Jonny Sweet and Tim Key return to Edinburgh after successful year
The comedians reveal their Festival plans
This article is from 2010.
Last August was a bumper month for Jonny Sweet & Tim Key. They appeared together in Tom Basden’s play Party, while on their ownsome they picked up both Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Key won the main gong for his Slutcracker while Sweet scooped Best Newcomer with Mostly About Arthur, a comic memorial to his not-actually-real brother, a book blurbist. Later, Sweet got a role as the young David Cameron while Tim Key was poetic foil to Charlie Brooker in Screenwipe. Key also got stuck in Australia thanks to Iceland’s ash cloud while Sweet gave up smoking and took up running. Brian Donaldson met up with them at the Camden office of Invisible Dot, the pair’s PR company. After five minutes of struggling to turn off their mobile phones, they had a chat about sailors, getting recognised on public transport and finding the perfect pun
THE LIST: What’s the title of this year’s show, Jonny?
TIM KEY: It’s a good title, a fine title.
JONNY SWEET: It’s called Let’s Just Have Some Fun (And Learn Something for Once).
K: Oh. Is that it? See, when I first read it I thought, ‘that’s a good title’.
S: Yeah, it doesn’t work when you hear it out loud.
K: When it’s written down, though?
S: I do a lot of my show written. I was hesitant after last year whether I was going to go back this year. I’ve been hesitant for the last nine months. I’m still reasonably hesitant, but the machine of war is in process now. Thing is, I am always like this when I do a show.
K: You weren’t this bad last year.
S: Really? I’ve got the ambition and a certain amount of drive.
K: And the room booked.
S: For the whole month. I think it’ll be fine. People should come and see it. It’s a similar-ish show as last year in that it’s going to be a kind of lecture, but I think it’s going to be a bit looser and I’m going to do more bits of interacting with the screen and making it sort of more multimedia, hopefully.
L: That can be dangerous though, can’t it?
S: You’re not helping. ‘That can be dangerous though, can’t it?’
L: It can be though.
S: Walking across the road is dangerous! But yes it is, that can be dangerous there.
K: Don’t interact with the screen.
S: Is that a nightmarish idea?
K: Has that not been done?
S: Yeah, but it’s a case of giving them something to look at during the dips.
L: And Tim, you’re reprising last year’s Slutcracker?
K: There will be some new stuff in there. It’s poetry, some recipes, a timetable. Quite pleased with the timetable.
L: And is your technician/sidekick Fletch going to be involved again?
K: Well, hopefully, but it’s up to him. Sometimes he likes to do his own thing. Fletch on his own does exist as a concept. He was going to do a show at Edinburgh, but not anymore. He does magic and is also a very good actor and writer. But this is not about him. I’ll always encourage him and I’ll be there for him, but he mustn’t take up any column inches.
L: Jonny, will Stefan [Golaszewski, who was in Cowards alongside Key] be directing you again?
S: Yes. He’s been really good for me, given me lots of morale. I often get really grand ideas and want to make it a massive spectacle and he will pull me up. Though he did have the idea that I should interview a different sailor for each show.
K: I think that’s a good idea.
S: Yes, the logistics were a problem.
K: You mean, interview them on the screen?
S: No, get a different sailor into each show. I asked Stefan how we could do that and he said, ‘get one of the local naval cadet schools to offer one’, as though they’re ten a penny in Edinburgh.
L: Do you have any weird pre-show rituals?
S: I actually slept for half an hour before each show last year. I basically picked up a Red Bull, a banana and a Twix, scoffed them and went to sleep for half an hour.
K: Hang on; you had Red Bull before you went to sleep?
S: It hit me when I woke up. In our family, there’s a nerves thing. My dad has a thing where he falls asleep when he’s under pressure, which is not ideal for any sort of career. Once, I had a car crash and he came to hospital and fell asleep immediately. I took that badly.
K: I always used to buy cake, a Powerade, a tomato and four beers from the same shop, and it was always the same person who served me. Never mentioned it.
L: Is physically touching an audience ever a bad idea?
S: Any touching in my show is meant to be warm and not aggressive.
K: I always felt it was a nice moment in my show when I went into the audience, like there was a bit of a connection.
S: Didn’t you fall on a 16-year-old or something?
K: Yeah, I do a bit where I get carried by the audience and I was holding a girl. I was sort of all over her really, but eventually I leapt off her.
L: Do either of you get recognised more now that you’ve been on the telly?
S: I’ve only properly been recognised once and that was for a BBC thing called Winging It. This massive Geordie guy on the Tube was constantly staring at me. So I thought he thought I had been checking out his wife. Maybe I had been. And it was all freaking me out so I got off early and he stopped me and went … I’m not going to do the accent but just say, ‘Jonny segued into a seamless Geordie accent’. So he said, ‘you were funny on Winging It’ but in the same tone as you might say, ‘I’m going to kick the shit out of you’. And then I left.
K: I got recognised before Party. But that was because I was standing underneath an enormous picture of myself.
L: What’s your worst memory of last year’s Fringe?
K: When Fletch got ill. I talk to him throughout the gig and I asked him to change a slide and he said he couldn’t and I said, ‘is it broken?’ and he said, ‘no, I’m broken’. It was quite fiddly because some of the audience probably thought this was part of it. I think he just about got to 45 minutes in before the paramedics came and took him away. He had five nights off.
S: He said, ‘I’m broken’?
K: I think I was working him too hard. Some times I was doing as many as one show a night. Last year was my most exhausting Edinburgh, mentally as well; it was a pretty fearsome, full-on experience last year.
S: I can’t think of a particularly bad moment but I’ve never been more exhausted. There was a show when half the awards panel had come in and I was so tired; afterwards, Stefan said that was about 60% of what it should have been. With Party, Tim said he was tired but he was sat through the whole thing, I was standing up and running around shouting and then I’d toddle off to do my own show. After Edinburgh I went to the doctor because I thought I had glandular fever.
L: Which celebrity death has affected you the most?
S: Harold Pinter. That’s pretentious, in a way. But I really liked him, and for a time I lived sort of near his house and kind of walked around hoping I’d bump into him. And then he died. On Christmas Day. I’m never that upset for any of them. That is pretentious though; that won’t come across well. Tim, don’t say someone from popular culture.
K: I was thinking more of Ben Hollioake, an England cricketer who died when he was 21 or 22 about ten years ago. He was the new Ian Botham before Flintoff became the new Ian Botham. He had a car crash. It was quite a surprising, numbing one.
S: Heath Ledger was a bit like that … You did better with your one.
L: Has a dream ever influenced anything you’ve then written?
S: Have you seen the Seinfeld episode when he writes something down in his dream and he’s sure it’s brilliant but then he can’t read it and eventually decides that it was probably terrible. I’ve had that after being bolt upright and written down a couple of lines.
K: I did have a nightmare where I was in a car and I was really cold and there was a body next to me. That was a very long dream and I knew that I just had to get out of that car and get away. I might use that as part of my stand-up.
S: I was playing Risk at the weekend and that evening I had a lot of killing dreams, mowing people down. I was in control of Europe for a while and I had to spill a lot of blood to do that.
L: What else are you doing in August?
K: I’m launching an album of my poetry.
S: Are you?
K: Yeah, I’m not an idiot.
S: Do you want a blurb for it?
K: I’ll do that. That’s my strongest suit. Best in the business. There’s a launch. There’ll be nibbles.
L: What’s it called?
K: It’ll probably have ‘slut’ in the title. Slut Album?
S: You should probably get a title before you have the event.
K: Poems in the Key of Slut?
S: That’s pretty good.
K: This was my life this time last year, thinking up slut puns: Utterly Slutterly was one. Vine Slut?
S: That’s nice. Get Tim Vine to cameo.
K: Tim Vinyl? I’ll email him to say he has to do an LP on vinyl and call it that.
L: Is there a weather condition that inspires you to write more than others?
S: I think I prefer being bunkered away during the winter
K: Rain. Heavy rain. Cottage. Let’s get going, let’s get this written.
S: Although, having said that …
K: … Sunny day. In a park.
S: I only ever write in the summer. There’s more light and so I often find that you can write at different hours of the day. I’ll write in the evening then, whereas I wouldn’t if it was dark.
L: Stewart Lee has been talking about doing a complete Michael McIntyre show, word for word, in his own style, just to find out where the comedy lies because he can’t really see it. Is there anyone in the world of film, theatre or comedy that you would like to cover in that same way?
S: I love Stewart Lee, but I wouldn’t really ever want to do it in such an aggressive way. I’d love to do some Marx Brothers, be really interesting to see if that still works.
K: Wouldn’t mind doing some of Tom Basden’s lyrics. See if they still work, even if you’re doing a real mess of the guitar.
S: Tell you what, oddly, I would like to cover Stewart Lee’s show 90s Comedian, just because I really enjoyed that and it would be interesting to see if I
could pull it off. Probably couldn’t though. Maybe I could try Billy Connolly’s stories, but without his accent?
L: Do you have any guilty cultural pleasures?
K:: I’ve watched a lot of Apprentice and an awful lot of Eggheads.
S: My friend could get you some Eggheads autographs.
K: OK, yeah, think I’d like that.
S: Embarrassing Bodies. Always settle down with that and compare.
K: I’m into any cooking show. I like the show where they had to cook a brilliant dinner for the Queen. There was this man who had to make something out of fish and as part of his dish, he had a pot which just smelled like the sea.
Jonny Sweet, Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, 6–30 Aug (not 16), 7.30pm, £10.50–£12 (£9–£10.50). Previews 4 & 5 Aug, £6; Tim Key, Pleasance Dome, Bristo Square, 0131 556 6550, 16–21 Aug, 12.15am, £12–£13; Tim Key’s album launch is at Avalanche, Cockburn Street, 0131 225 3939, 22 Aug, 3pm, free.