Interview: Matt Berry
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN IN JUNE 2010 FOR THE VELVET ONION
Hi Matt, welcome to The Velvet Onion! Obviously the big news right now is the new series of The IT Crowd. How does it feel to have another six episodes under your belt?
Hi there. We only finished filming this series a couple of weeks ago. Then I went on holiday, so I don’t really know what’s going on. It’s fresh.
You joined the show after the departure of Chris Morris. How did you end up getting involved?
Well, Graham Linehan asked me if I wanted to do it, which was a huge honor. And then he wrote me a ridiculous character to play which was an even bigger honor.
It looks like there’s a great camaraderie on set. Does the team atmosphere help you strive to make the best show you can?
Anyone who gets to work with the people they respect is very lucky. I have to mention Katherine Parkinson as most of my scenes are with her. I know that without her, I wouldn’t have a scooby-doo as to what I was doing!
How difficult is it to match the feel of the location work to the atmosphere on the live filming nights?
The thing is, location shooting has to be completed before the live nights, as I’m sure you know. This can present problems if the story shapes itself differently during the rehearsals prior to audience night. But I’m also aware that not one of your readers would have a knacker of interest in such techno-logistic polyamble.
It’s a big departure from the usual visual style and tone of your work, though. Do you prefer your comedy this way?
I’m happy to have an excuse to leave the house!
It’s hard to believe its now over six years since you first appeared in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Do you have happy memories of working on the show?
I loved it. There were so many great things about doing that show. It felt like everyone was in the same boat and everything about it was new. Plus no-one had a clue who any of us were which really helped to confuse the four people that watched it.
You followed this with the one-off musical AD/BC: A Rock Opera. Were the seeds of that sewn on Darkplace or was it an idea you’d had for some time?
I’d always wanted to blow the lid off that kind of serious musical. The idea appealed to Richard Ayoade too, so we had a stab. It was never meant to be anything other than a long sketch really, and we only got to do it because the 2 Pints Of Lager team had been given money by the BBC for a Christmas musical which wasn’t enough to do anything with. As no-one else was interested in doing an Xmas musical, they gave us the £20 instead!
If anyone can record songs that sound like they’ve fallen through a wormhole to the seventies, its you. Where does your inspiration come from?
I’ve always been fascinated with music that is very serious. I can’t help but find that kind of thing funny because that serious, complex and virtuosic music has to then be performed. That is where the magic happens.
Your last album, Witchazel, was released for free online. What was the story behind it, and will it be given a ‘proper’ release in the future?
Witchazel is all about the terrors of the countryside. I worked out that 1978 was quite an important and formative year for me. I was four years old, and in that one year I was exposed to Watership Down and Kate Bush – both of which terrified me. The images were so strong that they left scars that continue to burst and weep.
There is going to be an official release at some point. I just remembered being a student and having jack all money, so buying cd’s was never an option. With students now having to pay for absolutely everything, I thought it might help to give it away for a week so anyone who was interested enough would get involved. It was a pleasant surprise.
Witchazel was actually your third album, but the first – 1995’s Jackpot has long been unavailable. Would it ever be something you’d consider reissuing? The few songs we’ve heard at TVO are fantastic!
I might reissue it one day. I’d have to tidy bits up and sack some other bits completely, though. For me, it’s like a pot you made when you first started making pots – pleased that you did it but not ecstatic about it being looked at too closely.
If you had to choose just one avenue of creativity to explore for the rest of your career – music, comedy or acting – which would it be?
I’d get too bored if I could only work at one of those options. I get bored far too quickly as it is. I’m terrible for that, I know it.
Your live shows are always a force to be reckoned with, but a few gigs lined up in recent months fell victim to cancellations. Are there still plans to take your show on the road again?
I must say that I am truly sorry to anyone who was stung over those cancellations. I will make it up, and of that, I promise. There was nothing at all I could do at the time. A couple of broken bits have now been fixed, and I can guarantee there will be no more cancellations.
Music also featured heavily in your sketch series Snuffbox, a show which certainly feels like a labour of love for you and Rich Fulcher. Were you pleased with the end product?
Yep, personally. A lot of it looked like how I had imagined. But I was surprised it was shown at all. I wasn’t convinced right up until the first one aired, and then I thought they’d thing better of it and can the remaining five. Funnily enough, it wasn’t advertised before it went out, due to the BBC not being able to find a single scene that didn’t have swearing in it! Brilliant!
You and Rich also went over to the States to appear in The Sarah Silverman Show, which resulted in regular collaborations between you and Steve Agee. How are your projects coming along?
It was great working with Sarah. I was a lucky man. And I love Steve. I’ve just done a film with him about Country & Western singers in North Carolina which was great to do.
I liked North Carolina too, even if they did eat Madera Cake and gravy at every meal. We filmed in a bar that had a large stain on its floor from a man who was shot dead in the face while trying to grab the money out of the till!
Yikes! Speaking of wrong-doers, your characters are often cold-hearted, bullying chauvinists. Is there a joy in playing someone so unlike the real Matt Berry?
It’s no fun playing the school teacher – give me the rapist any day. Look, I’m happy to get asked to do anything. I’m still waiting to be told that the original Matt Berry wasn’t free seven or so years ago!
Has there been a particularly favourite character of yours to play?
The Rapist in the Cliff Richard Story.
Hypothetically, if any one of your characters was a real person, which do you think you’d get along with the most?
None of them. They all dress badly and talk too loudly.
Finally, Matt: Dixon Bainbridge, Man Of Action vs Dr Lucien Sanchez. Who would win in a bare knuckle fight to the death, and what would their parting quip be?
Sanchez, of course. He’d wipe his mouth and say: “If you buy a ticket, you might end up winning the raffle.”
Matt Berry, thank you VERY much for your time.
Thank you, Onion Man.