Best-known for playing the likes of Terry Tibbs in Fonejacker and Facejacker, character comedian Kayvan Novak returns to Channel 4 doing what he does best this week in Britain Today Tonight.
The series was originally announced at the tail end of 2015 and described as a spoof tabloid ‘news show’, promising to shine a light on contemporary Britain.
As you'd come to expect from Kayvan, he plays all the characters. From American anchorman, Douglas Digger Daley, to the reporters and even some of the people in the news stories themselves.
First of all, I can't believe it's been 5 years since Facejacker ended and 10 years since Phonejacker started. Why has it taken you this long to return to character comedy?
That's a good question Elliot. I ask myself that everyday! I pick the biggest bamboo from the garden and start whipping myself with it going "Why does it take so long to make this show? Why? Why?! WHY?!"
And again, I don't really have an answer. I initially thought about this show and what it could be, about three years ago. It was through watching some clip of Bill O'Reilly on Fox News doing a debate and basically bullying someone and telling the to "Get off!".
I thought, I have never played that kind of character before. In Phonejacker and Facejacker, I never really played any American characters and it was something that I'd always wanted to do.
So I got an index card, I stuck it on my cork board and on it said "Fox News style topical prank show" and I've been trying to make it ever since. And I did!
So that's three years. The two years previous to that, your guess is as good as mine!
It's interesting to hear that this show has been three years in the making, when it feel so topical and so right for 2017.
Yeah, I think Trump getting in was a blessing for the show, because you could almost imagine him being the exec producer on it. It would definitely have his blessing... which is nice.
It's just one of those things. It's something that I've wanted to do for ages but you're right, it feels like now is the perfect time for a show like this to come out.
I guess people have been energised by what's been happening in politics and there's almost this new era of satire and topical comedy. I wasn't really motivated to do anything that was satirical to be honest, I wasn't trying to parody the news in doing this.
I think Chris Morris nailed that with The Day Today and Brass Eye and I'm a protégé of his. It was really more about being whether I could take the medium of pranking in character and elevate it to the next level. That level being topical pranks.
All of the pranks that I do in the show are inspired by topics I read in the news and current affairs and then the way we bring all of those things together is through the grammar of an American news show.
Which brings us nicely into Douglas Digger Daley, the American news anchor at the heart of Britain Today Tonight. Where did your inspiration come from for him?
He's a kind of mashup of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity - these very front foot, quite aggressive news anchors, who are very opinionated and have a very bullish style of interviewing.
Although they can only do themselves, whereas when I've got my guests on, they think they're talking to three different people and they're not, they're talking to me (Douglas).
Why did you decide to make Douglas a Trump supporter?
I guess it suited him. He's a republican through and through. This style of news show is right wing, it's republican, it's patriotic - it's just got that brand that we recognise now. This movement in America.
What about the decision to go with an American anchor rather than a British one?
It's me going, I want to play an American anchor. I don't think any British comedians have really nailed that yet.
And to be able to do that with real people, is an extra bonus for me.
And they are real people aren't they? They're not in on the joke?
Not at all. I could never make a show, and I have never made a show where anyone is in on it. The form, the discipline, the performance, is all about fooling them, manipulating them and getting an honest reaction out of them.
That's ultimately what I'm about. You pull the wool over their eyes, yes. But it's almost like a tolerance test for them and what's beautiful is seeing their honest reactions to these maniacs and ridiculous people that I'm playing.
It reveals their personalities and I think that's what's always been fascinating about engaging with people in character in the same way I've done in Phonejacker and Facejacker - that has remained the same throughout my career really.
Are you involved in the process afterwards where they're told who you are and what the show is?
I don't really get to see that very often because there's always someone else doing that. For me to go "Hey, it's me!", I'm still in prosthetics and to talk to them in this voice all of a sudden, it doesn't really help them clarify what the hell has been going on!
Some of them are very gracious and they get it.
Let's talk about Jon Donovan then, he's got to be based on someone right?
Yeah, I guess he's kind of a mish mash of "actor turned action journalist". I suppose our closest parallel would be Ross Kemp.
Jon Donovan should never have been in front of the camera. He's basically the guy who does the voiceover for "Australian Border Police" - do you know what I mean? That's him, but in a person.
You can't go around talking like that to people, but he does. "So. What happened next?"
What about Ken Kildoon?
He's just a Scottish guy who's very pleased with himself, and that's someone I've always wanted to play. So to be a television reporter kind of suited him which is nice.
Peter P Powers?
(Laughs and dips into character) "Well Peter P Powers is..." - I mean, his footage is fantastic! I don't know how he's getting all this access.
We didn't need to have him introducing these "Secret camera filmings" - but it's been built into the grammar of the show that he should be the guy who's got all this access with his deadpan delivery.
It's nice to see the narrator on screen because he looks so ridiculous. He doesn't do any pranking himself, but visually he's got enough going on to then be our narrator - "Inside the Secret Service..."
This is probably a tricky question to answer, but do you have a favourite character from Britain Today Tonight?
Jon Donovan. There are some great Jon Donovan hits coming up in the rest of the series. His obsession with terrorism and security and being safe - he manages to tread lightly on what potentially is a very heavy topic.
But he keeps it light and entertaining and I think that's a difficult balancing act but something he achieves really well. With his style of delivery and his style of reporting, people are more than happy to go along with whatever he's saying - which is part of the hilarity of it.
Nicholas Charles as well. He comes back. There are three things with him, one involving recruitment of female spies and him trying to reinvent torture techniques using grime rappers.
He gets some grime rappers to talk to an imaginary hostage and try and illicit information from them by insulting them, but in grime rap! As grime rappers are used to doing. (Laughs)
Yeah, I tackle diversity in film and TV casting and I've got a New York casting director who basically specialises in casting brown actors, because there's a shortage. There are so many bad brown guys on TV now that he's the go-to guy.
Were you ever tempted to include a character from Facejacker in Britain Today Tonight?
No, Britain Today Tonight is all new characters. Not to say that I don't want to revisit some Facejacker characters, of course I do!
I think Brian Bandonde is ripe for a comeback at some point.
Do you get people asking you to do Faccejacker impressions all the time?
Before, it was "Can I have a photo?" and then I might make a noise and make them laugh. But now they just approach you with an iPhone that's already filming and they just shove it in your face and go "Can you do Brian Badonde or Terry Tibbs?" - you just have to oblige.
If you could pick anyone from the world of news to have a cameo in Britain Today Tonight, who would it be?
The girl from Good Morning Britain that sits next to Piers, Susanna Reid. Actually, Piers Morgan would be quite good.
Piers Morgan would love a job on Britain Today Tonight!
What's next for you then? What else are you up to?
I do this radio show called The Celebrity Voicemail Show so I'm planning on turning that into a TV show. How I do that I don't quite know yet. That's on the horizon.
I'm also developing a kids prank show where the kids do the pranks, kids pranking adults. I think I'm doing that with Netflix.