Interview: Steffen Peddie
Steffen Peddie can’t believe his luck.
A year ago he travelled down to Manchester with comedy pals Jason Cook and Chris Ramsey to perform a TV pilot at the Salford Sitcom Showcase. From over 80 scripts submitted, only six were staged at the BBC event last October. And from those, just two were given the green light for a full series: Citizen Khan, the controversial Asian sitcom currently airing on BBC One, and Hebburn.
Written by Cook, Hebburn was billed as a warm and affectionate tale of North East family life, with Peddie playing Big Keith, “the type of bloke you’d cross the street to avoid.” But off-stage there’s no bravado to one of the North East’s longest serving comedians. In fact, as Steffen tells us, he felt like the biggest chancer on the set.
AD: Hi Steffen. We’ll talk about Hebburn later, but first things first; how did you get into comedy and what drives you to continue doing it?
SP: I am needy and like to make people laugh. End of sentence.
Apart from that, getting started was an accident. I was managing a friend’s school band and putting on shows; the support act didn’t turn up one night, so I got up and did a spot. It went well and I carried on trying to reclaim the ‘lightning in the bottle’ feeling it gave me.
I was terrible, really bad. I died more times than Captain Scarlett (target audience reference, kids!) I had no life experience yet making jokes about subjects I knew nothing really about. But I was getting by, ended up doing some TV stuff and then thought that I had reached as far as I was going to go with it, so went to train to be a pro wrestler instead.
I took about nine years off, and ended up coming back after having friends say I should start gigging again…and here I am!
AD: Why do you think there’s so much cross-over in the comedy and wrestling industries?
SP: I don’t actually. It’s a small cross over which could be a lot larger, but I think it is a hard transition between the two.
Take this example. There’s a large crowd baying for blood, screaming obscenities at you; if the gags you are using don’t work you can always grab a chair and smash it over the head of someone while shouting out nasty threats. Whereas in wrestling that behaviour’s frowned upon.
AD: Ha! You’ve worked closely with the likes of Sarah Millican, Ross Noble and Chris Ramsey over the years, all of whom have been pretty successful. I remember a while back you saying you had an inkling they’d make it big, so who’s your next tip for the top?
SP: Nobody has jumped out so clearly like the aforementioned trio. The one thing I can say about all three is how hard they all worked at being funny. All of them are naturally funny, but did not rest on just having funny bones; it obviously works – look where they are now.
But people who I would recommend you check out? Martin Mor, Anvil Springstein, Phil Ellis, Andy Fury and Carl Hutchinson are comics who make me laugh regularly when I work with them. Lee Kyle and Mr Drayton as well. I really like those two; you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get with them. They both have a format but can veer off into quite different areas.
AD: You’ve been doing comedy for almost as long as I’ve been alive; when you started what were your personal ambitions and have you fulfilled them? Do you see your part in Hebburn as a career highlight so far?
SP: When I started I just wanted to get on TV and be funny. But once I came back after wrestling it was just to enjoy myself by doing stand-up. Hebburn is most definitely the highlight. I watched a production video of photos from the set the other day, and what I took from it was the fun I had doing the show. They were great times, and I just hope we get to do it again; it’s great to feel part of something like that.
AD: How did you find the transition from stand-up to comedy acting?
SP: I have to be honest, I thought I was the biggest chancer on the set. Every day I sat there waiting for them to say, “Aha, we knew it all along” and kick me out. But everyone seemed happy with what I was doing, and the proof will be when everyone gets to see it…
AD: Absolutely. So what can you tell us about your character, Big Keith?
SP: It’s a great part. You’ll know or have heard of someone like Big Keith. I know a few people like him, but I don’t really want to spoil anything so you’ll just have to wait and see.
AD: How much input did you have into the development of the character? Was it a case of putting your faith in Jason Cook’s script or did you ad-lib bits and pieces while filming?
SP: I didn’t have to add anything; the script is cracking! Jason’s skill is writing characters who are believable. None of it feels engineered to deliver a punch line. On set he was constantly watching what you were doing, playing the paper and then adding bits or rewriting lines on the fly.
There are a few Ramsey [played by Cook] and Big Keith scenes where just Jason said, “Okay, let’s just run the camera, ad-lib and play around” – which ended up with one or both of us just cracking up…
AD: Is it easier or harder to work with your friends then?
SP: Much easier! We already know each other so well and had each other’s backs, so we didn’t feel like the new kid in the playground; however we also know how to tip each other over the edge.
When you get to see the show, there’s a shot where we (Steffen and Jason) are sitting in the background and we could not stop laughing. Getting told off for it just made it harder!
AD: Before Hebburn airs next month, you’re compering the comedy tent at Split Festival – and you’re hosting a show at Split Parade this Saturday. What can people expect from you at those gigs?
SP: Jokes and laughter, fingers crossed. I played Split Festival two years ago which was great fun, and I’m looking forward to playing it again. MC duties are always great, as you get to be part of the crowd in a way and enjoy the other performers as well.
AD: Finally, what’s next? Reckon you’ll be back for a second series of Hebburn?
SP: Going home for my tea, that’s what’s next! As for Hebburn, you never know…
Hebburn airs on Thursday 18th October at 10pm, with the dial set to BBC2.