Interview: Peacock & Gamble
Comedy nice boys Ray Peacock & Ed Gamble met at Durham University seven years ago. At the time, Ray was performing solo – and still does – while Ed was a member of sketch group The Durham Revue. “Ed was the politest member of them”, says Ray. “So I decided to be best friends with him in the end. I also needed some cheap labour for my Edinburgh show that year and he seemed the most likely to just do stuff without being paid.”
They’ve performed as Peacock & Gamble since 2009 and, to date, have released two hit podcasts – The Ray Peacock Podcast and The Peacock & Gamble Podcast – written two Fringe shows together, presented The Comedy Club on Radio 4 Extra and most recently appeared on Russell Howard’s Good News, twice. Yet by their own admission, their latest show explores “the unfortunate trend in comedy to do anything to get on telly, at any cost.” There’ll be silly sketches, too, and a special appearance from a sweary ventriloquist dummy called Naughty Keith.
AD: Hi Ray. Hi Ed. What can you tell us about the new show?
P&G: The new show is called Peacock & Gamble Don’t Even Want To Be On Telly Anyway. It is all set in our lighthouse where we live as best friends in the world, and is a thinly-veiled, petulant strop about how we are not even bothered if they don’t want to put us on the telly because we’d already decided that we didn’t even want to be on telly anyway, so now who looks stupid?
AD: Has the show developed organically during previews – and the Fringe itself – or have you found yourselves sitting down trying to write out a new half hour for the tour? What’s your writing process?
P&G: Last year we wrote four two-hour shows and performed them all once (monthly), and then cherry picked the best stuff from each show and put them together. An idiotic idea that was impressive in its magnitude, but extremely stressful and exhausting. It came about because we felt it would be unfair for an audience to have to come and see the same show every month, and we would be more likely to get repeat audience if we were doing a new one every time. Which is all well and good if the audience do come every month, but many of them didn’t. So, with that in mind, this year we decided to write a core show and work on that in preview, same show – with chops and changes on a running basis.
So, we start out with one show, un-themed, just ourselves being stupid and silly in unconnected situations. We then try and find the right order for those bits to go in so that the show feels organic. Then, we come up with a title and theme and see how much of that original show can still be incorporated into that, without it being obviously crow-barred in. Then we write around it with “glue bits” which are the linking sketches until it starts to hold itself together.
This year’s show title came from a genuine strop over a TV thing. We were having a sulk and then Ed said – as a joke – we should call our Fringe show that. It then became a running joke, and then became a fact. As with Emergency Broadcast last year, even though we establish a premise, they generally tend to be loose enough that most ideas won’t seem out of place. Ed likes to write specifics on the page and learn them, whereas Ray likes to take those specifics, half-learn them, then be forced to improvise around them in panic, thus creating comedy gold. It takes about twenty shows before Ed fully knows his lines, and about twenty-five shows for Ray to settle on which versions of his he is actually going to say.
AD: Do you think it’s becoming harder to get your work on TV – as you want it to be shown – or has it always been a laborious process? (Do you want to be on telly or not?)
P&G: It’s a difficult question to conclusively answer because the more you actually look at it, and look at the things that do and don’t get made, the more you start to realise that it would appear to be a completely arbitrary process. [pullquote_left]We’d be churlish to turn our nose up at opportunities but, by the same token, we’d be fools to vociferously pursue it as the only thing we want from this.[/pullquote_left] You see some people developing brilliant ideas for years and not getting anywhere with them, and then hear about someone else sending in a half-formed idea on a napkin and getting a full series. We totally accept that TV is a part of our own careers, and plays a part in our ambitions, but what we have learnt – and perhaps ‘remembered’ in the last twelve months – is it isn’t the be all and end all of what we wish to do as a double-act. We’d be churlish to turn our nose up at opportunities but, by the same token, we’d be fools to vociferously pursue it as the only thing we want from this.
The show, really, is about that – about the unfortunate trend in comedy to do anything to get on telly, at any cost. At its core it is a comment on that sort of primal ambition, and the embarrassment of not being part of what is trendy. It’s also two idiot underdogs proving conclusively that they would be brilliant on the telly but don’t even want to be on it anyway and those napkins are for something else if you must know.
AD: As a double act, who do you model yourselves on? What inspires you?
P&G: The double act has grown organically from the podcasts we did, particularly the Peacock & Gamble Podcast. If you listen back over those you can certainly hear how we arrived at this point.
In terms of inspiration, Cannon & Ball were a big one for Ray, but there has always been an attraction to the model taken by French & Saunders, who had the basic defined relationship in the “living room” scenes they performed together, but also were not tied to those statuses in their other work. The stage double-act is a big part of what we do as P&G but we wouldn’t like it to be set and stone whenever we are working together.
The Warm Up film we made last year was a complete status flip, with Ed being stupid and Ray being cynical, and that works just as well – and in the podcast we would flip back and forth between ourselves. In real life we swap authority regularly, so it wouldn’t be inconsistent to do that on stage as we know it is a real thing in life.
AD: What’s more satisfying, being spontaneously silly or writing a show that looks spontaneously silly?
P&G: Woah. Good question! Well…here’s the thing: when you do a tour or an Edinburgh run or both like we are, you need to pretty much lock down the show at some stage in order to feel confident it will work night after night. You could risk an improv show, but you have to take that risk and accept that some nights it will be awful and not work.
We would very much maintain we have never done the same show two nights running; there will always be something new in it – might just be one line – but it will be new and spontaneous in that moment and that’s a really important thing to us, but the overall show has to be prepped even though it has a massive air of not being. It’s a poisoned chalice sometimes because we are very good at it, and sometimes people believe it completely and bemoan the fact that we haven’t prepared anything. These people, of course, are idiots – as they don’t even look as far as, “Was it funny?” (Yes).
The other thing to remember is that much of what we write and perform was once a spontaneous thing in real life. A great deal of what Ray gets up to in the show is genuinely stuff that Ray has got up to in his actual house; stuff like preparing elaborate scenarios with a plastic duck and getting tangled in his t-shirt as a joke – all real things. He needs help, we shouldn’t be laughing.
AD: What’s your favourite kind of comedy? Does it correlate with your on-stage characters? Ray, I remember you saying in a previous podcast that you were a fan of Bill Hicks…
[pullquote_right]The character of Ray would also like Bill Hicks, just in a different way. He would dress like him, smoke without inhaling and laugh at the swears. A bit like a lot of the posthumous Hicks fans.[/pullquote_right]P&G: It definitely doesn’t correlate with our onstage characters or Ray’s favourite comedy show would be “Rainbow”. We both have a rather full spectrum of comedy appreciation, and wouldn’t want to narrow it down to a favourite kind. The Bill Hicks thing is true (although, the posthumous idolatry has rather tarnished what was so attractive about the man in his lifetime), although, thinking about it, it isn’t even beyond the realms of possibility that the character of Ray would also like Bill Hicks, just in a different way. He would dress like him, smoke without inhaling and laugh at the swears. A bit like a lot of the posthumous Hicks fans, to be honest…
AD: I really enjoyed your Edinburgh podcast series. Do you think they were a success in terms of driving people to your show, and will you be producing more once the tour is over?
P&G: Thank you. It’s a hard thing to gauge – we sold really well this year, and we certainly hammered the promotion of our show on our podcast, but we can’t conclusively say people came because of the podcast. think there are people who were maybe gonna come who have been listening to us for years and it tipped them into coming; we do a lot of guilt-tripping in the podcasts, but that comes from a place of frustration. Clearly we do the podcast to improve our profile, get our stuff out there for free, get people liking us and get on with our careers.
Lots of people have supported us live, certainly more than before in Edinburgh this year, and you get a real feeling of mutual gratitude. We’re chuffed that they have liked our stuff and come out in person to express them, and they’re chuffed that we’ve given them all that entertainment for free. It’s nicely symbiotic and if everyone that listened to the podcasts actually came to our shows too then it would be a perfect world; we could bypass the corporate nonsense and just get on with being able to afford to give people free audio stuff in exchange for them supporting our live work. It’s the people that don’t come and support us, but still grab for podcasts, that knacker it, because they’re the ones that end up making you feel resentful and not wanting to put the work in any more. But – we have a very big section of our fan base who do make the effort, time and time again some of them, and they’re the ones that we are genuinely happy to have on our side. You get to know a lot of them, meet them after gigs and stuff – yep, they’re ace them ones.
AD: I was looking at the iTunes charts the other day and they’re dominated by professionally-produced podcasts. What advice would you give for podcasters looking to better the big boys?
P&G: Just don’t be lazy. It genuinely all boils down to that. If you just record a podcast for an hour and then upload it immediately it won’t be anywhere near as good as if you spend a bit of time in post-production with it to make it sound more presentable. Editing audio is easy – there’s loads of free audio editing software available online, and whilst it is time consuming as a process, it really will make your finished product more listenable to. You can make stuff that is a bit funny at first become really funny with a couple of chops and tightening.
Have regular music stings – again this is really easy to do – it gives the show familiarity and becomes comforting to a regular listener. We just asked the Tiger Lillies and Frank Sidebottom if we could use their music, told them specific things we would like, said it was a free podcast so we weren’t profiting from their work and they would be credited. Both immediately gave permission. I’m not saying everyone would, but the good guys will normally be supportive. We then ended up having somebody who began as a fan (Thomas Van De Ree) composing and performing all our original music – for podcast and live – and his contribution has been immense.
If you put the hours in then you see a return – not financial, but creatively. Listeners will sense if you’ve done a half-arsed job, and nine times out of ten won’t persevere with it.
AD: What’s next for Ray and Ed, then? Any exciting news you can reveal to make me look like a half-decent hack?
P&G: The tour stretches well into the year so we can’t really look beyond that. We are continuing to do our stuff on Radio 4 Extra which is great fun and respectable, and we have other ongoing projects that we keep having to find time to write, as well as cracking on with our solo stand up stuff too. We are busy boys, and that is brilliant for us.
AD: Finally, what’s it like going on tour with Naughty Keith? Is he behaving himself?
P&G: He has let the tyres down seven times and is barred from most venues he has appeared previously in. He also keeps falling to bits too, which is getting increasingly frustrating as it does feel deliberate. He has new hair but it keeps falling out in clumps. Thinking about it, he may be ill…
Ray Peacock and Ed Gamble are touring ‘Peacock & Gamble Don’t Even Want To Be On Telly Anyway’ at venues across the UK. For details, see: peacockandgamble.com.
Read our review of the show here.