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I TALK TO Tez Ilyas

"There's a concerted effort now in television to ensure that what we see on TV is more representative of the society we live in."

With a performance on Live At The Apollo, a starring role in Man Like Mobeen, his own BBC Radio 4 series TEZ Talks and three Edinburgh Festival Fringe hours, Blackburn-born Tez Ilyas is one of the UK's most exciting up-and-coming talents and this week he bursts onto Channel 4 with his own late-night satirical comedy show, The Tez O'Clock Show.

I caught up with the rising star to find out why it was so important to film in the North of England, why he feels satirical programmes are missing from British television and what audiences can expect from his show.

It's a very exciting time for you. How are you feeling?

It is very exciting. I'm terrified. Not terrified because I can't do this, but just the usual performance insecurity where I hope people like what I'm putting out.

How long has The Tez O'Clock Show been in development for?

Not that long actually. I had a meeting with Channel 4 in May 2018 and they paired me with the production company Expectation, then in September we went back in with an idea and Channel 4 commissioned a not-for-TV pilot and in December gave us three episodes! It was probably one of the quickest commissions that you can get these days I guess.

How involved were you in the development of the show?

Massively. It's got my stamp all over it, whether people love it or hate it, it's all coming from me as well as input from other people who are very good and very experienced in doing this sort of thing. But the ideas and how I want to make the show with my comedic standpoint, that's all me.

What can people expect from the show?

It's a topical, satirical show and the aim is to make it silly, fun and subversive. It's a mixture of provocative monologues and studio discussions. We've got two things in the studio, one is a briefing room where Adam Rowe and Sophie Willan, two very funny obnoxious comedians - one Manc one Scouser, will go head-to-head and brief me on a subject that I want to know more about.

So I task them every week with some homework to go away and research something. They each take a different perspective on the issue and then try and convince me which perspective is the right one and at the end I conclude by letting them know who I agree with. So that'll be really fun. We've had a couple of rehearsals with them and they really go toe-to-toe with each other.

Then we've got a shisha cafe where Sindhu Vee will be accompanying me every single week to have a lot of fun, a lot of banter and that's where our studio guests will be. We'll talk to them about things they're passionate about, things they're working on as well as getting their take on what's happening in the world.

And we've also got some pre-recorded sketches which take up about a third of the show and have already been filmed. Those star Guz Khan, Sindhu Vee and myself, plus cameos from Phil Ellis.

That's a great team of up-and-coming talents. Did you have a say in who would be involved in the show?

Absolutely. They were all my first choices. I strongly believe in working with people that you know and have a lot of faith in. Even behind-the-scenes I've got Kae Kurd in the writers room who I admire and have worked with a lot over recent years.

Aisling Bea gave me some advice a few months ago, she said "Surround yourself with people who make you feel funny." which I thought was brilliant practical advice. So I've followed her advice by working people who I know, who are talented and who I think audiences will love.

It's also really important to have people like Sophie and Adam in there who are two working-class comics. This is a show that is being made in the north and I'm very very proud of that as a northerner myself.

So it's really important for you to film the show in Manchester?

Yes, it's so important. I'm from Lancashire, so I'm only a 45-minute drive to Manchester. It's so important to show the country that these shows don't have to be made in London with the same type of seven voices. It's important to show that the rest of the country have a stake in satire as well.

I'm really looking forward to recording this show in front of a live audience. As someone who's been in stand-up for nine years from playing in a basement to four people to opening Trevor Noah's show at the O2 in front of 15,000 people and everything in between, there's nothing like it.

I'm hoping that the people who do come and watch appreciate the fact that this is a northern show, I want northern people to come out and enjoy it. I want them to come and realise that this is a show made for them with authentic voices and I want them to feel like this is their show.

And you're recording very close to TX aren't you?

Yes. We record on Wednesday night and the show goes out on Channel 4 on Thursday night so it's an overnight edit. As I said earlier, we've already got some pre-recorded sketches so the work on those is done but for the rest of the show it's a very quick turnaround. Fingers crossed that nothing major happens in those 24 hours!

The plan is to make the show super topical, there'll be a very topical moment at the top and Sophie and Adam's briefing room is going to be about stories that happened this week as well as what they're interested and passionate about. In the first week of the series we're getting a new Prime Minister, so there's a gift!

There's so much discussion around politics these days, but very few satirical political shows on British television. Why do you think that is?

Partly because of social media. A lot of takes are immediately put on social media. If you have a take on a particular issue, you can put that on Twitter and people will see it immediately. That has definitely changed the landscape slightly.

Also, the way they do it in the US is so good that we haven't managed to replicate that successfully in this country yet. I think The Mash Report is a very good show but that's probably the closest we've got to replicating those shows over here.

I'm hoping to put our show into that landscape as well and encourage people to come and check us out. What I don't want the show to be, is a mouthpiece for left-wing ideas and left-wing activism. I see it as a show that challenges people from all sides of the political spectrum. I don't want to alienate anyone who's on the reasonable political spectrum.

I want to make a show that people can engage with but equally there will be elements in the show that will piss everyone off. I take inspiration from shows like South Park, The Thick of It and Rick & Morty so make of that what you will.

You used to work at the Home Office, could you ever have imagined that this is where you'd end up?

Absolutely not. It's funny, because I've actually taken inspiration from the Home Office for the part of the show that Sophie and Adam are involved in. It's called 'The Briefing Room' because in the Home Office you brief the Ministers of State about something they want to know about. So I've got Sophie and Adam acting as my Uncivil Servants.

You tweeted the other day about it being a brilliant time in this industry for British Asians in this area of the arts, which it is, why do you think that is?

Part of it is because there are more of us now. Goodness Gracious Me was such an amazing show that inspired a whole generation of comics, including myself. Then after that we had people like Shazia Mirza, Paul Chowdhry, Paul Sinha and Imran Yusef who really paved the way for people like me to step in and do the things we want to do.

There's also been a much greater call for diversity than there's ever been, discussions in parliament, Lenny Henry standing up and giving speeches - there's a concerted effort now in television to ensure that what we see on TV is more representative of the society we live in.

Luckily there have been a few people like Romesh (Ranganathan), Nish (Kumar), Sindhu (Vee), Guz (Khan) and myself who have been able to step into that gap and say "We're British, we're here and we have a sense of humour that everyone from all corners of the country can join in with."

How do you feel to be part of the Channel 4 family?

It's unbelievable really. Channel 4 are great. I grew up watching so many shows on Channel 4 like The 11 O'Clock Show, The Ali G Show, The Day Today and Father Ted - all so synonymous with Channel 4's unique brand of humour.

The BBC are probably one of the greatest institutions this country has ever had, but for good reason there are things you can't say on the BBC or certain positions that they won't allow you to take so I especially like working with Channel 4 because they allow me to take more risks and be bolder in the sort of things I want to say.

And those views and that humour do belong on Channel 4 and I'm really really glad and grateful for this opportunity.

The first series is only three episodes long, I'm assuming you'd want to continue beyond that?

Absolutely. Hopefully this will just be one of many many series to come. Normally they just give you a pilot and you don't know whether you're coming or going, but three episodes is meaty enough to really get my teeth into.

I understand why the first series is only three episodes, for someone who doesn't have ample amounts of experience in this world it's not too intimidating. Three is a good number, I want to do the best that I can do and hopefully make a good show that they'll want us back.

What would you like people to take away from The Tez O'Clock Show?

I want them to treat is as a mirror to society and I want them to see that the world we live in is peculiar and so mad and this is our personal funny take on it and I hope they realise it's not mocking or laughing at any one section of society, it's a taking a look at everything and everyone.

With this show, The Big Narstie Show and The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan it does feel like TV is finally changing. Do you feel that as well?

Definitely and it's so exciting to be part of that wave. Mo (Gilligan) is someone that I've known for the best part of 8 years. He's such an incredible talent and it's so amazing for him to be in that space that Graham Norton, Alan Carr and Jonathan Ross are occupying and I think Mo can be the successor to those people.

Those guys are great, but they're not going to be around forever so someone like Mo is exactly the sort of person who should take their place. He's got an authentic, fresh voice that people can relate to. But above all he's so funny.

I'm doing something slightly different to him but to be part of that movement is exciting.

Will we be seeing you doing more stand-up?

I didn't go the Edinburgh Festival last year and I'm not going this year either but the plan is to go back next summer with a national tour off the back of it. Once this series finishes I'll take a couple of weeks off, recharge my batteries and from September I'm planning to be back with a vengeance with new material.

Let's talk about your Channel 4 sitcom pilot Bounty, which has been watched almost 400,000 times on YouTube, will that be coming back?

Channel 4 were very happy with the pilot and there are a couple of things they want to try with it, but people seemed to really enjoy it looking at social media and I think Channel 4 are aware of that. So hopefully, fingers crossed we'll have some good news to report on that in a few weeks time.

And Man Like Mobeen is coming back!

Yes! That show is so much fun, it's become a real cult hit and the third series promises to be even bigger and better. I'm just interested and intrigued to see where the story is going to go because I have no idea and I've told Guz (Khan) to not tell me anything until we get into the rehearsal room, so I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens.

The Tez O'Clock Show starts Thursday 25th July at 11pm on Channel 4


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