Lucy Trodd and Ruth Bratt star in Radio 4's newest and freshest sketch show - Trodd en Bratt Say 'Well Done You'. The show looks set to become a hit, although that's perhaps not a surprise considering the live show from which this series has sprung once had to be stopped as there was concern someone in the audience was having a medical emergency - it turned out they were just laughing too hard.
BCG met up with the stars to find out more about their origins, to discuss how the radio show came about, and what they plan to do next:
Hi Lucy and Ruth. How did you first meet?
Lucy: We have several fake scenarios in our radio show for how we met, like up a tree... but you better tell the real one Ruth.
Ruth: We met doing Showstopper!, which is an improvised musical. After a while, I started to stay over at Lucy's...
Lucy: You borrowed my pants once, which you still have!
How long was it between meeting each other, and starting to work together as a double-act?
Ruth: It was a while. I'm quite stand-off-ish. It takes me a while to warm-up. Lucy's husband is in Showstopper! as well, so when I first joined they seemed to be very much a unit, and I didn't really know anyone apart from Pippa Evans. All the other people had worked with Ken Campbell and seemed to know each other, but I really didn't and I had been resisting it for ages...
Lucy: Yeah, I was with the Ken Campbell lot. We used to do these really random improvised late night shows - we did some at the Royal Court where we just occupied this space and used the scenery that was spare and would just make up a play or something on the set. We used to make up songs within the Ken shows as well, and that was always really popular. I'm wracking my brains as to how the two of us started writing though...
Ruth: Well, there was that first Edinburgh where I was doing my solo show and I think we just made each other laugh. I think that's all it was, we made each other laugh.
Lucy: I remember you coming around to the flat in Kentish Town and that was when we put on the wigs. We had my tape recorder thing - we'd make up characters and then we'd play it back and then write it down.
Ruth: Yeah, we were working towards a show... and then Lucy done a baby.
Lucy: I didn't mean to!
Ruth: She was like "it's due in August... but it's fine, I can still do Edinburgh". And I was like "no, no you can't!".
Lucy: My son was born on the 13th August in the end. He has yet to have a birthday in England. He's going to be 4 in Edinburgh this year.
Later we did go to Spain with Pippa and went up a mountain - well, a little hill - and did some writing there. We had a whole name for another show. It was when the second world war was a trendy topic - it was called Gig For Victory.
Ruth: We didn't do it in the end, which is lucky because someone else used that title that year.
Lucy: It's always the risk isn't it - you'll go up to Edinburgh and there'll be loads of shows called the same thing. 'Trodd en Bratt' for example, ha ha.
Um, yes, that is quite a unique name...
Ruth: We thought it was really funny, because it sounds like treading on something.
Lucy: I used to have a flatmate who would graffiti all my mail. 'Lucy Trodd... on a pin and it hurt', 'Lucy Trodd... through the valley of darkness'.
Ruth: We thought it'd be funny, like Salmon En Croute... but it's been the bain of our life!
Lucy: Everytime we're introduced we have to explain to the compere how to say it and they'll go "yes, yes I've got it".... then go "and welcome to the stage Tod and Bet".
So when did you first actually perform together?
Lucy: It was downstairs at The Albany, and Ruth was wearing her bee outfit. We did this sketch behind the bar - the whole sketch was about not mentioning the fact she was wearing a bee outfit. It wasn't very good, but it was our first one!
Ruth: So that was in 2009, because then we were going to go to Edinburgh in 2010 but then Lucy got pregnant and had Albert. In 2011 he was too young, so 2012 was our first Edinburgh show together.
That 2012 show was actually what won you the radio series...
Ruth: Yes, just going up to Edinburgh and getting a radio series on the first go is very unusual. But we've both performed in Edinburgh for a number of years, so it didn't feel like a first show for me; it felt like it had been a long time coming. In fact, that was my 10th Edinburgh in a row.
Lucy: We found out at Christmas that we had got the commission and I remember driving home with my mum saying [though sobs] "no. one. has. ever. said. yes. to. me. before." Ha ha.
That was a while ago... but the series is only just ready now. That's a long development process. Has the wait been frustrating?
Ruth & Lucy in unison: Yes!
Ruth: Frustrating in a good way, we should add. It's just a slow process. That's partly to do with how far in advance things are commissioned, but also because we wrote it all ourselves. We didn't want any other writers on board, until right at the end when we got Jon Hunter to be our Script Editor. I think that's quite un-usual to do a sketch series with just the two of you and no one else. It's partly because we didn't think about it. Once we'd got to the point where they were saying "well, you could get writers?", we were like "fuck off!"... ha ha.
Lucy: Ruth used to live with Anna Crilly and we know Bridget Christie from the circuit a bit, and they were like "have they tried to make you have a male script editor yet?". I guess there was a bit of flying the feminist flag. But then we did get a man in the end! We did interview a lot of people, but just Jon stood out as being amazing. He just knows everything about comedy.
Ruth: The comedy scientist! He got exactly what we're looking to do and he's really funny too. We were trying to do something a bit different - he got a lot of our signature characters and made them even better and even weirder.
He was like 'why aren't you being weirder?' and we'd say 'oh, really? OK!'. I think sometimes you can be pulled back from the weird and become homogenised. We started to realise how dark some of our stuff is...
You say dark, but the show is also really warm and upbeat.
Lucy: We were very aware not to be a female double-act who didn't get on. "We're going to do this next sketch now but we've had a massive row". It's not interesting, and in real life we're friends - in fact Ruth is the Godmother of my child. Oh, can you be his emergency contact on a school form I've got to fill in by the way Ruth?
Ruth: Did you ask me that in public so I can't say 'no'? ha ha. But, yes, most female double acts like each other - I don't know any that don't like each other. There's a real expectation though that they're going to bicker and are not going to get on. We really didn't want that at all.
Lucy: It's really common, when you learn about improvisation - we do workshops with Showstopper! - there is a natural tendency to go toward conflict as people think it's interesting. It's a default setting of British people, so I guess you have to strive against that.
Ruth: There's that Morecambe & Wise quote: "I'll be the tall one, you'll be the short one but we'll both be idiots". That's basically what we are.
Did you have to change much from the live shows?
Ruth: Yeah. We've got some characters that we really love - we tried to adapt them for the radio but it just wasn't the same thing. For example, we play two terrified air hostesses - they don't say anything, they just shake. We tried to vocalise it a bit, but it never took off.
Lucy: It'll probably make...
Ruth: I did a pun! You didn't notice! "Took off". Get it?
Lucy: You never do puns! People who do puns tend to flag them up!
People have said that we're clowns as well. Those particular characters were just clowns - we'd turn around and just have smeared make up - it was so visual. You can find you get a bit exposition heavy on the radio. "Oh, so I see you're wearing a t-shirt".
Ruth: We tended to overwrite then cut it all back. That process worked for us. Write everything down and then say 'no one needs to know that'.
Lucy: One thing I do love about radio is it allows you to go anywhere. You don't need the budget for it.
Ruth: It's amazing what you can do with a sound effect. There were some things we got really specific about - like it has to be a specific shop bell. Jerry Peal who does the sound is so brilliant. We were literally sitting there auditioning fart notices for like half an hour. "No, too wet"... "That one sounds too much like a floorboard", "I like that one, but can it be a quieter one"... ha ha ha. So we have a lot of freedom in that respect. We got very good at not having wigs - that was the thing you were worried about Lucy...
Lucy: I was really attached to costume when we started out. That first preview we did in the Camden Head: we had wellies and hats and it would take ages between sketches. We've taken on parts of each other's performance habits now. I've definitely become a bit more lackadaisical.
Talking of visual comedy, would you like to bring the show to television too?
Lucy: Er... I think that would be really nice. I'm 6'1, sometimes I think I've just got to write my own stuff, because sometimes I feel like I don't fit into other people's shows.
Ruth: It's kind of a double-edged sword because, yes, of course, a TV series would be amazing, and it would be brilliant and it would be fantastic, but it [the development process] can be even slower than radio. There's also something really wonderful about live.
Lucy: I think we'd always like to keep that live element in it. Some of the best bits in our radio show are the gifts you get from the audience and just using improv skills to rift off them.
Ruth: But yeah, TV would be brilliant. Yes please.
Looking across the last five years, most TV sketch shows that have appeared have been criticised. It's a tough medium for sketch.
Ruth: I think if you're going to do a TV sketch show it needs to be somehow different from what's been before. Much in the same way we wanted the radio show to be different. You don't want to reinvent the wheel, but also I think our stuff is character not sketch. We're not interested in the situation or the logic, we're more interested in the characters.
Lucy: If you love a character you want to be with them for a while. There was that French & Saunders one that was 9 minutes long - it was the one where Jennifer Saunders was having a breakdown at a dinner party and she's burnt everything - Lenny Henry and Ade Edmondson are there as well...
Ruth: Nine minutes! You'd not see a nine minute sketch on TV now. With the radio show, some of ours are long, and there were 'discussions' about that.
Lucy: We've got about three episodes of material left over!
Ruth: Our stuff has always been about pushing patience and creating interesting laughs.
Lucy: With Momma and Lily [the duo's hillbilly characters] I was always interested why people were laughing, because initially you think they're laughing at this sort of massive child who is a bit slow, but then they're sort of laughing at the situation, and you can just feel them changing sides, and I love that.
Ruth: ... and people then getting worried why they are laughing. When Lucy was pregnant we were doing it and it made it more uncomfortable as she was then a massive pregnant child, and there were just moments where you could see the audience catching themselves.
Lucy: That's the joy of Edinburgh as well - you get to do a sketch so many times that you get to read an audience and try variations. I just love the magic of live performance and the chemistry.
The radio show is likely to make lots of people want to come and see you perform live. Do you have any dates lined up?
Lucy: Well, we've had a bit of a break...
Ruth: Yeah, we were spending so much time with each other we needed a break.
Lucy: I knew where Ruth was every minute of the day. We were sharing calendars, and not really seeing our partners. It gets to the point where it's like 'this is probably a bit much'.
Ruth: So we're not doing Edinburgh this year, apart from Showstopper! [pictured]. I'd quite like to do an Edinburgh in London though....
Lucy: I don't know how it works actually... would you do new stuff? Or would people want to see something they've already heard?
It's probably a mix of the two...
Lucy: This is a topic we were conscious of when compiling the radio show. There's four episodes - so for people who tune in for every episode, we hope there's enough for them to enjoy the progression of some of the characters' journeys. But, also, if you're just tuning in for one hopefully you'll feel included.
Ruth: We'll probably wait to see the reaction before booking any dates. In the meatime people can see us in Showstopper!. That's on Sundays until the 13th July at Underbelly Southbank. Then we're up to Edinburgh with the show. That's on the 30th July to 24th August at the Gilded Balloon. Lucy is there till the 17th, and I'm in it from the 8th.
Trodd en Bratt Say "Well Done You" is on Radio 4 on Thursdays at 11pm, from the 19th June. Find out more or listen again via the BBC website