On Good and Bad Comedy
Interview by Daen Palma Huse, Written by Moritz Lindert
Photography by Ram Shergill
Fashion Direction by Margherita Gardella
Styling by Moritz Lindert
Grooming by Natasha Lakic using Sisley
Mathew Baynton does it all. Not only is the 35-year-old actor from Southend-on-Sea a regular lead on screen and stage and busy starring in the new comedy series You, Me and the Apocalypse - but he is also busy writing and creating some of Britain's most delightful TV sitcoms. With a drama degree and professional clownery training, the audiences’ laughs always seem on his side, all while being a father of two. The Protagonist Magazine talked to Mathew Baynton about his work and inspirations and why it is such an awful thing to try desperately making people laugh.
You have been working as an actor as well as a writer. For many of your projects you are joined by a regular team. How does that come about?
The whole team we have worked together for seven or eight years now and everything we do together is like homecoming or a school reunion. We always have a lot of fun and it is so easy to work because we know each other so well. We've done two TV shows together, Horrible Histories and Yonderland, which we are now about to do the third series for.
What is it that keeps you together?
It is great to work with people you know. At the beginning of this year I started working on a new series called You, Me and the Apocalypse. Going into that I didn't know any of the cast and had not worked with any of the directors, producers or involved head of departments before. From day one you have to be in and trust these very new relationships you have formed. It just made realise how lucky I have been for the last five years, working almost exclusively with people that I am friends with.
Are there any actors you would particularly like to work with?
I have already been lucky to work with some amazing people who I have been a fan of. In the last job I did, Alice Dasia Hill played my mother. She was in a production of Uncle Vanya that I saw when I was seventeen, the time I was still in school and thinking about what I would do after my A-levels. I saw a few things that year that blew my mind and made me realise I'd have to be involved in theatre somehow. One of them just happened to be Alice's performance in Uncle Vanya. And then I got to work with her.
Another one was Street of Crocodiles and I have now worked with Bronagh Gallagher from that show, as well as Clive Mendes. So in a sense I am collecting all of these people that inspire me.
You have done film, series, clownery and theatre – What has been your favourite project so far?
I actually miss doing theatre. The last play I did was last summer, so almost a year and a half ago. I want to do more of that. One of my favourite things was a play called Holes by Tom Basden. I think it is a masterpiece, I love that kind of material. Yet again, I feel I am so lucky, because most of the stuff I do I really love.
How do you choose the projects you take on?
I don't anymore have to do anything I don't like. That used to be harder. So it is a pretty good place to be in for me at the moment.
Do you feel less pressured in that way?
There is a new kind of pressure, when you get cast in lead roles. You have to demonstrate your taste in what you choose to do and you are a little bit more judged when you are front and centre. I feel I have to take a bit more care over what I do.
Did you always want to do comedy or just found yourself in it eventually?
It was an active choice. I was always obsessed with comedies on TV and I was always performing Monty Python sketches for my family, which, looking back, would have been really annoying. Then I started seeing a lot of great comedy in theatre and actually thought 'Oh I could perform that way myself'. That was a kind of penny drop when I realised that I had always been performing and making people laugh. It just never really came to as a profession to take. That was a little bit of a eureka moment really. I started doing comedy and now more and more I am being drawn to straighter stuff. But my backdrop is comedy. And I think I'd miss it if I wouldn't be doing it at all.
What is it that makes great comedy for you?
“It is like meeting someone at a party. If they are desperately trying to make you laugh you actually laugh less.”
When you are reading scripts you so often see writing in which there are contradictions in a character in order to ‘bang in’ a joke the writer liked. You can tell that you are working with a great writer if they are rigorous and willing to kill their favourite thing if it doesn't fit with the character and the world it is in. There is a certain confidence of not just peppering your material with jokes. It can be fine to have three pages without a gag if the audience can be engaged by the character and it’s story. Jokes are only put in where they are completely justified and funny. It is like meeting someone at a party. If they are desperately trying to make you laugh you are actually inclined to laugh less.
Do you feel you got more confident in identifying good or bad comedy writing?
Yes, kind of. That doesn't necessarily mean that I know how to do it. But I know it when I see it. When I started out I could only really say 'I like this one' and 'I like that one' but not really knowing why. And then over time you start to develop your awareness of what it is specifically that makes something you like or don't. Working on The Wrong Mans we wanted to make it a very true and authentic sense of humor, a comedy drama. Not just gags, but strong characters in funny situations.
Will we see you working as a writer yourself again soon?
Yes, I am writing a couple of new things. Obviously writing is such a long process. The things I am working on probably won't be seen by anyone for a little while. But I really missed it. I missed the process of creating something from nothing and seeing that all the way through. And I feel everytime I am writing a new thing, I learn how to write for the very first time. I take my own fears to this, which is actually a good sign. I wouldn't really trust it if it was easy.
See Mathew in You, Me And The Apocalypse showing now on Sky 1.