British Comedy Guide

Josh. Image shows from L to R: Kate (Beattie Edmondson), Josh (Josh Widdicombe), Geoff (Jack Dee), Owen (Elis James). Copyright: BBC.

Josh

BBC Three sitcom about a luckless loser. 19 episodes (pilot + 3 series), 2014 - 2017. Stars Josh Widdicombe, Elis James, Beattie Edmondson and Jack Dee.

Next new episode is on Monday. Series 3, Episode 4
Catch-up on Episode 3 on BBC iPlayer   Series 3, Episode 3 is repeated on BBC1 on Friday at 11:25pm

Josh. Josh (Josh Widdicombe). Copyright: BBC.

Josh Widdicombe interview

We chat to Josh Widdicombe about the third series of his sitcom; the ongoing success of The Last Leg; and whether he regrets getting that tattoo on Taskmaster...

Josh is back for Series 3. When we last spoke to you, you were just gearing up for Series 1 and excited about getting your first sitcom on air. Are you more jaded now?

No, still excited!

It's the best series. It obviously doesn't replace the excitement of the first one, but you do go: 'hey, you get better at these things'.

It's like... I went to the Fringe this year and came away thinking "I think I've seen the best set of shows that I've ever seen in Edinburgh", and then I was like: "Oh no, wait, I'll tell you what's happened... All my friends have done like five shows, so they've just got really good."

So you found this one easier to write?

You know the characters. I think, when you start, you're a stand-up and you don't realise quite what a different discipline writing a sitcom is. It's like the equivalent of the UFC guy - Conor McGregor - who did boxing. It's not a million miles from that kind of thing, of it feeling like it's probably the same thing, but actually it's a completely different discipline.

So you're learning a new skill when you start. You get better at this skill of just knowing how to write a sitcom. You certainly don't know what you're doing, because you never know what you're doing. Same with stand-up; you never know what you're doing, that's kind of why it's fun to do. Because whenever you think you've got it, that's when you're a day away from making the biggest cock up in weeks.

Josh. Image shows from L to R: Kate (Beattie Edmondson), Josh (Josh Widdicombe), Geoff (Jack Dee), Owen (Elis James). Copyright: BBC.

What can we expect from Series 3?

Jennifer Saunders is back [for a guest appearance] and Elis James gets naked. We've got Diana Vickers too, playing 'Diana Vickers', who goes out with Elis, which is a fun episode.

It's definitely the best series. It's more of an ensemble piece. We've tried to give everyone their own storylines and make Owen less of a foil for Josh and give him his own issues.

We also see Josh in the world of being a comedian more, which we wanted to explore. And we meet his agent, who is played by Tom Allen, which is fun.

So, if you were to go back in time to speak to Series 1 you, what sort of tips would you give yourself?

"It's not as much about the jokes; it's about the characters and the consistency of the characters and the narrative holding together."

I think, now we kind of 'get' the characters more, and we get how to get the jokes out of them as well, it's not just 'jokes out of the jokes'.

It's interesting you mention this series was the least stressful. You had a bit more time to write it?

Series 2 was the most stressful because I was on tour for the first half of the writing process, and I thought "Do you know what, it's fine, you only do a couple of hours work in the evening. I'll just write in the day." Then you realise how draining a gig in the evening is...

That was a real lesson. "Oh, actually that dead time on tour isn't dead time. That is your relaxing time."

And so, we did that for a few months, and it was really stressful. It was great after that but that was probably the most stressed I've ever been as a comedian. I got into comedy not to be stressed!

Josh. Image shows from L to R: Josh (Josh Widdicombe), Owen (Elis James), Kate (Beattie Edmondson), Judith Anderson (Jennifer Saunders). Copyright: BBC.

How has the writing process worked this series, between you and co-writer Tom Craine?

It's really nice because I wasn't gigging and I live quite near Tom and we'd just meet up. We were never that far behind so we were never having to do evenings. It was like having an office job. We were writing ten till five... so not a proper office job. Ha ha.

We'd have a lunch break and it was a really nice existence. That said, I'd happily not see him for a couple of months now. Ha ha.

You've got a reputation within the industry of working regularly and in a disciplined way, in terms of penning your stand-up material...

I like hard work but I always think it should be fun. You hear about people that work on comedy TV shows where it's really intense and stressful and everyone's taking it super seriously, and you just go "I don't think I'm at my best unless I'm having a laugh." I don't think, if you're in a stressful situation, you're at your funniest.

So I think you've got to work hard but you've also not got to make it too serious. You can't take it too seriously, do you know what I mean? You can be professional but you can also have fun.

People do work in different ways, but for me 'never make it like a stress' or you're not gonna be funny. But do take it professionally I suppose.

Josh. Image shows from L to R: Owen (Elis James), Josh (Josh Widdicombe). Copyright: BBC.

You mentioned Elis gets naked again in the new series. Do you write that sort of stuff in without asking him?

We have this shower scene with Elis... we didn't ask him, but he's so proud of his body that I think he would probably have had it written in anyway just to get [his chest] out.

He's got an astonishingly good body these days. They could do a calendar of comedian bods... which isn't the worst idea in the world! I'd say Elis is second to Joel Dommett in terms of being ripped, but you don't notice it until he takes his top off.

It's a modern thing, comedians taking care of their bodies? The older generation were all pints and service station pies rather than smoothies and gyms...

Yeah, I know. I wish I was the previous generation. Ha ha.

No, I decided not to drink for the length of filming and so did Elis. That's the longest I've gone without drinking as an adult. Obviously it had more of an impact on his body than mine!

But, yeah, it was probably the most clean living period of my life filming the third series, and I'm sure there's a fifty year-old comedian somewhere that will read that and think that I'm everything that's wrong with modern comedy.

The most interesting thing is I thought I was going to love my first drink back. But it actually took me two or three times drinking to really get back into it. But I finally got the hang of it!

So the wrap party wasn't like 'quick, get to the bar!'...

It was, but then you were like "Is this all it's cracked up to be?".

I went to the cricket the day after. I had my first pint at 12 o'clock and I thought 'this is gonna be great' but I was like... you know when you're a teenager, and like 'it doesn't actually taste that good does it?'.

All that training I've done to like beer, I've had to start again!

It's interesting you went to the cricket... so you're still keeping an eye on sports? [Josh was a sports journalist before becoming a comedian]

I've always liked sport but I don't really like talking about it... that's why I had to get out of that job... I come from a purely fan's point of view.

I'm only really into about three sports in real life. I really like football and cricket; oh, so two sports. I'm only into two sports!

But yeah, I think that's the thing when you work in an area, it suddenly becomes like work. I would never watch comedy when I get home. People will go "Have you watched the new series of Modern Family?", and you go "No, because I spent my day working on a sitcom. I don't want to watch one that's better, that's not relaxing."

Quickly Kevin. Image shows from L to R: Frank Skinner, Unknown, Josh Widdicombe, Chris Scull.

Talking of football though. Quickly Kevin, your podcast about 1990s football, is back for a new series.

Yeah. It's something I did for fun, and it's probably the thing people now talk to me most about... perhaps mainly because I hang around with middle-aged men.

Frank Skinner is the guest on the first episode [of Series 2]. I just thought it would be fun to interview some nineties footballers and then invite comedians that I'm friends with to talk about nineties football. It's got a bit out of hand really!

The Last Leg is back on Channel 4 now for Series... er, is it Series 12?

It depends if you count the Paralympic ones. There's a lot of debate because we had our hundredth show and it was like 'do you count the ones that were part of Stand Up for Cancer? Do you count the Paralympic ones?'

Also 'Do you count the two in Australia?'... Which definitely shouldn't get counted! Ha ha. The tapes should be destroyed.

But yeah I suppose,the twelfth, or thirteenth ...

The Last Leg. Image shows from L to R: Josh Widdicombe, Adam Hills, Alex Brooker.

When the series number is in the double digits, that's a signal it's become a long-running show!

Yeah, Alex sent me a photo from his Facebook Time Hop or whatever it's called ... it was a photo of five years to the day we finished that first Paralympic series. It feels like we got old, didn't it. Ha ha. I was 29. You sign up for something for just ten episodes... and it becomes what will be written in your obituary.

But yeah, it's still going strong. All shows go up and then down, I certainly don't feel like we're on a down yet.

I have also made my peace with that graph. I've kinda gone 'there's going be a point where I've done too many of these and people get bored of it'. But it's not yet.

When it is, we've had a great innings. We've done some amazing things, we've had some brilliant people on it.

It's still wildly popular, we can't see it ending any time soon Josh; well unless you, Alex and Adam fall out soon...

Oh there's other shows where that hasn't stopped them carrying on. Ha ha.

It's a really fun thing to be involved in. Long may it continue. There's Tokyo in 2020. Will we still be going? Maybe we'll do a comeback! I don't know what 2024 is ... Oh, I do! Paris 2024, Los Angeles 2028. Paris... commutable from my house!

The Last Leg. Image shows from L to R: Josh Widdicombe, Alex Brooker, Adam Hills. Copyright: Open Mike Productions.

When it does end, do you think it will have been you calling the time on the format, or do you think it will be the channel axing it?

I've just got a new mortgage, so I imagine it will be the channel. Ha ha.

No, honestly, it feels like it could go on for ages and ages.

It's weird though. I think it's because I've had some time off from it. When you're doing it you're like 'Argh, I fucking need a break!', and then you stop doing it and you're like 'I wish we had been on air for that day when the woman fell out the window during her Tinder date'.

I honestly think Adam has been at home going "I wish we were on air for all this stuff about Kim Jong-un", and I'm going "I wish we were on air for the woman that fell out a window". Ha ha.

You could be live on air this series and have to announce to the nation that North Korea has launched a nuke at us...

There was an awful episode, a dreadful episode. About twenty minutes into the episode, if not less, Adam gets in his ear "There's been a coup in Turkey". Now, I have no idea what the political situation is in Canada, let alone Turkey. So I'm thinking "Is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing?" I don't know who the Prime Minister or President or King or Queen of Turkey is, so the last thing I need is a breaking news story of that magnitude. We are not equipped to deal with breaking news!

The Last Leg. Image shows from L to R: Alex Brooker, Adam Hills, Josh Widdicombe. Copyright: Open Mike Productions.

It does feel like an almost bullet-proof format though. You have had to go air after some horrible and controversial things that it would have looked odd if you didn't reference...

I think the first one we did where we changed everything in that sense was Oscar Pistorius. That week there was a lot of debate everywhere. We weren't even going mention it; but - of course - looking back now, we had to. But at the time it was like, 'do we?'

I think we dealt with it well. And I think by 'we', I mean 'Adam'. I think he's very good in those situations and I think after that it meant we suddenly became the show that will talk about these things. I think there's some things that we shouldn't be doing in the sense that ... Natural disasters and stuff like that; I think when it's just a tragedy there's no real comment to it.

It still needs to be a news story where there's variance to interpretation, if you know what I mean? I think if someone dies, what is there to say really? It's sad. I don't think we should become a kind of a reportage. It still needs to be a discussion or something. Like I don't know what we'd have done with hurricanes and stuff, because like what is there to say? It's just sad and grim.

Well, for your hope, we hope there's loads of Tinder dates going wrong out there about now!

Yeah, that's what I need.

So what is next after The Last Leg? A rest, perhaps? Or a tour?

Stand-up? I'm having this year off stand-up, then it takes a year to write a tour really. Or it shouldn't, but I'd quite like it to take a year. Ha ha. So probably 2019.

Oh, you're also filming the Taskmaster Champion of Champions specials in November, having won Series 1...

It's a brilliant, great show. Alex is amazing. Greg is amazing. It's probably the most fun I've had on anything I've done so I'm looking forward to going back and listening to Rob Beckett.

Taskmaster. Image shows from L to R: Tim Key, Greg Davies, Alex Horne. Copyright: Avalon Television / UKTV.

In your series of the show everyone was just learning the format. Now it's established, having watched subsequent series, do you have a better sense of what you can get away with?

Like I say, I don't watch comedy. Has it changed much?

Er... you probably need to watch it Josh if you want to win!

I remember bumping into Tim Key after our first day filming... And he'd realised I was doing them seriously and he was trying to do them funny, and he was like "that's gonna change my method".

I feel like a football manager who hasn't managed anyone in twenty years and they come back and all their methods are out of date. That's gonna be me!

I have seen a few episodes. I watched the one where Katherine Ryan was singing to the Mayor of Chesham. I did worry at that point. I don't want to have to be forced into singing!

I don't think I'll win. I put money on Rob Beckett.

Out of all the series, you've still won a task in the most convincing fashion... by getting a tattoo of Greg's name!

Do you know what? Of all the things I've done I don't really regret it at all. It's painful, but good point though. It'll be quite interesting to see if I could use it in another task.


Series 3 of Josh is now on BBC Three. iPlayer. Episodes are repeated on BBC One on Fridays at 11:25pm.

Find out more about Josh's 90s football podcast via quicklykevin.com

The Last Leg is live on Channel 4 on Fridays at 10pm.

Taskmaster Champion of Champions will be filmed this November for broadcast on Dave at a later date.

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Published: Monday 2nd October 2017