The Gatwick Diamond Business Awards has a proud history of great comperes over the years, with a who’s who of stand-ups and comedy actors. The hosts have included Tim Vine, Hugh Dennis and Sanjeev Bhaskar.
This year is no exception with Stephen Mangan taking control of the stage. Stephen is a regular host on Have I Got News for You and is best known for his role as a British TV writer trying to break America in Episodes and an over-confident doctor in the cult comedy, Green Wing. He is also the voice of Postman Pat and is plagued by people shouting “Dan!” at him after a memorable cameo in Alan Partridge. Ian Trevett caught up with Stephen before the awards.
When it comes to the Gatwick Diamond Business Awards, you do get the feeling that Chief Executive Jeremy Taylor uses the opportunity to indulge his passion for British comedy and Stephen Mangan joins an elite club of GDBA comperes. I asked Stephen first about his experience of hosting awards events.
“I enjoy the corporate events. People go along to have a good time and to celebrate success. I think they are better when the audience don’t get to go to too many awards. In some industries they have more awards nights than they know what to do with. It’s better when you can feel the energy in the room, when it is rowdy enough that people are having a good laugh, but not too noisy that people talk over other people’s awards.”
Although Stephen is known for his quick-fire wit and dry humour, he is not a regular on the comedy circuit: “I’m not a stand up, I am an actor, so I won’t be doing a stand-up set. I will be introducing the awards, telling a few stories and the odd off -the-cuff joke, but the night is about the finalists.
“You have to react on your feet. I was working at a Google event, which was a gathering of the greatest minds in the company. When I was on stage there was a technical hitch of some kind and I was asked to fill in the time while it was being sorted out. So I shared some gossip and we had a Q&A and the audience reacted really well. You never know what will happen on stage.”
One thing we may get is a few references to Donald Trump who Stephen has mentioned more than a few times on Twitter. Back in 2014, when asked his greatest fear, he replied: “Being trapped in a lift with Donald Trump.” The rest of the world may have now caught him up.
“I don’t think I will be performing for Trump when he comes to the UK!” says Stephen. “I’ve been commentating on his rise and there have been some really funny posts on Twitter. I can get opinionated and I am very happy if people comeback with forceful opinions, though not so much when they just come back with insults. The most abusive keyboard warriors are anonymous, but if they can’t even own their opinion, then I won’t take any notice.”
Adrian Mole v James Bond
Stephen came late to performing, starting his stage acting career at 26, and he got his first TV break playing Adrian Mole at the age of 30. This was not, it should be pointed out, Adrian Mole aged 13 and three-quarters, but Mole’s cappuccino years. “Maybe it wasn’t what I dreamed of as a kid,” says Stephen. “I wanted to be James Bond but I ended up as Adrian Mole. Seriously, it was a great role and I love Sue Townsend, she was a fabulous writer. Anyway Adrian Mole is a much more interesting character, isn’t he?”
I first became aware of Stephen’s comic timing and characterisation in Green Wing, a brilliantly surreal spoof of a NHS hospital. Stephen’s character was the narcissitic, self-obsessed Dr. Guy Secretan, a character he helped create. “It was a great experience as the actors all helped write their own characters and there was a lot of improvisation. Michelle Gomez, who played the staff liaison officer, took it to another level by wearing elongated false arms, dressing like a squirrel and refusing to speak any language other than “crow”.
Worryingly, many people that I know who work in the NHS, say that Green Wing is the most realistic representation of the NHS they have seen on TV! “Green Wing certainly change my life and it was great fun. We were nominated for BAFTAs but that was when Little Britain was winning every award going.”
Stephen seems to be drawn to improvised roles. He also appeared in a comedy fly-on-the-wall film called Confetti, about three couples competing to win a wedding competition, one of which was Olivia Colman and Robert Webb, a naturist couple who spent most of the fi lm naked, although both later said they were promised that their modesty would be spared by pixelating the appropriate areas. No doubt it was a relief that Stephen didn’t get that role. “Yes, thank goodness for small mercies! If you enjoy doing things by the seat of your pants, not knowing what’s going to come out of the other actors’ mouths, it was a fantastic experience. I played a self-obsessed (again!) tennis player and in one scene I came up with a line demanding that my fiancee should get a nose job to help us win. The next day we were filming outside Harley Street. The film just took on its own life. We filmed three endings, so we never knew which couple had won until the screening.”
Stephen is perhaps best know for Episodes,which also stars Matt LeBlanc and Tamsin Greig. It was the first comedy written and produced with both the American and British market in mind, a co-production between the BBC and Showtime. It tracks the journey of a British husband-and-wife comedy writing team who travel to Hollywood to remake their successful British TV series, with disastrous results. LeBlanc plays the American star as a fictional version of himself. It was a fascinating concept as British comedies rarely cross the Atlantic without being totally remade for the US market. It has given Stephen a unique insight into the difference between American and Brutish comedy.
“Our humour is similar but not the same,”says Stephen. “We laugh at different things and we have different sensibilities. The Office was changed for the US audience as we see work in a different way. We’re happy to say that going to work is a bit shit. The Americans like to see someone succeeding, something more aspirational. We like a darker humour and they don’t always understand it. American comedies often have a sentimentality that we don’t share, they can be a bit saccharine. But we are used to seeing these comedies and just ignore those scenes. You do get some crossovers but they tend to be very niche. Even Monty Python, which had a loyal following, was never mainstream. Something like Green Wing is probably just too silly, too British.
“Episodes worked well but this was due to the perfect script. We were spoilt and it was a joy to do.”
With success both sides of the pond, surely this is an opportunity to up sticks and head for the sunshine of LA? “It’s not ever something I wanted to do. Being in Episodes was wasted on me. I have worked around the world and I always want to get back to London. Maybe I could be that guy wearing the shades in a convertible cruising down Sunset Boulevard. I’m happier driving down Tottenham High Road.” There’s no accounting for taste!