Here is the full interview with the quirky comedy group, The Penny Dreadfuls.
If Sherlock Holmes had cloned himself and formed Monty Python before anyone else had thought of it, he might sound a little like The Penny Dreadfuls. But we can’t clone humans yet. And Sherlock Holmes didn’t exist. But these chaps do…
Looks can be deceiving; Humphrey Ker and David Reed, two thirds of comedy collective The Penny Dreadfuls [Thom Tuck shuns the press. Well, me. Or he was busy], appear to be all glasses and knitwear and public schoolboy charm. In short, nice young men you would happily take home to meet your mother. As they demonstrate their superhuman ability to be heard over the inane bar-jazz of Starbucks, however, talk turns to how lovely Mussolini was, how you’ll wear your degree on your face and why Balamory is inspirational. All is not as it seems…
How would you describe The Penny Dreadfuls to someone who’s never heard of you?
Humphrey: We’re three…men. We’ve done three shows at the Edinburgh festival to reasonably satisfactory levels of acclaim, and two series of a radio show for BBC7
David: We’ve done predominantly Victorian based comedy for the last three years, that’s probably what people know best about us
Humphrey: [In order to] stand out at the fringe, where there are so many sketch comedy acts, we settled on setting everything we do in the Victorian era. That’s the way we roll.
How did you first get together?
D: we all met at Edinburgh University, in the first term; we all kind of gravitated towards student theatre, and got involved with an improvised comedy troupe called The Improverts. That was our training, really, doing deeply disposable short form comedy for four years straight before we even started to write anything. [It means] you don’t get precious about stuff; it helps you to not try and reach above yourself, to be a bit pretentious and lose sight of what is actually funny.
H: Which is knobs.
D: And occasional digs at the Pope. Actually, I read online today that a comic is potentially being prosecuted by the Italian government under an 80 year old law brought in under Mussolini that you’re not allowed to insult the pope!
Who doesn’t love Mussolini?
H: Exactly. We hate the pope but we love Mussolini.
What were your first impressions of each other?
D: I thought Humphrey was very tall [Impact can confirm Humphrey is 6 foot and then some more]
H: I was slightly jealous of Dave cause we were all in a big Fresher’s play; Dave was on at the end and was really funny…so I was a bit jealous…and then I came to realise he was less than me.
H: In all ways.
Classic Fresher’s question: what did you study?…and is it helping you now?
H: My problem was I applied to university at the last minute, I was going to go on a gap year to Afghanistan; this was in September 2001, so then thought maybe not. Couldn’t get into anywhere to do History, so I kind of snuck into university in a kind of underhand way thinking I’ll apply for something kind of rubbish and then I’ll switch across, which is a great plan and it works..99.9% of the time. You say, as I did, “yeah yeah sure I’ll do Celtic Studies”, then they let you switch…I just, never quite got round to filling out the paperwork. So failed my first year. Short answer is: it has made no difference whatsoever to my life now. If you’re doing something practical to do with what you’re doing, then it will make a difference, otherwise…
D: But I think time at university was absolutely invaluable because, personally, and I’m sure a lot of people are in the same boat, they’ve picked a degree they’re going to study for three or four years and they’re still not sure that’s really what they want to be doing with their time, but it’s a fantastic place to meet people in the same boat as you and find out what you do want to do with your life.
H: I know it’s a cliché but you get out of it what you put into it; we put all of our time into the theatre, doing four of five plays a term and doing comedy stuff. The people I look at and think why did you bother with university are the people who went, didn’t really give that much of a shit about their degree, well, gave a sufficient shit about it to ensure they got a 2.1 and didn’t get in trouble but just existed there … if that’s what you’re going to do leave university now!
D: And then you can exist in a job and make some money rather than getting into debt! Pull your finger out and do whatever you want to do, whether that’s a degree or not.
H: Also, I guarantee that when you finish, you’ll be slightly annoyed by your degree mark.
D: That’ll stay with you. It will define you; you will wear it on your face. You wear your life on your face and if you feel disappointed in your life at this benchmark moment, it will show.
Any other cheery words of advice for the students of Nottingham?
H: Try to get involved as much as you can around the university, fill your days with something of worth. The people we knew at Edinburgh invariably didn’t just stick to libraries and drinking- they did all that as well – but they also learnt to fly.
D: Or they’d get involved in a project building a school in Ghana. People would start these projects up from scratch, no society existed before they arrived there and they’d just go yes, I want to do this, and they’d just go off and do it. You won’t get that opportunity again.
H: Also, I’m not joking, literally, any chance you get to fuck someone, do it. Because you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. For sure. Fucking is key.
Stay safe, and all that…
H: All that, obviously, but if you’re carrying protection…
Sounds like gun!
H: Yes! Put a gun to their head! Just have fun!
What do you say if someone asks you what you do?
D: It’s a tricky one because if you say you’re a comedian, people don’t consider that a job. That’s not something you can say you are yourself, you have to have that endowed upon you, otherwise you’re just an actor who thinks he’s funny. Also people without fail say, “well tell a joke then”. If you say you’re a quantity surveyor they don’t say “well survey a quantity then”, to prove that’s what you do. It’s safest just to say you’re a writer.
Interesting fact: Miles Jupp, the narrator in the radio show, was in Balamory…
D: Miles was actually in The Improverts when we first arrived at Edinburgh, and he’d just started Balamory and was commuting to Glasgow to be Archie the Inventor so for me personally he was a real benchmark of what could be achieved whilst still at university; he was nominated for the Perrier and still knocking around student digs. [The Improverts] was a really good breeding ground for new talent and for people to express themselves…so everyone should start up Improv troupes!
What are your first memories of enjoying comedy?
D: Punt and Dennis, I think that was the first gig I ever went to, I thought they were brilliantly funny and still do now; and then it was a long wait until Eddie Izzard’s Glorious tour, and that was just mind-blowing.
H: I remember watching Blackadder, and just repeating the whole thing verbatim everywhere I went for about three years.
The second series of the radio show starts on 5th October – could you do a ‘previously on’ for anyone who’s missed the first series?
D: It’s called The Penny Dreadfuls Present: The Brothers Faversham, and each episode is centred around a different brother from this fictional Victorian family. In the first series we saw the life stories of Horatius the soldier, Leonidas the explorer, Theseus, a detective, and Augustus, who was an illusionist turned megalomaniac.
H : There were these families back then with five sons and one would invent penicillin and one would conquer…the Sudan and do this that and the other so we thought it would be nice to create this mad family.
D: Coming up we’ve got a sportsman, TC, Max who’s a horror writer, Marcus, who’s an actor, and then Perseus and Lucius, the twins who are both entrepreneurial industrialists.
H: So tune in!
Finally, if there was one thing from the Victorian era you could bring back now, what would it be?
H: I’d quite like everyone to still wear hats and doff them to fine ladies.
D: Pocket watches – people should have more than just wristwatches.
H: I’d also like to have my own Martian tripod from The War of the Worlds.