Interview with Diet of Worms
The Worms have expanded Dublin Stories into a 30 minute television show and they'll make their television debut on Monday 12th January at 10.55pm on RTE 2. John Balfe caught up with Shane Langan to get his thoughts on this.
When did Diet of Worms form? How did you get the group together?
I did TV and Film in the Bray Institute of Further Education, and a few of us had an idea that we would do a comedy sketch show and we'd put it into RTE and within a couple of days it would be on TV (laughs).
When was that?
That must have been about 5 years ago. So what we did was... I was supposed to write it, and my friends Stephen and Mike were supposed to do all the technical stuff. So we held a casting session in the Dawson Lounge, but we had no idea how to get people in, or how to do anything really. It was all just by the seat of our pants. So we got a few people in, but it we had no way of advertising it so it was just friends, or friends of friends who showed up. But that casting call led to what Diet of Worms pretty much is now. I went to school with Gaffo (Niall Gaffney), so he came in to read. Stephen knew Amy, I knew Rory through a friend from college and Philippa was brought by a friend of a friend. It just kind of came together like that.
So the line-up has been like that since the beginning?
There were a couple of people involved at that stage who have since moved on, who didn't last beyond that very primitive conceptual stage. We did a pilot with that group, but it was so bad that we didn't send it to RTE (laughs). We were only 19 and it was the first thing we'd ever done. It was very bad and when we looked at it, we knew. We were gifted enough to know that it wasn't good enough (laughs). So we did another one. So we came up with more ideas and did them, and it was slightly less shit.
Was the idea always a television show?
Yeah. The second pilot went in to RTE and didn't get anywhere. But we had gotten to know each other really well, and have become very tight as a group, the five of us - so when the pilot petered out into nothing, we were left at a loose end as for what to do. The logical thing for us to do then was to try and do some live stuff. We'd never done anything live. Because of the nature of us, and how we need a goal or a deadline to make us work, before we'd ever performed live we booked ourselves into the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. So that was in June 2006.
For the Festival in 2007?
No, in August! We had to get an hour long show together in the space of two months. We went into the Ha'penny and did the Battle of the Axe three times. We then did two previews of the show and then went off to Edinburgh.
And how did it go, in terms of the standards you would have wanted back then?
Well it was incredible, by those standards. We were really happy with it because we had never done anything before. We were so late. You're supposed to book for the Festival in January, we booked in July. We weren't in the programme, but we got steady numbers in and the show wasn't terrible.
Do you all share the same comedic tastes? I mean, is there a common thread that would unite you guys?
There is. We probably started in the same place and then moved out into other directions. We all like the same stuff.
Well, when we started off the main influence was probably The League of Gentlemen. That was what we wanted to do. We'd seen videos of their live show and that was kind of what we were trying to emulate. It's changed since then though. I think now we probably watch a little bit more Monty Python, stuff like that and it has developed in that regard. Philippa would be mad into The Mighty Boosh and her ideas would be sort of down that avenue.
What's your take on The Mighty Boosh?
I really like it. I went over to see them in London. I wouldn't get as excited about it as Philippa does.
They're so big these days. A lot of my friends are big, big fans. It's like they're The Beatles or something..
Yeah. That would turn you off. I like them much more than I like their fans. It was just crazy in London. Julian Barratt would walk on stage and everyone would just roar laughing, and I just kind of wanted to hear what he was going to say, what he had written down and rehearsed.
I've seen their show a few times now and was never really taken by it, but I did see Noel Fielding on Nevermind The Buzzcocks recently. He was beside Kristin Schaal from Flight of the Conchords. I don't know if they know each other, but they were fantastic together, funnier than I had ever seen him on his show. You could see what made him funny in the first place, but I'm just not really sure if I like where he'd brought his comedy. There are plenty of people who would disagree with me, though!
As we've gone on with that sort of thing, I have come to admire that element of things more, because that surreal aspect of things seems to appeal to me more.
Like the League of Gentlemen..
Exactly. But having said that, they were quite surreal but the way they presented it was quite tight, quite straight-laced and very well rehearsed.
Sketch comedy is different to stand-up and improv, obviously. It's very technical and you have to hit your marks and cues, as well as portraying a character to the audience. So there are a lot of different things going on at the same time. When a performance is framed like that, do you find it in anyway inhibiting? I mean, are you comfortable enough with each other wherein if one of you thinks of something on the spot, you could just throw it into the performance and have confidence that the others could react to it and carry on? Or do you go out there and just perform the script?
What we do is get a script together and do all that stuff before we go out on stage. We have a director, Clare McQuaid, and she helps us get on the right track. But there is a lot of messing and a lot of improv, procrastination, stuff like that, in rehearsal. It's terrifying enough to go on stage and to put your wares out there in front of people, that it would even more stressful if I didn't know what Gaffo was going to say. Sometimes you just have a really great show and everything clicks. In one of our last shows in Edinburgh, everything just went well and the crowd were going for everything. You get on a roll and you start adding stuff in and it's just the mood that everyone is in. And they are the best shows but you can't have that every night.
How do you know for sure when you're writing something, or rehearsing something, that it's funny?
You're never sure until you actually perform it.
Has that happened before?
Oh yeah. All the time. Our Edinburgh show in 2007 was done in a swimming pool, so we never got to preview it over here and never really got to rehearse it in the pool properly. So we were writing all the material thinking "this'll be grand when we get to the pool, it'll be fine". But when we got over there and did it we realised that about half the show was rubbish. So you have to start re-writing stuff and taking into account how the people react to it. We're quite lucky, because there's six of us including Clare, that if we all like it that there's a good chance that other people will like it too. Having said that, you never completely know until you go out on stage and perform.
So you're much like a band. You have to get together, write material and practice it with each other until you know it inside out.
Yeah. I always feel very envious of stand-ups because they just have to show up with a notebook in their pocket. But we turn up with suitcases of ridiculous props, costumes and have to be there two hours beforehand. We have to do lighting cues and sound cues and everything. It's a real operation.
You mentioned Edinburgh there and the swimming pool and the Melted Ice show. I watched the blog that you made over there last night on YouTube. You had an ear infection during the performance and you were deaf in one ear. I can't imagine that helped the creative process at all.
That was a tough one (laughs). Everywhere was damp all the time and there was water everywhere. It was uncomfortable.
And you were back in 2008. What was that show about?
That was called Friends of the Puffincat Club, which was a comedy night that we had in Dublin for a few months. We just used that club to mould the motif into something like a show. It was a sketch show in which we tried to get an overall theme.
And you've got a show coming up on RTE2, what's that about?
Dublin Stories is something that we've been doing online for about two years now. It was just another outlet for us to get together and do something. A couple of guys who I went to college with, Mark and Alex, came to us. They do documentaries together. They won an award for a real documentary they did, called Christy. They had a lot of success with that and they love doing it. We were chatting and the idea came up about doing a short mockumentary for the web and seeing what happened. So we did that and we were pleasantly surprised by the results, so we decided to keep doing them and make it into a series. We did about ten in a year. They got progressively better as they went on and so we were talking to a production company in 2007 about doing it with them. We wanted Mike and Alex to do it, to direct and produce it but [the production company] weren't willing to do that, so it fell through. They wanted to give us a more experienced director, because these guys were young lads as well. So then that fell apart at the last minute just before the rounds for RTE, the application and submission rounds. Mike, luckily, is a very prepared guy so he sent one in on his own when that fell apart. In January we got called by the head of entertainment in RTE who had seen it and liked it and gave us a bit of money to develop something. Then during Edinburgh last year we were paired with Accomplice Television, another production company, who were willing to let Mike and Alex do it on their own. So we got to do it on our own terms, which was brilliant. We also got an overall producer who was experienced, who would deal with RTE.
Everyone got what they wanted?
Yeah, it just worked out really well. When you're doing something like this and when you get the opportunity to go into production and to go on TV, that's what you're looking for and the temptation is there just to grab it. But we're lucky we didn't because we got to do it on our own terms.
The Dublin Stories that you have on the web are 5 or 6 minute shorts. Have you expanded this for the television show?
Yeah, what we've done is we have taken two of the pre-existing characters that we thought worked best from the series and just gave them different circumstances. They are two couples. One is a couple of three that we did, two guys and a girl who just try and function as a couple, even though there are three of them. The other is Orla and Vincent, sort of trendy best friends. They're inseparable. So we put those stories side by side and made them both pregnant just to see how they would deal with it. They two sets of characters never meet, but the stories are juxtaposed.
What's in the future for you now? What happens next?
I don't know. Everything has been building up to Monday and to seeing what's going to happen. I don't know what RTE have in store. But I'm hoping it'll be well received and it'll go down well. We've done it and we're really happy with it.
Well that's the main thing, isn't it?
That's all you can do. Everything else is kind of out of your hands. I don't know what RTE want to do next, because it's part of Project Ha Ha, which is a series of pilots. They might all get commissioned or none of them might get commissioned. It's not a competition though.
More of a shop window, perhaps?
It's just RTE making an effort, in fairness to them , they get an awful lot of stick. I've given them stick in the past but they've really made an effort to give people the opportunity to get stuff out there. They've commissioned four sitcoms to new talent, as far as TV is concerned. I don't know what's going to happen next. I don't know if there's any money left in the country for commissioning a series! We'd love to do a series obviously, but I'm sure so would Bernard O'Shea and Dave McSavage and all those guys. But if they thought it went well and if they thought there would be a future to it then we'd be willing to do it.
And when is it on?
It's on Monday at 10.55pm on RTE 2 and then repeated on Friday at 10.50pm.
Watch Episode 7 of Dublin Stories below:
Story by Lauren | 09:00 | Friday 9th January 2009 | Other
No comments have been posted for this article yet. Be the first!
Log in to leave a comment
The opinions expressed here are those of the viewer and do not reflect those of Entertainment.ie. Entertainment.ie accepts no responsibility, legal or otherwise, for their accuracy of content. Please contact us to report abusive content