A Chat About Yonderland

© Empire

© Empire

Series 3 of Yonderland is now under way on Sky 1, and we’re excitedly gearing up for episode 3 which airs this Sunday at 6.30pm. Larry Rickard and Jim Howick, two of the Yonderland team responsible for writing and performing in the show, were kind enough to talk to us about the new series.

It was a privilege to have the chance to ask Larry and Jim a few of the type of questions that they don’t often get asked, and fascinating to hear two (slightly) different perspectives in their answers. Here’s what they had to say:

Your previous TV show, Horrible Histories, only contained human characters. At what point in the development of Yonderland did you think ‘puppets’ and why?

Larry: As soon as we realised that the ‘fantasy’ genre would be a great playground for a multi-character comedy, we almost immediately decided on puppet co-stars. We’re all huge fans of Jim Henson’s films, and it felt like that brand of lo-fi escapism had died away in a post-CGI world. Plus of course, puppets can do things that human actors can’t – like being fired from a trebuchet, or eating a man’s head. They allow us to tell jokes we otherwise couldn’t.

Jim: The idea for fantasy came first, then puppets pretty soon after. The next minute after or something like that. We liked the idea of a nostalgia kick, something that resembled the cool stuff from our childhood. But irreverent and silly.

Some people describe it as family entertainment, and others as a kids’ show; who do you think the Yonderland audience is?

Larry: I’m very proud to say that’s almost impossible to answer. TV comedy seems to have diverged since the time of Blackadder, which, growing up, I loved every bit as much as my parents did. Since then comedy seems to have become more of an ‘adults only’ genre, with ‘family comedy’ used as code for kids shows that grown-ups merely endure. Our aim with Yonderland was simply to make a funny sitcom… but one that doesn’t exclude a young audience. A ‘family comedy’ in the true sense. Cheeky and irreverent, but defiantly pre-watershed. Thankfully, the audience we’ve found seems to reflect that. It’s hugely diverse – 8 to 80. And I never tire of hearing of families sitting down to watch it together.

Jim: We make it for everyone. All ages. Of course it’s family viewing, there are things we can’t do/say, but we sincerely forget about that when we come up with this crazy shit (oops).

© Sky

© Sky

People have been describing Yonderland in terms of Monty Python; how would you describe it?

Larry: You can’t watch Life as Brian as many times as I have without it seeping in somewhere. But I think our troupe’s tone, especially in Yonderland, owes as much to Mat’s love of physical comedy, Simon’s surrealism, Jim’s movie mania, and so on. It’s the cocktail of a thousand influences that makes it unlike anything else. However, a shorthand is hugely handy when talking about what is, let’s face it, a pretty weird show. One critic called it ‘Python meets Labyrinth’ and I’m yet to find a three word précis that does a better job.

Besides Stephen Fry, who would your dream guest actors be?

Larry: Trump. To play an evil misogynist halfwit. Obviously, it’d be a stretch, but I reckon he’s got it in him.

Jim: Bowie. We’re already in dreamland. We were completely thrilled when Stephen agreed to play Cuddly Dick. We had the brilliant Mackenzie Crook in the last series and this series sees the return of Anthony Head and appearances from Jaime Demetriou, Tom Meeten and the great Alison Steadman. But yeah…David Bowie.

© Sky

© Sky

What do you enjoy the most and the least about the Yonderland writing/filming process?

Larry: Unlike most sitcoms, our stories have bona fide first acts – setting up new lands and characters. So fitting episodes into 21 minutes is a huge struggle from the first day of writing to the last day of editing. But it does mean the shows has a pace that few non-US sitcoms match. The best thing about Yonderland though, is that I get to work with my best mates. Even with long and stressful days, I frequently leave the studio with my cheeks hurting from laughing. I know how lucky that makes me.

Jim: Having fun with my friends. Rocking up on set to film the next scene with a big look that the others haven’t yet seen. Seeing their reaction. Making them laugh. Time constraints are tough but inevitable, whatever the budget.

© Matt Frost / WTTV Limited / Sky

© Matt Frost / WTTV Limited / Sky

Yonderland is a great name; what were the runners up?

Larry: We were really into the ‘The Chosen Mum’ but it’s sort of pun that might have become tiresome by now, so we used that as the title of the first episode instead. In fact I have the longlist somewhere – hang on….Right, there’s a lot of crap ones here, but the list includes ‘It Is Written’, ‘Welcome to M’earth’ and ‘Tornutopia’. Thought I can’t really imagine it being called anything else now.

Jim: There were a few. ‘Mumscape’ was one. ‘The Elf in the fridge’ was the genesis. Originally Ben and Mat’s film idea

If you (as in Larry and Jim, not one of your characters) owned an ale house in Yonderland, what would you call it?

Larry: Lager Then Life.

Jim: ‘The Modest Cock’ maybe? We had a pub last series called ‘The Red Brian’ and the face on the sign was our director Steve Connolly.

Why do you think the team of people who you frequently work with, and who we support at The Velvet Onion, are so interconnected? 

Larry: I think it boils down to finding each other funny. There’s often a lot of chat over our lunchtime sarnies about such-and-such’s latest project and how great it is. And if you like what someone does – whether acting or performing – that makes you want to work with them. Plus there’s a lot of history there – coming up on the same circuit or through the same ‘Edinburgh’ years. This series, for example, sees cameos from both Tom Meeten and Tony Way. Because, as a group, we know them of old and know that they’re ace. Though we always have an eye out for new faces too – the next generation of TVO favourites.

Jim: There’s a genuine mutual respect for each other’s work and we’re all really nice. That and pubs. Pubs play a big part of it. The truth is that this network of comics isn’t really that big. We’ve all pretty much worked with each other in some form or other.

© Sky

© Sky

What are you doing next?

Larry: I’ve just finished working on series 2 of Tracey Ullman’s Show, which goes out next year. She’s incredible and an utter joy to work with.. Comedian, actor, writer, impressionist, singer, dancer – she makes polymaths look like one trick ponies. The rest of this year will largely be writing… Well, re-writing. I’m not allowed to say what, but they’re two very different projects. Both comedy, but of very different hues.

Jim: I’ve got a couple of things coming up but I can’t really talk about them at the moment. Sorry. Shouldn’t have brought them up in the first place.

Jim, how was it working with Matt Holness on the recent Halloween Shorts?

Ah it was such a pleasure working with Matt again. We first worked together in 1999. Saucy Jacks cabaret bar in London Bridge. It’s a short film, a ghost story set in the 70s – an affectionate parody of the Hammer-Amicus films. As well as starring in it, Matt has also written and directed it. He’s a very talented and lovely man.

© Key Art Halloween Comedy Shorts

© Key Art Halloween Comedy Shorts

Many thanks to Larry and Jim for taking the time to talk to The Velvet Onion. Don’t forget that Yonderland airs on Sky 1 every Sunday at 6.30pm. Tune in this Sunday for episode 3.

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