Circuit Training

Circuit Training 72: Thom Tuck, Talking Shop

Thom Tuck

Just before the Edinburgh Fringe I had a quick chat with Thom Tuck, which turned out to be even quicker than originally planned due to his phone cutting out just as talk turned to the Disney corporation - how very sinister. Still, we did power through a fair few topics along the way, including a then-exclusive: tantalising news of a forthcoming radio comeback for his much-loved sketch troupe The Penny Dreadfuls.

Tuck admitted that he was "once again trying to win the Robin Ince award for being too fucking busy" at the Fringe, and he certainly packed a lot in, with a free solo show - The Square Root of Minus One - plus putting on and performing in a Pinter play, A Slight Ache; acting as court clerk to Tim Fitzhigham's judge in the courtroom improv This is Your Trial; staging a free one-off version of his classic show Thom Tuck goes Straight to DVD on the Fringe's final night, and reportedly performing in a car park at one point.

But we began by chatting about another Fringe legend, and that old Circuit Training bugbear, BBC comedy producers.

You picked Simon Munnery to play a mythical, omnipresent figure in your Pinter adaptation - is he something similar for your generation of comics?

In Edinburgh for one month a year he is. I had to put together a press release for it so I was trying to find quotes about Simon, and I found this interview with him in the Observer, about Attention Scum [his 2001 series co-created with Stewart Lee], and apparently it was cancelled before the first season had even been on! They'd had a change of controller at BBC Two or something, who'd gone 'nah, not allowed any more, you're not going to get a second go.'

I wish someone would commission something good at the moment. Actually, saying that, Uncle on BBC Three was bloody marvellous. Well done everyone involved.

It certainly was a pleasant surprise. Is there a natural assumption that stuff on BBC Three won't be any good? I wonder if it's the garish pink logo that puts us off.

I don't - you've just seen that logo attached to so many piles of rubbish. Not even just comedy. Snog, Marry, Avoid...

What do you make of the plan to move BBC Three online?

I don't think that's a bad decision, I think that's a good commercial decision. It's nonsense that they still spend money on Radio 1. It's for kids, yeah? Who of them listens to a 'radio'?

Sketchorama. Thom Tuck. Copyright: The Comedy Unit

On to your stand-up, you went low-key and free fringe again this year, as many good people now do...

I think it's vital for the festival. It was such a delight last year with the awards: Adrienne Truscott at Bob's [Bookshop], and John [Kearns] at the Free Fringe, and Bridget [Christie] at The Stand, which isn't affiliated with the major venues. I don't have a problem with the major venues per se, but I have a problem with ticket prices in general.

I first went to the Fringe in maybe 1999, I had somewhere to sleep, paid for by the show I went with, and everything else I had to pay for, including seeing shows. But I can't think that I paid more than £300 all fringe, and that's just impossible without the free fringe for someone now. I was 17 and I want other 17 year olds to have the breadth of experience I was able to have at the Fringe.

The wealth of quality free stuff is definitely putting pressure on the more established, more expensive venues...

I don't think anything should be more than a fiver and with A Slight Ache I made it as cheap as possible, and that's a very conscious decision, because why not have people take a punt for seven quid? Midweek, that doesn't feel like a huge decision, but £14 to see a man with a microphone? Come off it.

I think one of the only things I paid for last year was that Danish physical theatre thing they had in the Pleasance Grand, Damn or something [close, it was Blam!]. God it was appalling, magnified by the fact that I'd paid. I mean everyone else in the audience seemed to like it but I thought it was absolute dross.

Speaking of infuriating shows, have you seen the much-hyped TV drama Penny Dreadful?

I haven't watched it, mainly because of an innate pocket of fury about it - ha! I hear it's very good. There are posters everywhere so I couldn't avoid it, and obviously then got a deluge of tweets going 'is this you?' No it's not. I wish I was Josh Hartnett.

The Penny Dreadfuls. Image shows from L to R: David Reed, Humphrey Ker, Thom Tuck

I think you'd fit in very nicely, it being 19th century. So what's the situation with the Penny Dreadfuls now? I've never seen it said that you've split.

We never said that. It was just that we'd done five years of shows together, and we'd had two radio series, TV hadn't come a-knocking, and I decided, regardless of whether we're going to do another Dreadfuls show, I was going to do my first solo show. It takes us so long to put on a live show, because essentially we argue about commas. It just took a long time to agree on anything, then once we'd written it we'd be like 'well, who's playing who?' A whole other argument.

It's rewarding when we did it, and by then we were in Pleasance One and selling very well. But once we decided not to go in 2011 the other two went 'ah, I'll do a show as well then.' But that was not dependent upon us never doing a show again, it just happened that way that we haven't done a live show since. The effort involved, it doesn't seem like a thing we'd do. We were talking about remounting an old show, and we've got another radio project coming up. So I don't think we'll ever break up, we've said this to each other, but we'll work with each other less and less often.

Can you talk about that radio project yet?

I think the BBC want to wait until we've got a few more decisions made on it before they announce it, but it's commissioned and will be on before the end of the year I'd imagine.

I had a feeling Humphrey was awfully busy in America?

Yes, he sold a script to CBS, and he was out there trying to push it to pilot. I don't know how that's gone, I haven't seen him since Christmas, but I think he's back in the country at the moment.

Thom Tuck

There's something about very tall people in sketch groups - John Cleese, Greg Davies...

Well, if you just stand Humphrey and me next to each other, you barely have to have a joke. We had one sketch in our first show that was essentially a lecture two people were giving about vampires, and there was nothing in it except we were standing on stage next to each other, and I was hunched over, a bit. And that was seemingly enough.

I thoroughly enjoyed your first solo show, Thom Tuck Goes Straight to DVD, in 2011, but can't seem to find the radio version anywhere...

Yeah, they've never released it. But it is, I'm told, 'acquirable.' I did it in Edinburgh the next year at the Free Fringe, in 2012, I didn't put it in the guide, I thought 'they'll come' and after about five days they did. It was full for the rest of the run, after people realised it was on.

Was there much fallout from Disney?

No, never. In fact at the first preview a few employees from Disney came - they weren't there in a legal capacity, I'd invited a mate of mine, and his sister's brother works for Disney, and he said 'ok, I'll raise some of my mates from the office.' So in the show I asked someone 'have you seen Bambi 2?' and he said 'yes, yes, I had to recut it for television.' It was his job putting the advert breaks into Bambi 2. And that was the very first preview.

And at that point the line went permanently dead, as if personally nixed by Uncle Walt (who, of course, may not be permanently dead, or so the legend goes), which was a shame. So I'll finish off by mentioning that the excellent 2013 Radio 4 series of Thom Tuck Goes Straight to DVD is available as a splendidly cheap (legal) download from that iTunes, and to check back here for more details of the new Penny Dreadfuls play.

Published: Friday 29th August 2014

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