How (some) talented British television producers put comedy talent on TV

Before you read this blog, I should point out that I have never met the comedian Jack Whitehall and, as far as I can see, he is an entirely amiable, talented chap who has every reason to continue breathing and, indeed, to prosper…

Now…

In this blog a couple of days ago, I had a chat with chav comedy character Devvo about how TV companies could not quite come to terms with the Devvo character yet the arguably similar Lee Nelson character arrived on UK TV screens.

Yesterday I asked comedy entrepreneur Bob Slayer who was helping and handling Devvo at the time, what he remembered. This is what he told me.

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Monkey Kingdom were the first production company to put Devvo on TV. They did a thing for Funny Cuts on E4, which you can see online (there are two uploads)

This one has currently had 2.1 million views:

And here is one of several short stings for a Channel 4 programme called Whatever. It has had 500,000 views:

I was in the meeting when Monkey Kingdom suggested filming Devvo in London and making it look like Doncaster. Is this normal? The very being of Devvo is that he is the Donny Soldier from Yorkshire… But, to be fair, they realised this pretty quickly and backed down. I also got a funny text from Devvo while filming to tell me he had found out the dog that they had brought in for one bit of filming was on more per day than he was.

Overall, though, the Monkey Kingdom guys did do a good job and they let Devvo get involved in the edit. We were looking forward to working with them again and were discussing a pitch to Channel 4 but then they got The Charlotte Church Show greenlighted and dropped all development projects.

Devvo then did a thing for BBC TV with Ken Korda (Adam Buxton). It was a bad start when we met the TV people in the office that the producers of My Family were using.

They filmed some great non-scripted stuff around the BBC. But then they wouldn’t let us see it prior to broadcast, let alone get involved in the edit which they did an absolute bollix job on and then put a shite laughter track on it… I hope it is not online!

(IT IS)

There were a few other things as well and then the BBC decided to make a show called The Wall. They put it out to tender to three production companies and to the BBC in-house. All three of the production companies got in touch with us to put Devvo in their pitch. Charlie Brooker’s Zeppatron was one of these and they ended up winning the pitch.

What they kept telling us was that they liked Devvo because he was the ‘real deal’ and not just someone dressed up as a chav. They expected him to be a big hit in The Wall and so we were also planning his own series.

As the show got closer, we started to get odd requests. Like could they put a laughter track on it. To which we said no because he is not just dressed-up as a chav. This happened a couple of times and they apologised that someone higher up was obviously nervous. And, of course, in the end they replaced Devvo with Simon Brodkin dressed up as the Lee Nelson chav character. That was the safe choice…

A producer guy that we met along the way who helped us out and tried to steer us through the murky waters of TV was, at the time, also producing a show written by Wil Hodgson – a sitcom about dogging. The genius of this was that dogging was just the glue that made it all work – it was always in the background and never explicit. It showcased Wil’s writing brilliantly and really showed how hilarious it is to see quite normal people in abnormal situations.

I was at the read-through at Soho Theatre with Johnny Vegas in the lead role and Cariad Lloyd opposite him. It also had Morwenna Banks and just a really strong cast. ITV gave them a development deal. Then, a few months down the line and many meetings and going backwards and forwards, ITV said We love it… but… Can you rewrite it without the dogging?!

That is like asking to make Father Ted a little less Irish… I expect some eedjit did ask the Father Ted people that at some stage but fortunately they were left alone!

It’s no wonder that we get so much shite like My Family and that Jack Whitehall is allowed to continue breathing. Please can someone stand on his windpipe?

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Television

2 responses to “How (some) talented British television producers put comedy talent on TV

  1. Shaun

    I don’t think Lee Nelson and Devvo can be compared. Devvo had much less depth, shouting things like “gay bus” doesn’t really compare to Lee Nelsons material and friendly persona.

    Devvo was funny but in a completely different way and didn’t really have much more to give beyond being an abusive idiot.

  2. John

    Have been through the painful production process myself a couple of times. Had a BBC2 script I cherished turned into a steaming lump of BBC3 poo thanks to BBC inhouse. I even had to pay for my own transport and hotel to attend the castings.

    Requests I had from on ‘high’ – and I think they must have been f*cking high – in weeks leading up to filming included: “Can we put a disabled person in it?” and “How about adding a supernatural element.”

    And that’s not even the half of it.

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