While not part of the mainstream, if you are a fan of British comedy, then you no doubt have seen Matt Berry’s work. His sonorous voice and ability to play characters full of blustering bravado so devilishly has made him somewhat famous as a character on television shows like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, The Mighty Boosh, and The IT Crowd, and recently in the film Moon.
Berry tends to play men full of fumbling hubris to great comedic effect, while at the same time managing to abscond with some of their swagger. There is always a trace of sexuality bubbling just under the surface. This duality, the contradiction between the comedian as a usually self-effacing figure and the smirking flirtation of an inwardly confident man, is perhaps what makes him so intriguing… at least to his female fans. The rest of his fans are probably more likely to cite deftness of the crude humor and his ability to play the straight man without ever flinching, no matter how ridiculous the premise of an enterprise.
But Berry is more than just a deliciously offbeat actor. He wrote his own show, Snuff Box, which appeared on the BBC, and contains some really brilliant material alongside American cohort Rich Fulcher. Check out the series and see if the sketches “Boyfriends” or “Rude Song” don’t make you laugh out loud. Snuff Box was full of musical sketches, something that is always wound up with Berry’s work.
Berry has also released two albums, Opium, and most recently, Witchazel. He’s also the voice of Absolute Radio where he periodically produces some of the most downloaded podcasts on iTunes.
When I caught up with Mr. Berry, it was just before his birthday and he was preparing for the release of Witchazel. (For those of you wondering, he’s 13,151 days old, and his Native American totem is the Beaver.)
It seems he’s certainly been busy.
1. Your podcasts are quite popular. Your voice is one of the things you’re most known for. How old were you when you realized your voice was special? Did you have to develop it, or was it something that you always had with you?
I never thought about it until it was noticed from the early TV stuff. Old friends really don't understand the fuss as they have had to listen to me shitting on for years.
2. Do you consider yourself more an actor, writer, or musician? What did you aspire to be when you started?
I try not to consider myself, and the only thing I've ever aspired to do is not work at a conventional job. My only aim from being very young was not to have a 9-5 job. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with an office job; I'm just saying that I recognized early that it would be an environment that would unleash dreadful demons from within myself. I am all too aware that I am at the moment bloody lucky to be able to spend my time doing the things I love, and get paid for it.
3. How involved were you with the writing of Darkplace? How did the idea come about? One-Track Lover is quite brilliant.
There was a very large amount of improvising especially the talking heads bits and commentary which was all unscripted. The premise itself came from purely from Matt Holeness and Richard Ayoade.
4. I've noticed a lot of the same actors appear all over British television; you and Richard Ayoade come to mind. Are only a certain number of people allowed to be funny at one time in Britain? Is there a caste system in place in that regard? Please inform.
No. I think it may appear that way to you because of the things you have watched. The comedies I have been involved in, with the possible exception of The IT Crowd, are not mainstream comedy programs. They are cult shows, which translate as late night viewing with a small but dedicated audience. The IT Crowd is probably as mainstream as I’ll ever get on British television, as I'm sure the writers and producers of the big family comedy shows don't want me anywhere fucking near their work.
5. I know you're involved with Amnesty International, what cause in particular brought you into contact with them?
I've always been aggressively opposed to capital punishment and Amnesty are keen for me to use their various platforms to force the point that if we, the West, stop executing people completely, we stand a better chance of outlawing the frequent public executions (recently two teenage girls) that occur in the Middle East. Every time there is such an event, and we outcry, the powers that be in the Middle East always respond by calling us hypocrites due to the executions that are taking place in our own countries. To execute someone is abhorrent enough, but to execute someone in public pisses in the face of any human rights we have. It's all very awkward.
6. What are the differences between British and American comedy?
In mainstream/family American comedy the jokes come thick and fast during the half hour show; with the British equivalent, the jokes are usually labored for the full 28 minutes without ever being ready, or able to come. There are of course exceptions to that sweeping and sloppy innuendo-infused generalization.
7. What has been your favorite project so far?
I'm quietly proud of Snuff Box which was a show I wrote with Rich Fulcher for the BBC. The thing ended up looking pretty similar to the image I had in my head before we started. I was also surprised that it went out at all; as I expected it to be shelved, and for me to be told to get fucked. I also loved every minute of writing and recording Witchazel, my second album, which comes out soon.
8. Is it or is it not acceptable to use the word 'cunt' in polite conversation in England? Also, please explain this whole fuck/shag thing. Keep in mind, I'm an American and confuse easily.
You cannot drop cunt at a dinner table or in front of any persons you don't know as, the negatives far outweigh the positives. What most people seem to do, is wait for the most offendable person to use the word and take that as their cue to drop it themselves. Cunt is still the big one, and a word that divides most people here. People who are totally opposed and offended by that word should take note that there are many cunts out there ready and waiting to ease their lives into chaos so, if they can think of a better word to describe such people then please come forward.
Shag: An outdated, lame and lazy alternative word for people who are too afraid to say fuck. The only US equivalent I can think of would be 'swell' in response to good news… you get what I’m trying to say.
9. A recent comment about you on Youtube said simply that you were "the sexxx." Are you, indeed, the sexxx?
Yes [without hesitation].
10. What are you working on right now?
I have just finished the fourth series of The IT Crowd here in the UK and am due to fly to North Carolina in a few days time to make a film with Steve Agee from the Sarah Silverman program. Steve is a brilliant comic and friend so I'm very much looking forward to that, and then I will return to London and launch straight into the recording of my third album which will be titled Music For Insomniacs and will blow your fucking minds into space.