Ben Miller interview
Ben Miller is currently starring in the new election-comedy, Ballot Monkeys. Written by Drop the Dead Donkey and Outnumbered creators Guy Jenkin and Andy Hamilton, the show is written close to transmission and sees Miller star alongside Hugh Dennis and Sarah Hadland.
How do you feel about starring in Ballot Monkeys?
I’m thrilled about it. It’s such an unusual project, and it’s great to take part in the election process. Also, it’s wonderful to be involved in something that takes risks, and Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin have never been afraid of taking risks.
You have worked with Andy and Guy before on the film, What We Did on Our Holiday. What makes their work so special?
I’ve loved their stuff for years. I adored Drop the Dead Donkey. That show defined Channel 4 at the time; it was so inventive and off the leash. There is a real intelligence to what Andy and Guy do, but at the same time it’s very accessible. They’re brilliant.
Talk us though your character.
I’ve got such rich pickings playing a Lib Dem. Kevin is compromised on all levels, personally and politically. Keeping the campaign on the road is a major struggle for Kevin.
Are you nervous about shooting on the day the show goes out?
Yes, but it’s also really exciting doing it like this. It involves keeping your diary free and reacting to whatever happens. Shows are usually prepared months, if not years in advance. So the immediacy of this is terrific. It’ll be such fun to watch something go out just hours after we’ve shot it.
What are the other major challenges you face making this show?
We’re going to be hard-pushed to make it funnier than the actual election. It’s such an extraordinary thing. Having followed politics all my adult life, I’ve never experienced anything like this election. We went into the last election still believing there could be a majority government, but now we have no idea how it will turn out.
Tell us more.
I love the way the parties are not really bothering to put anything in their manifestos. It’s as if they’re saying, ‘We’ll probably do something a bit like this. But let’s face it; we’re not going to win so there’s no point saying what we’ll do in more detail. You know the kind of thing we do. If you fancy a stab at that, feel free.’ I’ve never known anything like it. There’s going to be a wealth of material for Andy and Guy to draw on.
What will be the outcome of the actual election, do you think?
We know that after the ballot all kinds of deal-making will be done. At the moment the parties are saying they’d refuse to form a coalition, but if they stuck to that, then it would be pointless having an election at all. If they won’t form a coalition, what are we bothering about? We’re in completely virgin territory for British elections, and it’s absolutely hilarious. That’s why it’s such a good subject for Andy and Guy to tackle.
What comic elements have caught your eye in politics lately?
I loved it when the entire backdrop completely collapsed at a recent UKIP event. But now they’re looking a bit tame. They’ve not pushed it enough on the slapstick front. They’ll have to up their game. As Nigel Farage is talking to a factory worker, I’d like to see his tie get caught in a piece of dangerous equipment which proceeds to drag him across the factory floor. They need to go all out for the slapstick.
What do you think that viewers might take away from Ballot Monkeys?
Hopefully it’ll be another way that people can engage with the democratic process. Much as I respect Russell Brand’s point of view, I’m in the opposite camp to him about voting. I think it’s enormously important to engage with the electoral process. I’m a voter. This show is also a chance to explore the personal lives of politicians. We so rarely get a glimpse of them. Everything in politics is so stage-managed. The machinery is so effective. But I think there is a real appetite to know what’s going on behind the scenes, and Ballot Monkeys will feed that.
Ballot Monkeys airs on Tuesdays at 10pm on Channel 4.