Onion Talking: Matt Berry and Morgana Robinson on House of Fools
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION
Next week sees the launch of Series Two of House of Fools – the brilliantly surreal sitcom from the minds of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.
To celebrate its return, TVO sat down with the main cast during the filming of Series Two to discuss the show. Yesterday, we spoke to Dan Skinner, Daniel Simonsen and Ellie White. The day before saw our chat with Vic & Bob themselves unleashed. Today, we bring you our catch-up with Bob’s regular house guests, Matt Berry and Morgana Robinson.
It is fair to say that, to readers of these pages at least, Matt Berry needs no introduction. When The Velvet Onion began five years ago, he was a much loved figurehead of alternative comedy, making waves on the music scene with a succession of tours, and was one of the first people to actively encourage and support the development of TVO. He’s been good to us, over the years, and we’ve been delighted to continue to support him as his star has risen. Thanks to the runaway success of Toast of London, huge critical acclaim for his Kill the Wolf album, and numerous other projects Berry is edging closer and closer to the mainstream. Matt may not yet be a household name, but he’s certainly more beloved than ever, and his role as randy house visitor Beef in House of Fools has introduced his charms to a whole new audience.
Today, he greets TVO fondly, and in an moment part made of showmanship, part of his natural instincts as a gentlemen, he introduces us in style to his fellow interviewee with a hand flourish, a side step and a powerful rendering of her name: Morgana. The name may not be familiar to you just yet, particularly for our international readers. But make no mistake about it: this is one formidable comic talent, whose rise to meteoric stardom is surely just around the corner.
Born in Australia and raised in Britain,international awareness of Morgana Robinson at the moment is mostly down to her half-sister being none rock star Brody Dalle, formerly of The Distillers. Dalle’s husband also happens to be Josh Homme – frontman for Queens of the Stone Age and occasional Matt Berry collaborator. Following initial appearances in mainstream comedy fair like The Green Green Grass and My Family, in 2010 Robinson was given her own five-part sketch show on Channel 4: The Morgana Show.
A delightfully bonkers showcase for this unique comic mind, the show also featured Kill List star Neil Maskell and one of today’s guest stars, Tom Davis, in his own big break. While the show did not return for a second run, a Comic Strip Presents appearance and a prominent BBC iPlayer short have bolstered Robinson’s reputation, and her recent work has included a guest slot on Toast of London and her own impressions show: Very Important People.
As you read this, she’ll also appearing as a recurring segment host on Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe, spoofing the likes of YouTube bloggers and Russell Brand. It may be early days for her, but it’s clear that she’s going to go far, and much like most of the cast, she’s overjoyed that – as camera-wielding nymphomaniac neighbour turned bistro owner Julie – Reeves & Mortimer are keen to give her a platform.
“They’re amazing like that,” she tells us as we sit down. Matt Berry agrees.
“They can spot good stuff,” he states, before questioning himself. “That’s not for us to say, is it?”
“They put money on good horses,” Morgana adds. “They do love to channel new talent up. I’m extremely grateful for that, you know.” Matt agrees. “Oh, whatever!” she mocks in return.
“No, I bloody am!” he says with genuine passion. “Of course I am.”
“You’ve been around for donkeys years, haven’t you?” Morgana asks him, at which point TVO reminds her that Matt is, according to the British Comedy Awards 2014, a ‘breakthrough artist’. Matt laughs.
“Nine years…” he shakes his head. “Ten years. Breakthrough. A breakthrough ten years.”
And what a ten years that has been, as anyone who follows his career, or reads TVO, for that matter, as the two are so intertwined, can attest. Following his real breakthrough in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Matt has gone on to star in The Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd. He also created legendary one-off AD/BC: A Rock Opera, internationally renowed favourite Snuffbox and the multi-award winning Toast of London – the latter set to return for a third series in 2015. That fact that is still top secret as we meet, yet impossible for Matt not to be understandably keen to tell us in strictest confidence. He’s also appeared in productions as varied as The Peter Serafinowicz Show, Duncan Jones’ Moon, Portlandia and even Spongebob Squarepants, all whilst carving out a career as an incredible multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter.
Returning to House of Fools for Matt, who is seemingly in demand constantly at present, is in part based on the joy of working with Reeves and Mortimer, but also the positive response to the first series.
“We hit the ground running last year,” he explains. “I don’t think this year has changed much at all. There’s no real difference, it’s a continuation of what we started.”
“I’ve got a bistro!” interjects Morgana. “And a few more lines.”
“The bistro works out,” Matt suggests, “because it’s sort of a community centre. You can do storylines that aren’t in someone’s house. It’s like a town hall, or something.”
“Mmmm,” Morgana nods. “It’s like our Central Perk.”
The Friends comparison is an interesting one, TVO notes, particularly as it feels a world away from what Vic & Bob are doing with House of Fools. For starters, Friends and most other US sitcoms would be written by a huge team of staff writers, with very little room for cast additions to the scripts. Whilst Jim Moir (aka Vic Reeves) and Bob Mortimer were keen to stress the importance of getting it all on the page before shooting for practical reasons, Dan Skinner spoke of how flexible they were with developing comedic voices within their work, and both Ellie White and Daniel Simonsen revealed they had rewritten their scene together with Bob ten minutes before the afternoon record had started. Clearly, there’s scope for a lot more flexibility when you’ve got a cast of comedy writers and performers, rather than regular actors.
“Yeah, they’re quite cool like that,” Morgana notes. “They’re open to suggestions. If they like a joke, they’ll go: ‘Oh, put that in!’ It’s not exactly sign language but it works.”
Matt agrees. “They’re very generous. They know what’s going to work, and you know what’s going to work, and what wouldn’t be right for this. There’s nothing subtle. There’s nothing underplayed. That’s not what they do.”
Despite the occasional pre-filmed flight of fancy, there’s no denying the lack of subtlety and the vibrant cast would make a potential House of Fools stage show a real delight. As Bob’s already mentioned the possibility in passing, TVO decides to get Matt & Morgana’s feedback on the idea.
“Yeah!” Morgana exclaims, her eyes lighting up at the prospect. “I’d love it!”
“But not like tonight,” Matt notes, referring to the over-running, mistake-laden first run of the day. “We didn’t get the fucking thing finished. That wouldn’t be great live!” He bursts out laughing. “It’d have to be rehearsed, put it that way!”
Aware today’s problematic filming, plagued by the lack of a camera rehearsal due to the complexity of the pre-shoot, had been a worry for the whole cast, TVO can’t help but calmly note that the first shoot of the day was a little ‘fluffy’. “We all were tonight,” Matt suggests, “cos we didn’t get to finish it.”
Perhaps worried he may be appearing negative, he adds: “But it’s not always like that. Don’t get the wrong impression about it. The last one was fucking perfection.”
Morgana nods. “It was pretty perfect,” she reasons. “It’s normally a well-oiled machine. I’d love to take it out on the road.”
“It could totally work in the Wyndham,” suggests Matt, a sprinkling of Steven Toast bubbling to the surface before fading away once more. “Oh, I don’t know,” he adds. “Whatever they want to do, I’m up for it.”
“We just let them do whatever they want,” Morgana states, before drifting off. “I’m sure none of it will make sense.”
Sadly due to the over-run on filming, our time with the delightful duo is running out. Poor Matt and Morgana have mere minutes left to get some food and a short break before going back into the studio for another record session. Ever the caring type, TVO elects to cut our pre-arranged interview slot short by a few minutes, so that the pair can talk freely, and make it to the canteen before they head back to work. However, there’s still just enough time for a quick round of our brilliant new game: Rent, Mortgage, Evict – which we have in no way pilfered from the not at all similar game, Snog Marry Avoid. To avoid awkward conversations, given we know the cast are clearly enamoured with one another, we ask Matt and Morgana, as their characters, who would they chose to live with, buy a house with, and ask to leave the premises. Straight away, Matt’s in with a surprisingly blunt answer.
“I’d kick ‘em all out,” he states, firmly, before worrying that sounded worse than it was intended to.
“Not as people!” he adds. “I’d kick all the characters out. But I think they’d all answer like that, and just want a house of their own.”
“I’ve no idea,” admits Morgana. “I’d live with all of them. It’s like a jungle out there. They all work very well together, like a very strange family. I couldn’t throw them all out, could you?”
“Probably no, no,” Matt considers. “She’s right. They’re all real fuckwits on their own. They can’t do anything.”
“You’d be bored shitless with just one of them,” Morgana concludes. “It’s a bit like a circus.”
And with that, they must be on their way once more. T-minus 15-minutes until the second record begins, and like the rest of the circus, Matt and Morgana have to go and put on a damn good show. But first tea and cake. There’s always time for cake before the madness begins once more.
House of Fools returns on Monday 16th February at 10pm on BBC2. The first series is available on dvd from 23rd February.