The two legends of British comedy – Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton – are coming to your TV yet again with the fifth installment of Inside no 9.
The writing and acting duo first make TV waves in the late 90th with their comedy TV series The League of Gentlemen. This dark, surreal comedy series followed the lives of dozens of strange inhabitants of the small, fictional town of Royston Vasey.
The times have changed but the sense of humour of Shearsmith and Pemberton is still as dark as ever. Their latest TV series Inside No 9 has first aired on the BBC Two back in 2014 and has since been gaining more and more attention.
Despite it’s a rather unusual and dark premise, the series is a firm favourite among the broadcaster’s current lineup, with each episode telling a different eerie tale that takes place in a setting marked by the number nine.
The fifth series has an ensemble of noteworthy guest stars including Maxine Peake (Funny Cow), Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who), David Morrissey (The Missing), Fionn Whitehead (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch), Dipo Ola (Baghdad Central), Tom Goodman-Hill (Mr. Selfridge), Kadiff Kirwan (Chewing Gum) and Steve Speirs (Upstart Crow).
The Referee’s a W***er: The beautiful game. The crunch-clash between United and Rovers in the last match of the season, all safely in the care of the four-match officials. David Morrissey, Ralf Little, Dipo Ola, and Steve Speirs join Shearsmith and Pemberton for a tale of promotion, relegation, corruption, and so, so much more.
The Stakeout: Two police officers have time to get to know each other on the night shift. But PC Thompson’s previous partner died in a brutal attack less than a month ago, the forensics have gone missing and PC Varney is beginning to ask a lot of awkward questions.
After the screening, we spoke to the stellar cast and crew about the challenges of the industry.
All your comedy has defined dark undertones. Where does this desire to write a dark comedy come from?
We grew up loving comedy and loving horror. We were exposed to horror at an age that we probably shouldn’t have been. As many children were, actually. We are very protective of our children now but it’s great to allow people’s imaginations to experience these things in a fictional environment rather than in a real word. For me, it’s not funny if it hasn’t got darkness and it’s not a drama if it hasn’t got humour.
Is there a secret to a good comedy?
There is no secret. Just be original and try and make yourself and your writing partner laugh rather than trying to think what would make the rest of the world laugh. Because no one can do this really. make your partner and the audience happy. So, be true to yourself and find your own voice.
As a writer, you kill someone in almost every episode. Do you feel extra responsibility when writing about death?
Not really because every subject can affect someone in a way that you can’t predict. We all experience death but we use it as a plot driver. We use it to add jeopardy and because we are writing individual episodes that have beginning and end, we can kill all characters if we want to. We don’t have to spare anyone so, we like to keep the audience guessing who will live and who will die.
I think probably to have as much recognition of the situation and the character as possible. So, truth.
What is the difference between American and English humour?
There are different facets. At some times you think that Americans don’t get irony but other times you think that they DO get irony and they’re sharper and cleverer and inviting than we ever are. I think we are more self-deprecating and look down on ourselves. The Americans less so; they don’t laugh at the underdog the way we enjoy kicking people when they’re down.
What are the challenges of British comedy at the moment?
I think one of the challenges is writing something that people will decide to have more of it. Getting to the point where they will decide to get more of it. Because what you sometimes need is the luxury of sticking with something for it to grab the attention. And the reason that’s hard is because it is considered to be either a complete success or a complete failure after one season. And sometimes something could bloom and it’s not given the nurture.
You touch upon the subject of death in your comedy very frequently. It’s a very serious topic yet you manage to incorporate it into a comedy? How do you make it work so well?
The death has its hands over all of us. I think there is a black joke in life which is that you are dying from the day you arrive. I think you’ve got to laugh at it, otherwise, you will be trapped in the headlights of the awareness of ‘what am I doing here?’, so you have to enjoy it. There is a lot of humour in the dark areas of life I think.
Interview with Adam Tandy – the producer of Inside No 9
Is there a secret to a good comedy?
Yes. The secret is to only really work with nice people who know what they’re doing. In terms of script, authenticity is the main thing. Always be truthful to the world you set the scene in. Never include a joke simply because it’s a funny thing. If it’s real – it could happen – then that’s a thing and you can make the series work that way.
American or English humour?
Americans always seem to not have a sense of irony. But I think maybe they were literally being ironic about that and now I think they get it. And I think comedy has become a much more international thing. I don’t know whether it shows that Brits have taken over there like ‘Succession’ – the darkest of dark comedies. I think they play well in America so it looks like it is all evening out.
What are the challenges of producing a comedy in our day and age?
The thing that is challenging about making a comedy in this country right now is that we’ve always been in poor relation in terms of budget and now with Netflix coming on to the scene, even domestic drama finds it difficult to compete with the kind of deep pockets of American companies.
So now it is becoming really hard to compete. So, we are finding it very hard to crew up and get craft-base involved in our shows. And, at the same time, we’ve got all the Americans coming over and they are buying all our creative ID and all the people who are the creators. So, there is a bit of a brain drain. And, obviously, you are very interested in commissioning shows that will do well in America. Whereas in Britain, I would rather see that our own cultural heritage is not diminished and actually is enriched by the commissioning. So, it’s difficult to get people to hang on in there when they are paid good money to go to America.
One of the things about the British cultural tradition in Television is when you look at the list of the top shows ever, a lot of them are comedies. And they were all made under a system where public broadcasting services were all well-funded. That allowed people to experiment with the comedy. Find the things that were funny. And we are in danger of losing that at the moment.
Interview with Guillem Morales – the director of Inside No 9.
Is there a secret to a great comedy?
I think it’s the pace of the comedy, the rhythm and the way the actors deliver the lines. And British comedy is pretty complex. I’m from Spain… so the sense of humour is slightly different. Here, that comedy is where you go deep into the characters and you analyse the reasons of the characters, you suddenly see the tragedy of what these characters are going through. I believe that is the secret of British comedy.
American or British humour?
American humous is slightly different, isn’t it? In British comedy, there is something painful.
What are the challenges of British comedy at the moment?
I would say, in my experience, is the money. I think the only thing is maybe comedy would need to be better budgeted. But I think it’s the best comedy in the world.
Interview with Shane Allen – Controller of the comedy at the BBC
Is there a secret so a great comedy?
I think comedy has so many different elements of success so, it’s about the alchemy of having a brilliant writing, brilliant idea, really good characters. Having staff that is a well-cast that makes the transition from page to screen as brilliantly as possible. It’s about connecting people. About having a strong original idea that people will buy in to.
The difference between American and British humour?
I think because of the world we live in and the streaming services available this gap gets closed quite a lot. So, I think British comedy can travel the world. We’ve seen that with ‘Fleabag’ and ‘The Office’ and ‘Catastrophe’ and lots of pieces like that. I think there is a massive appetite for British comedy around the world. If anything, I believe the appetite for British comedy is the biggest it has ever been.
What are the challenges for British comedy in our day and age?
They say they have ever been. Trying to find new voices, trying to find new ways of telling stories. A lot of comedies have the same settings, like family sitcoms, or work sitcoms or school sitcoms. It’s about putting an original spin on that and finding the people who have a unique way to tell their story or a unique way to present us with something original.
I think there are more opportunities now than it’s ever been. If you look around the landscape, ‘Gavin and Stacey’ just has seventeen million views over Christmas and Phoebe [Waller-Bridge] just won two golden globes for ‘Fleabag’. So, in terms of British comedy being at the height of its power, it’s a purple patch at the minute.