!”) and plans to take them down to a cottage to “dress up and fuck around, and come up with ideas – because the weirdest, off-the-wall sketches come from that kind of thing.” Can we come?
A stand-out Big Face project for us is Rog & Steve, (played by John and Tunley) who provide some brilliant insights into learning music and the music industry. Take a look at the original promo below and then take a peek at some other episodes:
More recently you may recognise John from brief appearances in The IT Crowd or Golf War, but even more recently than that, you’ll have seen him in For The Win, a BBC Three ‘Feed My Funny’ pilot, which aired on Friday 7th September to critical acclaim (and is available to watch on iPlayer for 5 further days…get in there!).
The show also features Rich Fulcher, who graciously provided additional script-editing as well as appearing in the show. Of Rich’s contribution John says, “He’s such a supportive person – sharing and encouraging. He’s also one of the funniest people alive; he’s so naturally funny, at first you’re trying to work out if he’s joking all the time. He is, but that’s him it’s not fake.”.
For The Win was co-created and directed by John and produced by Matt Stronge, a youthful-looking veteran of comedy sound production (Matt’s previous credits include IT Crowd and Mongrels, amongst many others).
John and Matt worked closely together on the show, holing themselves up in a small cupboard for 6 months during its development. John describes their relationship as an intense bromance: “We’re metaphorically in bed smoking a fag, wiping each other down.” He says.
From talking to Matt and John, what’s clear is how many hurdles the makers of comedy shows now have to navigate before they get something on air; not only budget constraints, but also the vast distance between your original vision and the final product. “Making comedy is so difficult to get right,” John explains, “So many tiny things can go wrong. You can try too hard to be cool – it’s one of the reasons I wanted to make For the Win balls-out silly.”
They’re both full of praise for their young cast, whose faultless character performances pepper the half-hour show (“They worked their balls off and they’re all lovely,” says John). They’re both concerned at the lack of character comic actors around at the moment, with comedy artists preferring to pursue stand-up instead, and some snobbery towards character-based work. “But even stand-ups have their personna,” notes John.
John and his long-time co-performer, Richard Glover, both appear in the show in supporting roles. “I’m now too old to be on BBC Three.” John explains, then adds “But it’s actually really funny seeing slightly older people being silly – it’s like ‘He shouldn’t be doing that!’ and it bridges a gap between generations.”
For the Win has been submitted to the BBC, so the pair are currently waiting to hear whether a full series might be commissioned. “I think we’ve made something with the potential to be really exciting, new, and un-self conscious.” Says John. Comedy fans should be crossing their fingers that BBC Three agrees. Here’s to a full series!
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