Rhys Thomas: Interview

Rhys Thomas is an English comedian and actor who’s first big break came when Vic Reeves & Bob Mortimer liked a tape of sketches that himself and some friends had created. Since then he’s gone to star in programmes with some of the biggest names in British comedy. We recently asked him some questions. Here’s what he had to say:

chUKles: You started your comedy career at a young age, what advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into comedy themselves?
Rhys: Be young and don’t be a stand up! These days Channel Controllers are obsessed with youth. When I was 19 I wrote ‘Fun at the Funeral Parlour’, I still think it’s one of the best things I have written as I had no idea what I could and couldn’t write, I didn’t try to make it appeal to a certain demographic or channel, I just wrote what I wanted to and what I thought was funny and it worked for two series. At 31 I am probably at a disadvantage now. I also know the trappings of what controllers want and don’t want. Also be original. There is a stand up boom going on at the moment. When I was 16, we all hated stand ups, there were boring, just blokes talking (with the exception of Lee Evans, Eddie Izzard and Billy Connolly who had something else) – we liked Reeves and Mortimer, Harry Enfield, Fast Show, Only Fools & Horses, Day Today or character comedians likes Coogan/Simon Day/ Matt Lucas etc. and live sketch performers. So I’d ask for young up and coming people not to follow the stand up route just because its fashionable at the moment, it won’t be in a few years time.

c: You were a runner on ‘Shooting Stars’ where you gave Vic & Bob(Reeves & Mortimer) a tape of some sketches that you and some friends had done in sixth form, what were the sketches like and would you ever bring them out in today’s comedy audiences, at the Edinburgh Fringe for example?
R: Well, the sketches were all homemade, had a rawness to them which made them good at times, awful at others. Because we were a bunch of school boys from Essex with no connections whatsoever, I think that appealed to R&M and Charlie & Paul (Higson & Whitehouse). Some characters we did called Danson and The Billy Bollocks were adapted for a show called Barking in 1998 on Channel 4 and It’s Ulrika on BBC2. We had a character called George Cruickshank, an angry neighbour who called people to complain all the time and had a catchphrase ‘Yes, I’ll hold’ which we actually filmed for the fast show in 1997. I played the part and was filmed in front of an audience but it was never used. People thought, ‘who the hell is this bloke?!’. Malibu Man was another character I did  at this time which I stole for blunder in 2006 and the Pikeys(Shuddup) was a sketch Tony Way did that was then expanded and turned into Blunder sketches too. As regards to Edinburgh, I have been twice, both times being a disaster and never want to go back again. We are thinking of doing a comedy night off Broadway Market, where we live, Myself, Lucy Montgomery(Wife), Tony Way, Steve Burge etc. But I’d rather do new things.

c: You’ve worked on some of the best comedy programmes out there, how do you decide what you do work with and what you don’t?
R: Well, If I read something and think – I could write better than that! I don’t go for the casting. There have been a lot of those. A few big things, but I’d feel such a fraud. Also, I am not a good enough actor. I can’t turn a bit of cheese into gold, someone like Robert Lindsay does that every week. Well, not gold, lets say silver. I’d always rather write and star in my own things rather than someone else’s, unless it was Chris Morris, Fast Show, Reever and Mortimer bunch.

c: Who were your comedy inspirations when you were growing up?
R: John Sullivan, Monty Python, Les Patterson, Reeves & Mortimer, Harry Enfield/Paul Whitehouse and Chris Morris. I also loved Hale and Pace. They are very underrated. The man who couldn’t take anything seriously is one of my favourite sketches. I also enjoyed KYTV. Film wise, The Zuckers Brother (Aiplane/Police Squad), early John Landis, Eddie Murphy/Dan Ackroyd. A Fish Called Wanda is my favourite comedy film. As is Michael Winner’s ‘Parting Shots’ for all the wrong reasons. I also loved the Leaugue of Gentlemen, but I was much older by then.

c: What’s the hardest part of working in comedy?
R: Getting through the commissioning process. It takes so long and often goes nowhere. Also seeing people that you think are terrible getting shows commissioned before you do! Especially when you know, given the chance, you or the people you rate highly, could deliver something far more inventive and funny.

c: The radio show, ‘Down the Line’ that you did with Charlie Higson, Paul Whitehouse and your wife, Lucy Montgomery won ‘Radio Prograame of the year’ at the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards in 2007 and a sony gold for best Radio Comedy in 2008. Is there going to be anymore and why do you think it worked so well?
R: Possibly, after ‘Bellamy’s People’ we don’t know. We all loved doing it so maybe we will but no plans at the moment. It worked because we were all friends and we get on well together and aren’t afraid to make mistakes or be shit in front of each other at times.

c: Earlier this year, your ‘Down the Line’ character, Gary Bellamy came back but this time in TV format in the brilliant, ‘Bellamy’s People’. Like the radio series, this was met with good reviews and has a solid fan base. Is there any plans for a second series?
R: No plans. The BBC weren’t impressed with the viewing figures so no. It’s a real, real shame as we had so much more to offer as well.

c: For the past 5 years, you’ve been producing DVD’s for Queen (The band, not her royal higness!) How did that job come about and have you always been a fan?
R: Always[been a fan] since the age of 14. I went to the Freddie Mercury Tribute and it changed my life. We asked Brian May to compose the theme for ‘Fun at the Funeral Parlour’ series 2, which he did, we then went for dinner with him and Anita(Anita Dobson, Brian’s wife and ‘Angie Watts off of Eastenders’) who was also in FATFP. At the end of it, myself and Simon Lupton (producer of FATFP) offered to make their DVD’s as we were fans and knew more about Queen than Brian May did! After meeting their manager and Roger Taylor(drummer), we got the job. 5 down and we’re now in the early stages of working on a major documentary to mark their 40th Anniversary.

c: Radio Times listed you as one of the top ten faces of 2010. How did that feel?
R: Nice, but it’s all bollocks. Hasn’t done me any favours and Bellamy’s People was axed! No one has come knocking on my door- not Hollywood, not even Channel 5 or Cbeebies!

c: Your first feature film, ‘Beyond The Pole’ came out this year. Was there a noticeable difference between doing a TV programme and a film?
R: A film takes longer and in this case, we got paid a fraction of TV money! It was fun though and you can develop a character more and I got to show off my acting skills. Again, Hollywood hasn’t come knocking.

c: Your wife [Lucy Montgomery] currently provides her voice for ‘Destiny’ in the BBC Three adult poppet comedy, ‘Mongrels’. Would you ever work with puppets?
R: Myself and my friend Shane Allen (now head of Comedy at Channel 4) had an idea in 2002 called ‘Syd & Eddie’s Big Kid’s Show’. It was about two old chindren’s TV puppets who were big in the 80’s who lost their way and were called back to the BBC to make an adult chat show. It was largely behind the scenes footage, a bit like 30 Rock, you’d see the prelude to the show and then the credits rolled as their studio show began. Syd and Eddie both hated each other. One was a family man, the other a drunk. It was a bit rude and we thought it was funny. We got all the puppets made and were ready to make the pilot, when another show came up called ‘Fur TV’ also with puppets, that the BBC went for instead as they were already developing it. No one even remembers it, it dissapeared without a trace. But yes, I would, despite the bitter experience from the past.

c: Mentioning your wife, you become parents back in 2008. In what ways did this change your comedy style?
R: It changes you as you become more sensitive. I’d never want to write anything or make a joke about say, disability or special needs which in the old days, I wouldn’t care about doing so.

c: You have a huge back catalogue of programmes you’ve either written, produced or starred in.

c: What’s next for Rhys Thomas?
R: I am writing a film for Warp Productions, the makers of the ‘Four Lions’ and the Shane Meadows films. Also a new sci-fi sitcom pilot for BBC One called ‘Space Spanners’. It’s the RAC in space basically. Pre-watershed. Hyperdrive and Red Dwarf are tough acts to follow, but this is more ‘Swiss Toni’ in space I suppose. I’m also working on a comedy drama called ‘Vigilantes’ starring Michael Kitchen as a kind of Alan Sugar type person who become a vigilante. That’s with Red Planet and Tony Jordan, the team behind ‘Hustle’ and ‘Life on Mars’.