With a third series of BBC Three sitcom Josh on the way, I caught up with Josh Widdicome to find out more about what's in store.
Josh was one of the final sitcoms to air (and indeed debut) on BBC Three back when it was a linear TV channel and after the second series continued to be loved by audiences online, it was no surprise that BBC Three quickly commissioned a third.
Written by Josh Widdicombe, Tom Craine with Henry Paker, Josh follows the highs and lows of the eponymous Josh, an anxious old man trapped in an anxious young man’s body.
Josh will once again be joined by the regular ensemble cast: his hopelessly selfish flatmates, Owen (Elis James) and Kate (Beattie Edmondson), plus the world's most annoying landlord, Geoff, played by Jack Dee.
Last time we spoke you’d just started your tour. How did that go?
Yeah, it was fun. I haven’t really been on tour for a while. I finished at Christmas and you get to the end and go “I am never getting in a car to drive around the country again”. And then last week I had a gig in Devon and went “This is what it’s all about. Back in the car!”
So I think it take about six months to forget how tiring it is to be in a car. I now think I’m ready to start writing another tour, but that is a long old process, so I reckon 2019 would be my guess.
And here we are talking about the third series of Josh. Can you believe it?
No! I remember Greg Davies saying to me about Man Down – “We’ve done three series now, so whatever happens I know I haven’t failed.” When he said that to me, that was during series two of Josh, so I was a bit worried at that point.
Now, I can say that to people. It’s amazing because you think, there are so many sitcoms that get written that don’t get a pilot, so many pilots that don’t get taken up and there are so many first series that don’t go further, so to have a sitcom that’s gone for three series and that people have liked, it’s mad.
It’s one of those things that you’ll look back on in ten years and go “I didn’t really realise how lucky I was” if you know what I mean?
Why do you think the audience are responding to it so well?
I don’t know. I think it’s certainly got better. I look back at series one and go “Oh God! We wouldn’t have done that now, or done that like that. If I think about my first stand up show, which I really liked at the time, I now go “Oh that was a bit shit.” I think shows find their feet and I think time really has helped people get into it.
I think the characters are nice and likeable. Jack (Dee), Beattie (Edmondson) and Elis (James) are so good that it is a world that people would quite like to be a part of and it’s a nice way to spend half an hour you’d hope.
It’s not mean-spirited, it’s not harsh in any nasty way and I think if people can identify with the characters, that’s 80% of the battle really.
Are you finding the characters easier to write now?
Much easier. You know how characters would react. We didn’t have Jack for the rehearsals this time because he was filming Bad Move and we didn’t have Beattie because she was filming something, but it didn’t matter because you can see it on the page how they’re going to do it, and then they do it better than you’d imagined.
You know when a football team play together for a while, they know how each other are going to play, that’s the advantage – that’s why it’s much more difficult when a team buys a load of new players at the same time. That’s what this is I think, we know what works for it and we try and make that better and the things we haven’t been so pleased with better.
What’s been the biggest thing you’ve learnt making three series?
That it’s not just about jokes really. In the first series, before we wrote it, we thought – as long as it’s filled with great jokes all the time, then it’s fine. But actually what you find is that the intricacies of the plot and the consistency of the characters are the actual things that a sitcom lives or dies on.
Anyone can write funny jokes in a sitcom, but there’s nothing worse than when a sitcom feels like a load of jokes thrown together that don’t really respond to the characters or the plot. When you do stand-up, it’s just jokes, jokes, jokes, jokes, jokes - there’s no narrative, but how important that is in a sitcom has kind of blown my mind. With Josh, it doesn’t feel like there’s suddenly going to be an episode where Kate wants to become a popstar out of nowhere, because you want that consistency.
Often what happens when you watch those long-running American sitcoms, like Friends which is probably one of my favourite things to ever exist, towards the end the less good episodes are the ones where you felt like the characters might have run out of steam. They tried to move them in different areas they hadn’t been before, like Joey and Rachel getting together. I don’t really buy this because we’ve watched for 7 years and that’s just not been a thing.
It’s great that you’re able to have Jennifer Saunders back.
Yeah, she just has fun I think. She turned up, did a couple of days filming, gets to hang out with Beattie, she brings her dog – I certainly don’t think it’s a money job for her. (Laughs)
I can see it from Jennifer’s position, you do what you want to do really, and the fact that she wants to do it is an honour in itself.
And you’ve got Diana Vickers in this series?
That was fun! That was a really fun idea and maybe the idea that we’re most pleased about because it’s such a stupid idea but it holds and you kind of buy it. She plays Diana Vickers, but the gist is that she gets together with Owen, so they start dating and there’s a rumour that she’s going to do Strictly and he starts to worry about the curse of Strictly.
So that’s the storyline which is a kind of meta thing that we probably wouldn’t have got away with in the first series, but I think you buy yourself stuff like that. She was absolutely brilliant because we knew that she’d be perfect because she’s exactly the kind of person you’d want for that storyline to work. But also, she’s a really funny comic actress.
Who would would your dream guest be?
I really enjoyed having Diana Vickers playing herself so I think my dream guest would be someone playing themselves again. Because Josh (in the sitcom) is in comedy, it’d be quite fun to have someone playing themselves but being quite nasty.
Someone who is well-known to be nice. I’m currently stood in the boardroom looking at the Off The Kerb list of clients so Alan Carr comes to mind as someone who would be quite funny being mean to Josh.
What’s Geoff up to this series?
What we’ve tried to do is create more of an ensemble piece this year. We’ve tried to do three storylines. There’s one episode where he’s nursed a swan back to health and it’s taken over his house. It’s one of those stories where it’s just him turning up and telling Kate about it. There are certain things that are funnier if you don’t see them, because your imagination is funnier – and also has a bigger budget – than real life.
The thing with Geoff is, you kind of just want him to talk and give his views on things. The final episode of the series is all set on one evening in the flat and Geoff comes round to try and get furniture because he’s rented a flat out by mistake that he’s listed as furnished but it’s unfurnished – and it’s fun to just have him there the whole time as a comic foil.
We don’t want big storylines, like Geoff’s running for Prime Minister, it’s fun just to have him acting as the absurd fourth character.
Most sitcoms, certainly in the UK, run for two or three series and then stop. Do you see a future for Josh?
Yeah, as I was saying earlier, at the end of a tour you think “I’m never going to do that again” and at the end of recording a sitcom you go “I’m never going to do that again”, but then three weeks later you have lots of ideas and you want to do another series. I think we’d like to do a fourth series.
To be honest, we have this rule where we don’t discuss the next series whilst we’re making a series because you don’t want to not enjoy a series because you’re worrying about the next. You just enjoy them one at a time really.
One day, would you like to write another sitcom?
Yeah I think once Josh comes to a natural end, whenever that may be, I’ll probably take some time away from it, but yeah I think so. If you look at Jack (Dee), he wrote Lead Balloon and now he’s written Bad Move which is about 10 years later.
I like doing lots of different things and I think the reason I enjoy being a comedian is because you get to do lots of different stuff. I’d certainly imagine myself doing this again, but there are lots of other things I want to do as well.
The Last Leg is returning for its twelfth series! Do you still have as much fun making it as it looks like you do?
Yeah, it’s a fun show. We’ve had a nice break now as well. It’s been quite a taxing first six months of the year because we were meant to have six weeks off but then Theresa May called an election, which was probably worse for her than it was for us in hindsight.
We’ve just had a break and you feel refreshed. I think there’s something to be said about the excitement of doing different things and that’s what I’m quite lucky to do really. You do stand-up, you do Josh, you do The Last Leg so when you come to do these things they’re just as fun as the first time you did them really.