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I TALK TO Josh Widdicombe

Last year, comedian Josh Widdicombe made his acting debut in Josh, a 14-minute pilot for the BBC’s Comedy Feeds season.

That pilot was then picked up by BBC Three and has been turned into a brand-new six-part sitcom which begins Wednesday 11th November on BBC Three. The series sees the return of Josh, his flatmates Kate (Beattie Edmondson) and Owen (Elis James), and their relentlessly annoying landlord Geoff (Jack Dee).

Let’s start at the beginning then, how did Josh the one-off pilot last year, first come about?

Well I’d done a couple of radio things with Simon Mayhew-Archer, the producer, before and he came to see my Edinburgh and asked me if I wanted to do a sitcom pilot. And I was like “Yeah! Why not?! Yeah.”

It’s not like I had this great plan where I set out to do it. I just kind of thought it sounded fun and then we did and it was a lot of effort doing a sitcom pilot. It was a lot of work, and we really committed to it and then suddenly I was thinking I’d really like this to go to series.

And then it just snowballed slowly. There was never this great grand plan and then before I know I’m spending six months of my life trying to write a sitcom.

So making the pilot, was that the moment you realised you really did want to do a sitcom then?

Do you know what? Once we’d even started the pilot I was like “Oh my god, this is something I really want to do, I’m loving this.” It’s the most kind of energised and fun I’ve had with a job.

How does it compare to stand-up and to The Last Leg?

I tell you what, because I wrote it with Tom Craine, it’s really fun because you’re working with a mate. Whereas stand-up is quite lonely at times. Stand-up is sitting on your own, often listening back to your gig from the night before to change things when you’re trying to write a show. So that can be quite a lonely pursuit.

Whereas it was really fun working with Tom on the writing and Simon, David Schneider who directed it, and then working with Beattie (Edmondson), Elis (James) and Jack (Dee) acting in it. So I’ve really really loved the working with other people aspect of it.

How much of the sitcom is based on you and your life?

I mean, I can’t deny that there are similarities. It’s based on the life I was living about four or five years ago really. I hope that I’m not as annoying, or as much of a loser as Josh, but I’m not a good enough actor to not be like Josh, so there are going to be similarities there.

In the first episode we see that Josh can’t swim because he’s allergic to chlorine. Was that the same for you?

I can’t swim, no. That is based on truth, and I was allergic to chlorine when I was a kid which is why I can’t swim. That has gone now, but I just feel like it’s too little too late.

Would you say ‘flatshare sitcom’ is the best way to describe Josh?

Yeah, I didn’t want to do anything too high concept. I wanted to write about what I knew, in my stand-up I write about my day-to-day life. I didn’t want to set it on a spaceship or a farm. (Laughs)

I mean... a farm! The idea that a farm is too out there for me is bizarre. I didn’t want to set it somewhere that I didn’t know about, so it was better just to write about what I know.

Give it ten years and I’ll be writing my spaceship sitcom!

What’s the dynamic like between the three main characters then, Josh, Kate and Owen?

I think it’s a spikiness built on a knowledge that they’ll be friends forever and that they’re stuck together. It came about through writing it, and working with Elis and Beattie particularly and getting their views on it.

The part of Owen was always made for Elis. We wanted him to do it. For the part of Kate we auditioned, and I knew Beattie and she was just brilliant in the audition so we were so pleased to cast her. She’s created the character of Kate as much as we have, in the sense that through talking to her and getting to know her better. Much like how Owen and Josh are like myself and Elis.

So I think the dynamic is really based on the people that are playing them.

I must congratulate you on the great puns in the first episode. How easy were those to write? “The Vicar of Nibley” for example...

Oh yeah... thanks very much. I can’t remember writing that you know! (Laughs) I don’t think that was in an earlier draft, I think that scene where Kate comes out with the list was put in quite late in the game.

But that’s the kind of thing that’s fun. It’s the kind of thing that you could never do in stand-up, because I’m a conversational stand-up. It’s nice to be able to do something that’s a bit stupid. I like the bits that are most stupid, I don’t think there’s any big message... well, there’s not.

I’m not setting out to change the world like some people are, and good on them, but I haven’t really got that in me. I like a pun.

How did the casting of Jack Dee come about?

When we came up with the character we emailed him, because I kind of knew Jack through working together, and I thought it would be amazing for him to play Geoff, but of course he’s not going to want to do this. But I’ll email him and then he can say no and then we can all move on.

But then he went and yes, which was amazing! I was so delighted. And what I like is that it’s not just Jack playing Jack, it’s a very different character and I think he’s brilliant. He’s a very very good actor Jack Dee. And when you know Jack, you know that he’s a very nice guy, so even when he’s doing his grip stand-up persona, that is a great performance. He’s a great performer.

Because he’s not a big performer, people don’t immediately go “Oh Jack Dee is a great performer”, but his performances as a stand-up are just phenomenal.

Jennifer Saunders is in a couple of episodes, playing real-life daughter Beattie Edmondson’s mum. Did that take a lot of convincing for her to do it?

Well, we didn’t ask her! What happened was that we auditioned a few people for that role and there were some good people, but we hadn’t quite nailed it. And then we were talking to Beattie about and she said “My mum will know a lot of actresses of that age because of that peer group. I can ask her to recommend someone.”

Beattie asked her and she said if there’s a character of your mother I’d like to play it, and we were like absolutely, 100%.

When she came to rehearsal... this is going to sound absurd because of course she’s her daughter, but their chemistry was just perfect straight away. It was brilliant to watch.

There are more great guest stars throughout the series as well, Romesh Ranganathan, James Acaster, the Chuckle Brothers! How did that all come about?

Well it turns out that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. The Chuckle Brothers were very nice, they were a lot of fun. Romesh was great, James Acaster was great, it was really nice having people who you’re mates with on set.

I loved working with Romesh, he’s so brilliant. He’s a big superstar. I really like the idea of maybe people watching Josh in five years and go “Bloody hell! That’s that guy that plays the O2 and he’s playing a ticket collector!

Are you hopeful for a second series?

Yeah, really hopeful. Everyone seems to be really happy and upbeat about it. I’d love to do a second series, so fingers crossed!

Josh could be one of the last sitcoms on BBC Three as we know it, as a linear TV channel. Can you see Josh going online, or would you rather it go to one of the main channels?

Well we’ve got a repeat on BBC One after The Graham Norton Show every week in the Romesh Ranganathan slot. So that starts after the second week because of Children In Need, so we’ll start with a double-bill after Graham Norton.

I’m really glad and so thankful to BBC Three for giving me the opportunity to do this, so I really hope that if we continue to do it, and get a second series we’ll be part of BBC Three.

I really like the BBC, so doing a good sitcom is my two fingers up to George Osborne. That’ll show him not to mess with the BBC! I hope he sees it and really really regrets what he’s done.

What’s next for you then?

I’m on tour at the moment called What Do I Do Now until the end of Christmas and then there’ll probably be another leg of that next autumn as well. So just touring around really, I don’t really know how to stop. The momentum has started now and I can’t see me having a day off.

Josh starts Wednesday 11th November at 10:30m on BBC Three


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