Berry's All Gold
Matt Berry, aka the best one in all your favourite comedy shows, talks to Steve O'Brien...
"He gives me a comedy hardon." So says The IT Crowd's creator, Graham Linehan, of Matt Berry, who, despite being a second series latecomer as the sleazy Douglas Reynholm, is now the best thing in it.
Some of us hardcore comedy junkies had fingered him as something special years before. A long time crony of Noel Fielding and Julian Barrett's, he'd been Dixon Bainbridge in the first series of The Mighty Boosh, and stole the culty Garth Merenghi's Darkplace as the suave, gun-toting Dr Todd Rivers. There's also the self-penned sketch show Snuff Box, an underwatched ill-fit for the **Two Pints**-loving BBC Three, but one with an audience who cherished it. And then there's the music. He's four albums down now, all of which are self-produced and with Berry on every instrument, and all from the Peter Gabriel-era Genesis age of folky prog, even managing to rope in celeb pal Paul McCartney on backing vocal duties. You can follow him on Twitter: @porksmith
Since being cast in The IT Crowd, have you noticed a different kind of audience member for your gigs?
Possibly. The only kind of difference to my life from doing The IT Crowd is just being recognised. The thing about those other kind of TV shows I've done is that they're watched by a very small amount of people and usually by people in the same age group. When you do something like The IT Crowd, which is broad in comparison, you get grannies and all kind of people knowing who you are. They're not horrible, which is fine. If you do comedy and somebody sees you they automatically smile because you've reminded them of something funny. It may not be you personally, but you remind them of The IT Crowd which makes them laugh.
How did you get into performing comedy?
I had no plans to do it. I was in bands when I was at university, and then I went solo when I left. I knew Noel Fielding and I started doing songs before the Boosh gigs. So it kind of went from there. Then I was spotted by Matt Holness and Richard Ayaoke and then we did Garth Merenghi's Darkplace. Most comedy movements seem to be done in cliques. I wasn't aware that I was ever part of a clique. And I wasn't aware that the people I was working with were any kind of new clique. I've never been interested. If you do a job with the same person more than once, then I guess you're going to end up looking like some kind of clan. But it was never my intention.
Snuff Box was an odd fit with BBC3. Was there ever any chance of a second series?
They never knew what to make of it and they never knew how to advertise it. What they said at the beginning of BBC3, was that they were going to push experimental comedy. And then they got something that was that and they didn't know what to do with it! I never expected it to ever be shown, let alone get a series two. But they did show it. They didn't advertise it. The reason they told me was that there was too much swearing and there wasn't a single bit they could use that didn't have any 'fuck words' in.
Was it easy to get made?
Yeah. There wasn't much argument about the content. There was one thing - we started the first episode with someone being hanged and I had to fight for that. I'd always seen that in my head - that the show would start with gallows humour. They were pretty nervous about that being the first scene. But I stuck to my guns and they let me do it.
You were kind of teamed with Rich Fulcher in The Mighty Boosh, and Snuff Box was based around you and him. Were you setting yourselves up as a double act?
We never thought of it like that. I wanted to do something that was slightly different, as did Rich. Neither of us were particularly interested in being another double act. We were just likeminds in wanting to do something absolutely ludicrous. It just worked for us both.
Before The IT Crowd, you hadn't done much traditional sitcom work. Do you like acting in front of a studio audience?
It's good in a lot of ways, because you get to know very quickly whether the joke works or not, and how you should tailor what you've just done from the audience reaction. If you do something on location there's no way of knowing. But I love doing both.
Graham Linehan said you give him a comedy hardon.
Did he say that? Oh God. Well that's very kind. I think.
You did the theme tune to Saxondale and The Peter Serafinowicz Show. Are you working on any other soundtracks?
Yeah, I'm doing Catherine Shepherd's short film, which is going be a big deal I think. It's a series of five short films they're going to be putting onto Channel Four. Matt Holness has done one too.
You do regular podcasts. Do you prefer working in sound comedy?
Oh, you can do anything! You know how all the stuff works - you don't have to waste time by going to the BBC or hiring a studio. You can do anything - you can lie! Thing about the podcasts is that there's no censorship. I did a relaxation tape thing last year that I would never have been able to get onto any station.
Is it harder or easier to get new comedy made now?
I don't know. I've been working on things in the US. Rich and I have been talking about doing something along the same lines as Snuff Box, but not that which we're quite keen to do. So I don't really know much about what's going on in the UK. There doesn't seem to be the same kind of risk taking and I can understand why. It's a very careful place now. If it's brightly lit and in front of an audience you've got a much better chance of getting it made!
Hear Matt Berry's hummaliffic theme tune to Snuff Box here:
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