Interview: Jonny Sweet and Nick Mohammed

Obviously  being in Footlights must've played quite a role in both of your comedy careers but do you think that ‘being funny' is simply in the genes? Are your parents hilarious too?

NM: It's not in the genes sadly. I overheard my Mum talking to a Greek relative about what it was I was doing now... This is the conversation verbatim (loosely translated): ‘No, no, he's doing comedy now.' (A disappointed pause). ‘No, he doesn't do stand-up it's more character stuff he does: he's a comedienne'. So, not intentionally funny, no! My Dad thinks he's funny, but he's also HUGELY racist. (That's a joke, Dad).

JS: The director of a play I did recently said my Dad had "funny bones" so I guess that counts. My mum's lovely but not a HILARIOUS person. After she makes a joke she always says, "That was my little joke," which is achingly sweet because in the ‘little' we get a sense both that she knows it's not funny but that she's also deliciously proud of it!

What advice would you give to aspiring comedians currently at Cambridge?

NM: Write and gig as much as possible. I think one of the key perks of being at Cambridge University is that there are more opportunities to showcase and nurture (often pre-existing) talents and I'd encourage people to grab those chances and shake them round your head! Cambridge attracts people who want to succeed and who are deeply, deeply ambitious and I don't think that's anything to be ashamed of. This may mean getting involved with Footlights.  However, I don't think the success of many Footlights alumni is exclusively a result of being a part of Footlights. Look at Sasha Baron Cohen. He went to Cambridge but didn't partake in the Footlights' ‘route'.  You can't assume that Footlights will be an open passport to comedy success although statistically it's still one of the best ways to get ahead.

JS: Yeah, I'd agree with the bulk of that. The best advice someone ever gave me was something like: ‘You've got to basically work out what you like and don't like in comedy. Then work out what you're personally best at, how you're funniest etc. Look at a sort of Venn diagram of what you like and what you're good at, the aim for the bit in the middle, you know the bit where the circles cross over. The one day you might be able to write the next Keeping Up Appearances. Those of you not au fait with the oft-scorned subject of Venn diagrams are really going to struggle to make it in this industry.

When you were at Cambridge did work ever really feature or were you addicted to the ADC bar?

NM: Certainly in my first year, when I was studying for a PhD that was pretty tough and often meant a very surreal combination of commitments. And so I quit the PhD. Then I was free to just write comedy and get in debt, which was extremely pleasant!

JS: I don't want to sound too bad-ass but I definitely asked one or two supervisors for a 24-hour extension.

What's the worst gig you've ever done and why?

 NM: Well the Poet Laureate would probably say the show in which she fell asleep last year! I now demand that I fall asleep in ALL of her poems so - you know - touché. If you're reading…Carol Ann Duffy! Hmm. I fainted in a gig recently - that wasn't ideal. The audience thought it was part of it. But that was definitely not one of my best. Plus there was a show three years ago in which 12 people walked out. Sort of one every five minutes. Again, not ideal. I think they found the timed-sound-effect stuff I do really offensive.

JS: Worst one? Ever heard of a little graveyard-shift of a comedy venue called Girton? Man, what a bunch of stiffs. Ouchy. Me and Joe Thomas (who, bear in mind, is now a TV star, so it was very much pearls before swine - no offence Girton) did a couple of our absolute bankers in our second term at Cambridge. Man, they were zinging sketches! I imagine people still talk about them... The one where someone pretends he's invented a grapefruit? Are you kidding me? Gold dust.

Anyway, they put us in the Bingo Room. So we were doing our sketches in between rounds of bingo. Not ideal. Bear in mind it was a Narnia-themed ball, so they were by no means OBLIGED to have a Bingo Room. And yet... First sketch - minor, awkward titters. Second sketch - silence. Third sketch - loud conversation. We opted out of the last two sketches and ultimately got fucked in the Aslan Room.

What made you realise you were good enough to do comedy professionally?

NM: There are still many yet to be convinced...! My Mum for sure! I suppose signing with an agent was a turning point really. But it's only been the last couple of years that I've ever really thought of it as an actual profession. Before then, I was constantly worrying about where things were going and whether it would really work out. And even now, it can sometimes feel a bit tentative. I think it will always feel like that to some extent which is probably a good thing.

JS: I don't think I'm there yet. I think you've got to have a few big old sitcoms under your belt before you can permanently unsubscribe from the Cambridge Careers emails. Last year Edinburgh was good but you can't really build a career on an Edinburgh nowadays, I don't think. You basically just get used to never knowing if it's going to work out and, like old Moho says (bless him), that's probably absolutely fine.

Do you have a notebook, when do you write, and what inspires you?

NM: I have a little application on my phone that I add ideas to if I think of anything and am away from my computer. I always aim to write every week day if I'm not rehearsing or filming, but that doesn't always work out... Recently I've become more inspired by documentaries and reality television than watching other comedies. I quite like people-watching too and enjoy trying to reconstruct funny (and true) scenarios from my past. People like Derren Brown inspire me too. And Torvill and Dean. Genuinely..

What's the best thing about the comedian's life-style?

NM: Oh God, this is going to sound really David Brent, but ‘being my own boss'.

 Jonny played David Cameron in When Boris Met Dave. Would you ever consider a career in politics?

NM: I was devastated that Jonny was chosen for this part over me. I went mad. I was like - well at least give me the part of Boris then. That got the thumbs down too. Idiots. I know they had deep, deep regrets over casting Jonny.

JS: Nick was actually up for the role of Rachel Johnson but he didn't have nearly enough ‘sass'. No, I wouldn't, ever, but someone did email me the other day saying they were going to vote for Cameron because of me and I almost gave up acting on the spot.

If you couldn't be a comedian what would you want to do for a living?

NM: Hmm. Stunt man was always top of my list when I was at school. Don't really have the physique though. And Om Puri already has a double apparently.

JS: I reckon I'd be a bad novelist, or a publisher, or a literary agent or, if I really got my finger out, a barrister but I still genuinely believe I'm going to marry money.

 Do people find you funny in real life?

JS: Are you kidding me? Mate, this shit is REAL. I rip the roof off every time. Genuinely. I wish I had a Boswell figure to note all this stuff down.  It's dynamite.

 What are your most serious aspirations in life?

NM: Gosh. GSOH.

JS: I'm with Nick on this one...

How does the Cambridge comedy scene compare to being funny for a living in the real world?

JS: Cambridge is a perfect preparation in that people don't laugh if they don't like it, but when they do laugh, they're incredibly supportive. That's why I like coming back; they're a discerningly vociferous bunch.

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