What is your show about?
Britain Today Tonight a spoof American news show that looks at Britain today... tonight.
What it really is, is my attempt at trying to do pranks that are topical. It's kind of taking the humble prank and making it something that is informed by current affairs.
I play a host of characters. The anchor man is directly inspired by Fox News and Bill O'Reilly - that kind of bullish Republican presenting style. Then the reporters I play are kind of international. There's an Australian reporter, English reporters, Scottish...
We just kind of picked a topic, and then I figured out how we make it into a prank that is topical. Spying, social media, diversity in casting, gays in sport, the gender pay gap, sugar tax, etc... there's loads of topics!
The anchor man has a great name - Douglas 'Digger' Daley. How long do you spend devising the names?
I put as little effort into coming up with the names as possible. They usually hold me in good stead.
In the past I'd call up someone on the telephone and make up the name on the spot. For example, I was pretending to be a dodgy second-hand car salesman, and Terry Tibbs just came out. Same with Brian Badonde and George Agdgdgwngo. These are all just names that feel right when I say it... and we're off.
When writing the characters, do you think about the make-up implications?
It's always about three and a half hours in make-up, so I don't think about that. Once I decide who the character is going to be, it's then I talk to my make-up guy [Kristyan Mallett] and we go through pictures of real people and go 'oh, that's a good nose' or 'that's good hair'... so we have that discussion and then design that character together.
Have you ever thought about robbing a bank? You'd probably get away with it!
Kristyan was telling me about some of the amazing things he's been asked to do, in terms of people not in the industry wanting prosthetics of various things. He hasn't yet had any bank robbers approach him, but he has had a nudist approach him who wanted a prosthetic penis extension so he'd look more impressive on the beach!
In this new show, you're in very close proximity to some of those you're pranking.
Once the prosthetics are on, then the paranoia begins. 'Oh god, are they going to believe me?', 'Am I going to be funny today?'... the list of anxieties is endless. But that all builds the adrenaline, and I guess it's about concentration really doing a prank like that.
You're in character for seven or eight hours and you're just focused on the other person you're talking to. It's not so much about doing jokes, it's 'manipulation', and always understanding where they're at with you, because the first thing you have to do is win their trust.
It's easier when there's a hidden camera because they don't know they're being filmed, but you still have to pace yourself. You can't just jump straight in and do something funny as they'll go 'what is this?' You'll spook them and you won't get the best out of them. So, for me, it's about winning their trust, then you can do more kind of 'jokey jokes'. So that's the process.
I've always felt the same anxiety and paranoia going into a prank because you're always thinking 'I'm asking them to believe that I'm not a 38 year-old Iranian guy but a 60 year-old Caucasian guy, or a 45 year-old Australian guy...'
The people you prank seem to come off in a good light. In the first episode you prank some teenagers, who seemed universally polite.
All the guys I met that day were the loveliest teens. Basically, they all got set up by one of their mentors at the youth club. He was a fan, and we approached him as we wanted to do one of these things where I play a spy who is trying to get youths to decode messages [in youth speak on social media]. So we went to this place, and they were all sweethearts. Most of the guys I met are in the hit in some shape or form, but you can't have them all in there as there's eight hours of footage!
8 hours for just one sketch in one episode?
Yeah, that's a days worth of filming right there.
Does anyone refuse to appear in the show after they've been filmed?
Yeah, that's always part and parcel of trying to carve comedy out of real life situations. Not everyone is going to want to play along at the end of the day, not everyone is going to go 'oh you pranked me, of course I'd love to be on TV!'
Sometimes it is really frustrating as it was a great hit and they were hilarious, but they are shy and are like 'no, no, I don't want to be seen in this light'. Not that they'd ever be seen in a bad light. I feel like I'm the one playing the idiot, and they're the ones showing me I'm being an idiot.
Indeed. Who reveals to them they've just been pranked?
My producers do it. It would be confusing if I suddenly changed voice. So, yeah, they leave the room and the producers let them know what happened. Sometimes they then want to meet me because they're like 'I love Fonejacker, I love Facejacker', and then I'm able to say to them 'you were great'.
You're not really on social media yourself?
I'm not a big social media guy. I am on Instagram, but not on Facebook or anything. I've just never got in to it. I think it eats up a lot of your time, or it can do, managing that side of things. Some people love tweeting day and night, but I'm not one of those guys.
You'll like this then... we are doing a TV version of that. We're in development now.
It's quite a delicate transition, but I promise it will be a bonus of laughs as opposed to a completely new concept. My plan is to make a TV show that you can just listen to anyway, so it won't lose that sense of imagination that the radio brings, where you imagine what's going on.
You know the person whose voicemail it is, but you don't see them. It'll be a multi-character show with various layers, and a potential animation element. We're experimenting right now; figuring out what the best way to execute that will be. There will be an optimum way of doing it.
I'm really excited to be doing it, as I love doing that show.
You'd presumably be up for doing more Britain Today Tonight too?
Absolutely. The first series of anything is the hardest to crack, as you're re-writing the rulebook, but it feels good. It still makes me laugh - I've watched it about 50 times [to edit it] - so that's a good thing. And there's always many more characters in me, so watch this space.
Britain Today Tonight is on Channel 4 on Fridays at 10pm.