Sunday, September 28, 2008

Interview with Little Britain


While you’ll be able to find the revised, much truncated version of the same interview in the latest issue of Complex Magazine (Which I advise you pick up. It has Kevin Smith and Seth Rogan on the cover. Huzzah!), here is the long as a grocery list version of the interview for your viewing pleasure, featuring all the nitty gritty little bitties you WON’T find in October/November issue. Enjoy!

Your name is David Walliams but you used to be David Williams. Why did you change your name?

David: To join British Equity, which is the union in England, you can’t have the same name as someone else, and there was already someone named David Williams.

Okay, so you changed it?

David: Yeah.

Okay, so can you tell me more about your swim across the English Channel?

David: Well, we’d done some work with this charity Comic Relief, which is run by Richard Curtis who’s the screenwriter for Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually, you know, those films, and we’d done some comedy sketches for them to raise the money, and they sent it to Ethiopians. And while I was there, this guy who runs Comic Relief asked ‘is there anything you ever wanted to do,’ and I said, yeah, I always wanted to swim the English Channel, and he said, ‘Well, you can do it next year.’ And I was like, oh, okay. And then I started training, and eventually the day came, and you know, God was on my side. It was nice calm weather and the sun was shining and I managed to do it. So it was great, my achievement outside of the world of comedy in my career that I’ve done that’s special.

So, Richard Curtis started Comic Relief?

David: Yeah, Richard Curtis started Comic Relief in the mid-80s. There was Band-aid, and Live-aid, so it became a comic thing, stuff mainly for Africa. In England, it’s a big thing, it’s like a telethon you have every year for Comic Relief.

And so, did Matt get the Proclaimers?
(Matt enters the room)

Matt: Hi there! How’d the Proclaimers thing happen? Well, me and David were approached by Peter Kay, who is an enormously successful comedian in the UK, and a couple of years earlier, he had done a kind of single for Comic Relief which was really, really successful, and sold a lot of money for Comic Relief. So he had another idea to do a song with the Proclaimers and take the 500 Miles song and do an update of it. I’m a massive Proclaimers fan, I’ve met them a number of occasions, and I’m a massive fan of Peter’s, and so we both got involved with that and it was great fun.

So now that you’re both there, when was the first time you met?

David: It was in 1990, we were both in the National Youth Theatre, which is an amateur theatre for young people. Matt was about 16, and I was 18, and we became friends, talking about comedy that we liked. And then, a few years later, we decided to do a show together, a fringe festival. You know, in Scotland in every August, there’s a contest for all the comedians and people at the theatre who put on shows. And so it went from there. And TV people come to that festival and try to spot talent, and we got some opportunities from there. And many years later we did Little Britain on Radio 4, BBC Radio 4, and then we got picked up for TV.

Now how did it get picked up from radio? How did the transition work from radio to TV?

David: The great thing about the BBC is that it’s a huge organization, which has many different kind of options for creativity, so when you do a radio show there and it’s successful, the TV people are aware of you, so actually, the path was quite smooth. The challenge for us was to make a show that was especially better than it was.

Matt: We now have detailed make-up, and nice kinds of crazy cameras and tracking shots, and could use the music to underscore some of the action. To create a package that worked for the TV show.

Now, when you bring the show to the America, are you going to have American writers, or are they going to be the same writers from before?

David: We finished filming the show. Some of the British characters that you may know from the British series have come to America for various reasons. Like Vicky Pollard was caught trying to burn down a ride in Disney World and has now been sent to Boot Camp. Daffyd is enrolled at the University, that kind of thing. And now, we got new characters who are American who have been put in the show.

Are you going to have Kenny Craig? He’s my favorite character.

David: Kenny Craig we did film, but I think it’s likely to be in the DVD extras.

Matt: Actually, it’s quite a nice scene, but we just didn’t have room for him. It’s just a nice situation to be in that you can’t even fit in all the stuff that you like. So it’ll be an extra on the DVD.

So can you say any of the new characters, or is that totally in secrecy until it debuts in America?

David: That’s not a secret at all. We’ve got a bunch of new characters. One is Ben Gordon, who’s a retired astronaut who prides himself of being the eighth man on the moon and doesn’t want anyone to forget about it. We’ve got a mother and daughter, Elly (may be spelled wrong) Grace and her mom, the daughter is about seven, played by Matt. And they say cutsey things to each other, like when the mom is putting the daughter to bed, like, she’d go, “I love you more than rainbows.”

Matt: (In voice of character, a higher pitched voice with a bit of a lisp): “I love you more than chocolate milk.”

David: “I love you more than bunny rabbits.”

Matt: “I love you more than penises.”

David: She says all the rude things that she picked up at the playground and she gets really offended. We’ve got two guys who hang out, big kind of muscly guys called Tom and Mark, and they’re gym buddies, and they have this sort of strange homo-erotic [relationship]. They’ve got massive muscles but extremely small penises. (laughing) So it’s sort of the subtle Little Britain humor there.

Can you guys tell me what’s the difference between American and British comedy?

David: Um, the accents sometimes.

Matt: Some of the words that people say are slightly different.

David: Or they mean slightly different things. It’s hard to categorize really because, you know, what has come out of Britain in America are Monty Python and Benny Hill. They were kind of different to each other, and the stuff that’s come out of America were different, too. So I think the only thing is that some of the times, the characters [in Britain] are like losers. In America comedy, sometimes, with an example of a sitcom, the character will be quite smart and say funny things. Whereas, in Britain, all the characters are like, they’re funny characters and we’re invited to laugh at them. There are very few British comedians who you can claim to be cool. You couldn’t imagine someone with the glamour of like a Chris Rock.

Matt: I think in British TV, the comedy is seedier and less asperational. And the people in American comedies are more handsome. They look healthier!

David: There are about 6 people in Britain who are as good looking as that. They wouldn’t be on comedy.

Matt: It wouldn’t work. They would just be smoking pot and doing nothing.

What about shows that are from Britain but are being Americanized? I mean, you guys are keeping it real by keeping it British.

Matt: We were approached by Simon Fuller, who had been talking to HBO about bringing us over. But I think if we were on say, network television, than we probably would have chosen to sell the concept of Little Britain and they could have done a Little America, and you would have your own actors, and you would have a Vicky Pollard style of character, but she was America and had America references. But I think because it’s HBO, they’re a little more into…they’re okay for the more individual idiosyncratic sort of writing that will be uninhibited.

David: Well, they already have a good relationship with Sasha with Ali G, and Ricky had a big success with Extras, so I think they just really trust the talent and really like giving the people the great opportunity to do what we do. And they really didn’t want to tell us what not to do very much. They wanted us to make it relevant to the American audience, which is what we wanted, but they didn’t say you have to make all your characters American, or that you can’t do this one or that one, so they let us follow our instincts. So it’s really been a harmonious relationship. We were taken by surprise. We thought, like the obvious, they just wanted to make the right version of it and that would be the end of it for us, and we’d just sit at home and receive the royalty checks, which would be fantastic. But they let us do it. It’s amazing for me and Matt, just look where Sasha went.

Matt: He made the funniest film in the last 25 years.

So have you guys ever thought about making a film? I mean, Lou and Andy seems like the perfect choice for a movie.

Matt: We thought about it. It means getting up, you know.

David: We have offers. Simon Fuller even said to us that ‘I would personally fund a Little Britain film,’ but at the moment, we haven’t quite had the idea that makes us think that that’s the right thing to do. And we really like working on tv. And I do feel that comedy works very well on TV and in a half hour chunk. I think it’s probably harder to make a film that’s funny all the way through. I mean, you could probably count the comedies that are really genuinely funny all the way through on both hands. You know, it’s not that many. It’s really hard. Because another thing, after about an hour, you might get bored and get tired of laughing. With our show, it’s relatively short, and it’s over in about 25 minutes. And we work in sketches as well, so we’re not even maintaining a narrative for that long. I mean, at some point…we’re doing other things right now at the moment. We’re doing other films, but they’re not Little Britain films.


Yeah, like you were in Narnia for a bit, right?

David: I play a very small voicing part of a bear. I suppose I’ll get some kind of Oscar nod…but I’m not sure if it’s going to be forthcoming.

Matt: (Joking) I think you picked up the Golden Globe, which is amazing. And if you were going to lay a bet, I’d lay it on David. Because I’ve never heard lines said like that.


So, you guys span very far across the world. I saw you guys had some French stuff, Spanish stuff. Where else do you guys think you span to?

Matt: What do you mean?

Like, how far is your audience around the world?

Matt: Well, yesterday, I’m here in LA with David, and yesterday, I was stopped by people who were Portuguese, people who were Israeli, and other various countries. I think it plays in about 40 countries around the world. I think it’s like, in some countries, like Australia, we’re really big. We actually toured in Australia, which is just thrilling, and in other countries where fans may have found it on DVD, so it’s not massive everywhere, but it’s shown a lot.

David: I suppose there are a lot of visual jokes in it that’s quite colorful and fast moving, so I suppose it’s one that probably translates to other audiences. But if we talk about Monty Python, which was world famous. It is an incredibly avant garde piece of work, and yet, that kind of captured people’s imaginations in America, so you can never truly predict what’s beautiful or what might just be too weird when it comes to Britain, but actually, it’s the biggest comedy export that Britain’s ever had.


You guys did a lot of episodes live in front of a real audience in Britain. Are you guys going to do that in America, too?

Matt: Well, when we recorded the show, we did about a month on location in North Carolina and then we went to Los Angelas and we recorded a lot of sketches in front of the audience, and we also played a lot of the stuff we did on location.

Uh huh, and how did that go?

David: Yeah, it was great. We had David Schwimmer directing our studio sequences. He had a lot of experience. He was both and actor and director in that area and he was pretty fun to work with. He’s actually a really great comic actor. But he’s got loads of fantastic ideas. And we got some really good guest stars, like we had Rosie O’ Donnell, who we got to do a sketch in. Paul Rudd plays the French President in a sketch which involves the British Prime Minister and the President. We were very lucky to work with these people. The Rosie O Donnell scene is really, really outrageous. We’ve already met her in New York, and we wrote the sketch around her. I’ve very surprised that she did it. It was quite outrageous.

Now I heard the word Prime Minister in there somewhere. So, I guess that means Sebastian’s coming back?

David: Well, yes, Sebastian. We kind of wanted to make that character work, but we weren’t quite sure how to make it relevant to the American audience if he was still in love with the British Prime Minister. So we made Sebastian the Prime Minister, and now he’s in love with the American President, played by Harry Lennix, and so we’re hoping that Barack Obama wins because it will make our show seem really up to date.

Matt: Because he looks like him.

David: You can imagine that if Obama wins, he’s really quite sexy, so you can imagine the world leaders really falling for him. You can’t really fall for George Bush.

Matt: What about Ronald Reagan? He’s not sexy. The next President has to be sexy.

David: Ford was before Carter.

Matt: Was Ford before Carter?

David: He wasn’t sexy, so that blows my whole idea out of the water.

Matt: So the next President has to be gorgeous. What about Hilary? Hilary’s got something. She’s got something about her.

David: She’s not going to be the one.

Matt: Oh, she’s not going to be the one? Well, she has something. What about McCain? Is McCain sexy?


Not in particular.

Matt: McCain makes us fries.

David: McCain makes us chips.

Matt: You see, what we call chips, you call fries.


Yeah, yeah, chips, fries. Okay, speaking of a character like Sebastian and Davyyd, though, I’ve heard you’ve gotten a little criticism over your gay characters. But Matt, you’re openly gay, so what are your feelings about that?

David: Well, I’m not openly gay (laughing). I’m closeted.

Matt: I say I’m gay, but I’m not reeeeally.


David: We hope that all the characters we portray, even though they’re comic characters, there’s always going to be a level of critique in a comic character. I hope we do them with warmth. And that you like our characters. I think Daffyd is really rather a sweet character, and he’s rather emotional. Sebastian is in the group of unrequited love, and so you really can’t help but kind of feel for them. So I’m hoping that we do it with warmth. Of course, it’s never our intention to offend people. But you know, somewhere along the way, I’ve heard that people, some even within the British crowd, say that Borat is racist, and you just think, oh come off it. It’s not intended in that way. It’s just a really funny comic character. I mean, with Inspector Clouseau, it’s racist against French people. And you know, it’s quite tedious. People do have a point, but unfortunately, if you do that, you might as well get rid of all comedy.

So are you guys living in the US now, or are you going back to Britain?

David: We came out here for three months to actually film the show and rehearse it. We’re here for promotions, speaking with you.

Matt: We sort of spend it half and half.

David: We spend the mornings in England and the evenings in America.

Matt: Yeah, we go home for lunch and then come back.

David: The more time we spend here, the better, in terms of the more American culture we soak up, the more competent we’ll feel when creating our characters.

Matt: And the less dreadful our American accents will sound.


Is there anything that you haven’t told a lot of people that you’re willing to share with us?

David: Yeah.

Are you willing to disclose?

Matt: Um, do you mean in life or to deal with the TV show?

In life, yeah. Life in general.

Matt: Well, let me think. I don’t know. What about you, David?

David: No, I can’t think of anything that I’d like to share at this point. But I think the thing to say about the show is who is that we’re catering to a new audience. And we have to sort of think of the person who’s never seen it. We have to perform for an audience that’s never seen it. So as much as it’s the British characters coming to America, it’s like the first sketch that we’ve ever done. You know, the first time you see Daffyd. You know, there’s nothing you need to know about these characters to enjoy it.

Matt: And if you already have enjoyed the show, this works as season four, and if you haven’t seen it already, it works as season one.


What about this new audience you’re going to have, because you’re huge in Britain, so you’re starting almost afresh here. What’s that like?

David: It’s really great. It’s actually like being new again, and it’s quite exciting. It’s where you’ve got everything to prove. So it’s actually been a real thrill. I remember that when we did the first sketch in front of the audience, I could remember standing there, and I thought, Oh, my God, we have to try to make people laugh in America. What if somehow no one finds us funny? But actually, there’s no difference between a British and American audience. People still laugh in all different places. When we were in Australia touring there, to make people laugh is extraordinary. But I think comedy’s much more universal than people think.

Matt: You know, the world feels a bit smaller these days. We’re all watching stuff on YouTube and downloading stuff, and you know, the number of imports in both countries seems to be more than ever before, and so actually, I think culturally, we’re probably closer than we’ve been in 25 years. We have the same acts in the music charts and something like that. But it was good for us to come here, for us, because it was the right time for us to have a fresh challenge. The show became bigger in Britain than many shows tend to be, and it was kind of hard to know what to do with it. So I think if we hadn’t had this opportunity, I’m not convinced we would have gone on to make series four of Little Britain, certainly not straight away. I think we might have decided to do something else. So naturally, when this opportunity presented itself, it seemed like the right time to take on a fresh challenge. And you know, it’s great to go places where not that many people know you.

David: You know, it feels quite organic.


Is Tom Baker coming back too doing the narrations?

David: Tom is still the narrator. It’s off and on. We have the American person, who would it be, it’s William Shatner. But then it’s comparing and contrasting America and Britain, which is kind of the concept for the show. It’s really just an excuse to have lots of comic characters. We’re back with David Arnold, who’s the composer for a lot of film music. He did Stargate, a lot of other movies, so there’s a lot of continuity with the British show.

Matt: Changing Lanes. I thought that he did the music for Changing Lanes starring Ben Affleck.

Changing Lanes, Oh, yeah, with Samuel L. Jackson, too, right?

David. Yeah, he’s one of the biggest film composers in the world.

Matt: Yeah, I think he also did the music for The Stepford Wives.

Are there any things on your show that you think would not fly in America? I remember the first time I saw the character who drinks from his mom’s breast. I nearly threw up.

David: We actually have him here. Bitty, we call it. That’s what he says to his mom when he wants her breast milk. Well, the showrunner and the director of all the location material said to us ‘that I’d actually like to see that character, maybe they go to stay with their American relatives.’ Oh, yeah, that’s a good idea. We made that for something to do for that character. A British family coming over to America, and they’re too polite to say anything about it, so it actually worked out quite well. The main thing we didn’t want to do was stuff that was really out of date, or things in America that were just too late. Like stuff that people have already done. Like Michael Patrick [*Can’t make out last name*] who’s really an encyclopedia for all things American comedy can say, ‘well actually, someone did this sketch on Saturday Night Live five years ago.’ We lived in Big Britain we didn’t see every big American show.

Besides SNL, are there any other sketch comedy shows that have given you any kind of inspiration for American TV?

Matt: Well, we’ve see some of Mr. Show. Mr. Show is my favorite comedy sketch ever. They did some really interesting and funny stuff.

David: And Tim and Eric. And Kids in the Hall. I know that’s Canadian.


So you have a lot of great catchphrases. Are you afraid the show might become just a show of catchphrases in America, what do you think?

David: I’m never afraid of that because I like catchphrases. Like Austin Powers, Mike Myers did that and I thought he was brilliant. He went, ‘Yeah, baby.’ It becomes a way people speak and it’s actually an exciting thing. But I think if you try to create catchphrases for their own sake, then it generally doesn’t work. But if you integrate into the sketch, like Daffyd is the only gay in the village, and he kind of has to proclaim that at some point because that’s what the sketch is about.

Matt: Monty Python had catchphrases, and that’s good enough for me.


David: Yeah, Monty Python had catch phrases. But if my mom wants to talk about the Spanish Inquisition, to me, it’s never about things. The thing is when you think of it and write it, you don’t want to put it in a false way, and you try to catch yourself and make sure you’re not [doing it].

Matt: It’s hardly a substitute for a joke. If it feels right, then we’ll do it.

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