Interview: Adam Miller
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN IN NOVEMBER 2011 FOR THE VELVET ONION MONGRELS TAKEOVER.
Hi Adam, welcome to TVO.
Thank you for having me.
Mongrels is back! What can we expect?
I think you can expect a show that’s grown up a bit. We know more about the characters this time around so we’ve been able to push the envelope a lot more than last year in terms of story, fun and action. I think we’ve become a show that’s comfortable in it’s own skin. Also, we have a chimp.
Were you surprised at the audience response to the first series?
Well, that kind of depends on what audience reaction you mean. It’s really lovely to hear and see appreciate for something that we’ve all poured so much time and love into, but I think that Mongrels is a show you have to commit to a bit. If you take it in a five-minute, face-value chunk then you won’t get it. I think you need to invest. And I personally believe that if you DO, you reap the rewards because, my God, do we sweat the details.
The show was a bit of a sleeper hit… do you think series two will get an even bigger reaction?
Well, it’s just impossible to say until we see the figures. Last series we were, at launch, something like the fourth highest comedy launch ever on the channel, that felt pretty good but it also didn’t feel vastly successful. BBC Three has backed us a great deal over the years and we really want to repay that. Mind you, I think that we’ve grown a bit since then.
I’m told by people that know a lot more about this than I, that there are two types of successful show; those that hit big and instantly, often behind a major advertising campaign etc., and those that are ‘discovery shows’ that grow via word of mouth. I think we definitely fit into category b. I’m now nervously hoping that figures on Monday back that up.
It took a long time from its conception to reaching the screen, too…
Dear, God, you’re not wrong. It’s been seven years now. Shoot me.
Haha! The general vibe seems to be that the show is hard to make, but ridiculously fun to do. Would you have it any other way?
Well, I certainly wouldn’t change the fun. Part of the joy of the show is the wonderful people that work on it. Ever since I started in TV, I’ve been convinced that a happy set translates to a good product.
That said, it is an incredibly hard show to make and really takes it out of you. We need more time to make it and it wouldn’t take much. Literally, one days’ extra shooting an ep would make the difference between a show that kills you and one that loves you back. We can dream.
Some of the ideas in the show are, shall we say, a little ‘out there’. How do you and the writers think it all up?
Well, first and foremost, in Jon Brown, Danny Peak, Dan Tetsell et. al. we have some wonderful, wonderful writers with glorious imaginations. When we were figuring out how the show would work we always know we had the puppet thing going for us and the inherent bonus that you can tell both human stories and the animal ones.
What I don’t think we fully appreciated at the time was quite how much the show can take. It seems that the further we push it the funnier and more enjoyable it becomes. That’s one of the greatest joys of all; as constraining as they are to shoot with, puppets are also wonderfully freeing. A fox goes to mars? Why the hell not?
I think its fair to say the show isn’t for the faint-hearted. Are there any moments where you fear you may have crossed the line and won’t get away with it?
I think we all agree that last series there were some moments where we pushed too hard in making sure the audience knew we were an ‘adult’ puppet show. But, I guess that’s part and parcel of developing such a different programme for a youth channel in a genre that’s so child-orientated; it takes a while to find your feet.
With series two, I can honestly say that we’ve found our ground. Yes, there’s edgy stuff in it, but all of it is there for a reason. Trite as it is to say, comedy is supposed to challenge you; I’ve always said that it would have been a great shame to make an puppet show like ours and not push the boundaries when the very nature of the stars allows more leeway. I stand by that.
Music’s a big part of the show. Can you hint at what you and composer Richie Webb come up with this time around?
Well, we’ve got a couple of new song writers on board this time; James Farrell and Adam Kay who wrote the wonderful ‘London Underground’ that’s done millions of YouTube rounds. That’s brought a new dimension to the writing which has been great fun to be involved with.
We are always all too well aware that comedy songs are frowned upon heavily by the great and good of the genre, but in mongrels we’ve always felt we needed to break up a show staffed by talking teddy bears with some breathers. The songs are one aspect, the montages another, so when you leap into these breaks it feels like you should do so head first and embrace a subject that often doesn’t further the storyline. This probably explains ‘I’m Going To Murder Justin Bieber’ from episode five…
One thing we’re really keen on at TVO are the parody cutaways. Is giving yourself a directorial workout making pastiches of The Office, Shaun Of The Dead et al as fun as it looks?
You know, it looks brilliant on paper. In fact, I think I was the one that suggested the Edgar Wright parody in the first place. After all if you are going to take the piss, you have to do so out of the people that you admire as well as the low-hanging fruit. What a moron I was though; ‘Lets take the piss out of an extraordinarily well shot action sequence by doing it, but upping the ante to the nth degree. We have two hours to film this.’ Genius.
Were celebrity guest stars always intended to be a feature?
I think it always struck us that shows like the Simpsons use cameos but you’re never quite sure if it really is them doing the voice. With Mongrels you get to actually see them, I guess it seemed like a no-brainer.
Is there any guest in particular you’re most proud of bagging, and are there any people who – like Prince to your Weird Al Yankovic – turn you down repeatedly?
To be honest we are always amazed that anyone will come to play, but the joy of it is that those that say yes tend, by default, to have a great sense of humor. After all they know we’re going to take the piss but come along and join in wholeheartedly. I can honestly say that every single one of the guests we’ve had on so far has been a delight.
That said, I think Graham Norton has turned us down twice. Ben Fogle too. Somehow that feels less glamorous than Prince…
You’ve got Rich Fulcher making a guest appearance this season. Now, Rich knows we love him to pieces, so you can be honest: how do you go about directing that almost uncontrollable ball of energy?
Rich is in one of our cutaways, in fact it may be the only cutaway that we’ve ever done that’s entirely puppet-free. Suffice it to say he utterly nailed it within three takes and had everyone in stitches; you don’t miss the puppets. Joyous.
Lots of people know that Mongrels features a number of performers with links into what we call ‘Booshdom’ – but you yourself have ties with our world, having worked with the likes of Katherine Parkinson, Barunka O’Shaughnessy, Zoe Gardner (Colin Hoult’s regular collaborator) and some of the Mongrels cast previously on Katy Brand’s Big Ass Show. Is there anyone else in Booshdom you’d love to work with?
You know I’m not sure it’s a great surprise that all those you’ve mentioned are not only hugely talented but also utterly lovely. I’d worked with a lot of them in the past in an assistant director role on things like Titty Bang Bang and The Omid Djalilli Show, and one thing they all have in common is that they are genuinely nice humans, and as an AD, you’d know if that was fake or not. I suspect that Booshdom attracts that sort of person; It’s such a joyously FUN thing to watch, so my answer would be probably be all of them.
Television comedy is facing a difficult period at the moment, and a lot of the shows we feature are coming to their natural end. Are you confident Mongrels can return?
Well, I’m not the one that will make that decision, and there are so many countless factors at play. What I can say is that;
1) We work really, really hard at making it the best show it can be.
2) We are definitely getting better each time.
3) There is sooooo much more material to come. We haven’t even scratched the surface of the Mongrels world; I want to see a fox on mars.
So who knows, my fingers are certainly crossed.
Finally, we’re asking everyone this, as we’d love to see it happen. Mongrels: The Live Tour. Could it work?
Have a look at the clip on YouTube from the Proms. I think there may be something in there….
Adam Miller : thank you.
Onion: thank you.