"I gained my audience on Instagram and the young people who watched my videos had never been to a comedy show in their lives."
He's one of the UK's finest new comedians and the breakout star of 2018 thanks to a sellout tour and a co-hosting job on The Big Narstie Show and now Mo Gilligan has been given his own primetime show on Channel 4.
The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan promises to put the fun back into Friday nights and I caught up with Mo to discuss his beginnings in comedy, why the cost of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has kept him away and what audiences can expect from his new show.
How did you first get into stand-up comedy?
When I was 19 there was a local comedy night that a family friend of ours put on and he asked me if I wanted to come down and do five minutes so I did but it was an open slot and I ended up doing twenty minutes because it went so well.
That made me realise that I wanted to do this properly, it was fun. So I did another show and then another show and then a lot of my socials took off when I started doing the character sketches and that's been my journey really.
Where did the inspiration come from for those characters?
I used to work in retail so I'd meet a lot of different people and I never wanted to do an impression of them but I'd pick on some of their smaller characteristics and before you know it it'll develop into a character.
Were you surprised by how quickly those videos took off and how quickly you grew your fanbase?
Of course! I started to gain an audience online very quickly which meant that there were people out there who liked what I did and the more they liked what I did, the more videos I wanted to make.
The tour then took it to another level because as well as people watching it online, they'll come out to watch your live show and you start to see the people who are leaving the emojis!
I think the way people consume comedy now is completely different. I gained my audience on Instagram and the young people who watched my videos had never been to a comedy show in their lives.
So when I toured I wanted to make sure that the experience was different. I remember watching Kanye West and Jay-Z on their Watch the Throne tour and they had all these visuals and I remember Kanye saying "This is the best show you're ever going to go to" and that always stuck with me.
You want to leave a lasting impression for someone who comes to see you live so that months down the line they can say "Remember that show we went to?". I was involved in everything when it came to the Coupla Cans tour from picking the venues and having a DJ warm up.
How long has it taken for you to develop your comedy style?
When you get an audience, you get to see and understand what they find funny and what they laugh at and start building your style to your audience a little bit. You understand what they do and don't like it.
I'll be honest, I tried some political comedy, all types of comedy - you have to when you're starting out in comedy to see what works for you and what doesn't work for you. After a while you don't even realise that you have a style, it just comes naturally I suppose.
And it's fair to say that the tour has been pretty successful.
Yeah! It was amazing. I remember coming out of the meeting with Live Nation and we agreed to do ten dates and I'll be honest with you I had this thing in the back of my head of - What if people don't come? Then I remember when we announced the first dates and London sold out in two minutes and I was like "OK, cool, this is happening, it's real."
Then we went to twenty dates and I thought that would be enough, but then people kept wanting to come, so we kept adding more dates so I could just keep on performing the show which I loved and people hadn't got bored of it yet.
You never went down the traditional Edinburgh route. Why was that?
I gave Edinburgh a try in 2015 with a split run for two weeks with Kae Kurd but for me the reason why I didn't really pursue Edinburgh was for financial reasons. I was still working in retail, which is how I made my living, and I was put off by how much it would cost. Even just the cost of the train to get there!
I always saw Edinburgh as something that was very expensive and I really wanted to pursue what I loved doing but even if I did raise funds I wondered how beneficial it would be for me. When I was there it was great, it's like a training centre for comedy and all the arts. You're performing every night to different audiences and every show is different, it's amazing but as good as it was, I just couldn't afford it.
One day I'm sure I'll do a small run there, like a week of shows. I gained my audience online so I didn't really need to go but I do go up every year for a day or so to check out shows. What I always say to a lot of acts is try it, you might like it, you might not. But you should always try it.
And then The Big Narstie Show came along, which people seemed to love?
Yeah, I remember when the promo came out and I'd read the comments and people were going "This is only going to get one series." but we got a Christmas special and another series. And who knows, hopefully we'll do more.
People seemed to really like it, we got great award nominations and it was lovely to see people telling us how nice it was to watch a show that they felt part of. They felt like they knew us and that it was something different. What the people say matters a lot and to get the accolades is just a bonus.
People would come up to me on the street and tell me how they watch the show every Friday night with their girlfriend and a takeaway - to be a part of someone's Friday night means a lot.
How did you feel when people started commenting on how you did most of the presenting compared to Big Narstie?
The format was different to anything anyone had ever seen. I was on the writing team for the show so I helped write it and people forget that Big Narstie is a grime MC. He's become a personality but even he says that he shouldn't have a show.
The dynamics were different but now that the show has its own identity, people understand that I need Narstie and I need him to be how he is - off the cuff and random. It breaks thing up but you also need someone to bring things back and that's where my role would lie - to get back to talking about what we were talking about.
No one had ever seen a TV show like that before so I could understand when people were like "Hang on a minute. Why is Mo asking all the questions?".
Did that give you the confidence you needed to now host your own show?
Of course! I always still say that I'm very new within this TV world. I haven't been doing this a long time so doing The Big Narstie Show was also about me gaining experience and learning how to interview people on TV which is a lot harder than it looks.
You've got to read an autocue, you've got to listen to the gallery talking in your ear telling you to move on or ask this question - so you have to learn all the tricks of the trade. But The Big Narstie Show has definitely put me in a much more confident position going into my show.
What can audiences expect from The Lateish Show?
It's a show where everyone's a guest. It's a Friday night and it's the kind of show where if you've had a long week you can just chill out and enjoy. It's got games, it's got sketches, some celeb chat, but at the same time it's not your normal chat show.
It's not just celebs coming on and promoting their video or whatever. We want them to get stuck in and have some fun as well as the audience. My aim is to bring TV and people closer than ever before. I don't want to be the guy on TV that tells jokes and the audience just laugh. I want them to be a part of the show as well.
It's been in development for two years, do you feel like now it's in the best shape it can be?
Yes, I've now got my own production company, Momo G, so we're co-producing the series with Expectation and I've helped write it and I exec produce on it. What I've learnt about TV is that you have to be very patient because it's not just one person making a decision, there's a whole team of people deciding what's best for the show. And it needs all these people to make a really good TV programme.
It's been about two years in the works and during that time I've done the tour and I've done The Big Narstie Show so I've been busy, which has been great. Sometimes you can have a project like this and you're just waiting for it to start. I've been quite lucky in that sense.
But now it's ready to go. It's almost like letting your children go to school - "You ready for your first day at nursery?" and off they go.
How important is it to record the show a couple of days before transmission?
It's massively important because you want it to be reactional to what's been happening in the week. We record on Tuesdays and it goes out on Fridays. Sometimes if you record on Tuesday and it comes out next week Friday, things change so quickly, what's viral one day isn't cool the next so it's very important that we're turning out a show that's massively topical, there isn't really any waiting around.
Who are your guests for the first show?
On the first show we've got Jessie J, who I'm massively excited about because she's a wicked performer, Steve Coogan who I keep pinching myself over. I keep asking people if he's definitely doing the show because he might have cancelled! But he's doing the show. Asim Chaudhry as well and then throughout the series we've got people like Lee Mack.
We've got some really great guests and that's amazing for me because to have a show like this, §you want to get the best. It's gonna be really fun.
In terms of the sketches, can we expect them to be similar to what you post online?
Of course, we have to keep the ingredients of what made a lot of those sketches successful but having a TV show we're able to do them a little bit bigger than me in my bedroom on an iPhone. I now have resources available to me that I never had before.
I'm also hoping to introduce these sketches to a new audience who haven't seen them before. I have to remember that whilst a lot of people will be wanting to see a certain character, they will come in time. You have to filter them through. So they will all make an appearance somewhere down the line.
How do you feel about the 10pm slot on a Friday night on Channel 4? Typically filled by The Last Leg.
If you have a show like this you really want to be making a statement so to get the 10 o'clock slot was a big deal and that's why I think I'm involved in so many aspects of the show. I don't want to have a 10 o'clock show that people don't really get.
I want them to watch episode one and be like "OK, great. That was good. I enjoyed it. I get it. I knew what was going on. I want more."
With The Big Narstie Show it took us a while to find our identity but we were on at 11 o'clock. I want people to watch this show and understand what it is and what's going on from the off. It's just a fun Friday night show, entertainment that's different to The Last Leg. But hopefully that audience can still enjoy my show and not feel like they're waiting for their show to come back.
Are you now in a position that you're making TV that you would want to watch and that you think is missing?
Oh yeah of course. Being someone who as I say, isn't just presenting the show but heavily involved in making it and writing it, I try to view the show from what people want to see, what they wouldn't want to see, want they'd want to see more of. Also, how people interact with TV. A lot of us watch TV with our phone in our hand tweeting so I have to take all those things into account.
TV's changing as well. Once your TV show isn't on, how can you still interact with it? You've got things like YouTube now where clips can go viral from a TV show. A lot of American TV shows have been really successful in doing that. I have a lot of friends who have never watched a lot of these shows, but can name them all purely from watching clips on YouTube.
You're tweeting a lot about Love Island at the moment. Who would you love to get on The Lateish Show?
I've got to get Ovie on the show. He's one of the people I really want to get on the show. I feel like I know him, he's fun and a breath of fresh air on that programme. I can imagine how hard it is being on that show because it's not really about how you are on it, it's about how you are after the programme has aired and still being able to maintain your celebrity. I just find Ovie really funny man.
I like Anton as well. I really like Anton and he's someone that I've massively warmed to.
Will The Big Narstie Show be coming back?
I hope so. We won an RTS Award and got nominated for a BAFTA in the same week so I'd be surprised if it didn't come back. A lot of people think that because I've now got my show, The Big Narstie Show won't come back but I hope that's not the case.
Absolutely. Of course! At the moment I'm concentrating on TV but stand-up is always there. I put my own small nights on in Greenwich and Shoreditch so I try and make sure I keep up the stand-up comedy side of my career because that's my favourite thing.
I'm fortunate that I've done the tour now so I can focus on new projects for a little bit which is really fun.
Will you be watching the show when it goes out on Friday?
Oh yes of course. Yes yes yes. Sometimes they will send you the cut before it goes out but I'm going to make sure that I don't get the cut before because I want to watch it when everybody else watches it, at 10pm on Friday. I want to be surprised. I don't want to watch it going "They're all going to like this bit" and then I check the socials and no one's liking it.
The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan airs Fridays at 10pm on Channel 4