Graham Linehan & Steve Delaney interview, co-creators of Count Arthur Strong.
On Monday 1/27 I had the undeniable pleasure of speaking with Graham Linehan and Steve Delaney co-creators of Count Arthur Strong. We laughed, I cried, they wondered why they were talking to some guy from Utah, and I pretended to understand those funny accents. More importantly, we talked about their show, Count Arthur Strong, which has made it’s American debut on Hulu this week. All in all, we had a pretty good time, honestly I could have talked to these guys for hours, they were great.
If you are interested, and I can’t say I would blame you if you were, you can read my review here.
Hello, I want to say first, I have watched the series, and I absolutely loved it, and thank you for doing this.
Yeah, it’s fantastic. I believe a second series has been requested, is that right?
Graham: Yeah, when we handed in the last few episodes the second series got commissioned, it was the fastest I’ve ever been re-commissioned.
The second series will be released through Hulu as well?
Graham: I hope so yeah, I don’t know how it all works
I hope it is on Hulu, I think people here will love it
Graham: But we haven’t made the second one yet, we’re making it around May.
-Steve joins the call-
Graham: Is that Steve?
Steve Delaney: I completely forgotten we had to call in; I was sitting here waiting for the phone
Graham: We were just talking about the second series, so good timing.
Graham: I’ve got a good feeling about it, you’ve been doing some work on it.
Steve: Yeah, actually we’ve got rough drafts of pretty much four episodes now.
Graham: yeah that’s true
Steve: We’re in fair shape
Graham: I think we’ve quite relaxed Kyle, I think of Count Arthur like a big comedy version of an expensive special effect that I know we can put in any scene and it’s going to be OK
Steve: Like fireworks
That’s perfect, in the second series will we have a chance to see more of Arthurs original act? Like the Memory Man?
Graham: That’s a good question, I think so, but we hadn’t really gone there have we Steve?
Steve: It’s possible, but it’s not a starting point for anything is it? It comes up quite naturally, that might be the case, but our starting point would be to try and shoe horn some old material in. like in the memory man in the first series, that just fit in, it fit in well so we used it, and I think we’d do the same again, but it wouldn’t be our starting point.
Graham: Well I think we’re both fans of keeping things interesting and making sure people don’t get bored and each week you see a different aspect of Arthur, I’ve never been a big one for kind of artificially imposing, catch phrases and things like that. I like things to be different and fresh, so we’ll probably come up with some ideas.
Steve: I’ll come up with some material when I go out on tour again.
With the growth in audience for British programing in America do you feel pressure to adjust your comedy for an audience with different tastes?
Steve: I think we want to put a stop to that Kyle.
Graham: We want as small an audience as possible. You know if you start doing that you probably lose the thing people were watching it for, It’s a little window into a world that they aren’t used to. So if we started writing for an American audience we’d lose that. I think one of the things that makes Count Arthur work is that it’s so specifically about a certain kind of guy. Everything else I’ve done has seemed to travel well, I.T. Crowd has a got an American audience, father ted maybe not so much, I’ve found that sticking to what I like people tend to come along, and if I tried to write for an imaginary audience we’d lose that.
Steve: I think it would be doomed to failure, the starting point has to be those characters and what they would do in the reality of them, that’s the really important thing I think.
Graham: Yeah, so as long as we follow that people will follow along, if they can understand the accents, which apparently they can.
The Americans have adopted many excellent programs, and many have been kidnaped and remolded. Do you fear that could happen to Count Arthur Strong?
Graham: Yeah that happened to the IT crowd, they tried to remake it and no one called me about that. Yeah I didn’t get a single phone call about how they might go about remaking it for America so that was a bit of a bummer. But I don’t think they could do an American.. you can’t… I mean the show is Steve, and if you took Steve out of it, it wouldn’t really exist, the character, the whole thing comes from Steve’s performance, the whole thing revolves around Steve, he’s like a little sun with all these other planets revolving around him. It would be a difficult kind of thing to recreate a Count Arthur Strong in the states, don’t you Steve?
Steve: Yeah it’s difficult for me to see that, like you say it’s character, for instance Father Ted was about the Priest on Craggy Island so that was the kind of world they were in. The world is Arthur really, in this show isn’t it.
Graham: Yeah, and they tried to make Father Ted in Boston, and that just completely destroyed, it wouldn’t have made any sense
Steve: To work it just has to have a very strong identity to its home, you have to embrace that rather than be catered for, that’s what they have to like about it. And that’s the challenge
I Absolutely agree with that. This is an adaptation from a radio show, was that a difficult change?
Steve: A Reboot
Graham: We call it a reboot.
Steve: I don’t know if you’re familiar with the radio show, the nature of radio is very different from television. The radio show is more monologueing, Arthur launching off on extremely long monologues, which I think on television would be several feet too many, every time Arthur spoke people would lose interest. Radio is very different in that respect. I don’t think of it as being, I mean the central character is the same, but we created a handful of new characters for the television show. It was important that they were, rather than just supplying Arthur with his feed lines, they have to be characters in their own right.
Was there any difficulty adapting the character from one medium to the other?
Steve: I found it a joy, there was no difficulty really. The essence of Arthur is the same, he was a live show before the radio came a long, for me the essence is the same. You don’t shout as much on television, and you don’t have to describe what you are doing as much
Graham: It was difficult in the sense that creating a new sit-com is always difficult; it’s always difficult to come up with the central situation and the premise, and the characters. If it was easy everyone would be doing it. The difficulty you kind of take with the territory, but it’s a fun kind of difficulty where your always trying to figure out how to make things appear and how to make characters come alive. It’s fun, very rewarding.
Has there been an interest in or a revival or re-broadcast of the radio program?
Steve: It’s still airing, it’s on air all the time… we stopped doing the radio show when the television show came along. I wrote the radio series by myself, and there’s just not the time to write a radio series and a television series at the same time. Also it would be very confusing to have two different sit-coms one on the radio one on the television.
Graham: Two different realities.
Steve: Thank you exactly that, it would confuse me as much as it would confuse the listener.
Graham: With the radio show one of the things we said, I always said to Steve, you know Arthurs level of fame always seemed to go up and down according to Steve’s needs. There are very funny episodes where Arthur ends up on a popular quiz show and the next week no one would know who he was. Because it’s TV and audiences are more literal when it comes to TV you have to create more of a firm reality we have to stick to. To come from that same reality we crated back to the radio show it would be a disaster.
Steve: It would absolutely, the only way I think to get us on the radio is to do another Christmas special or something and we might be thinking of that for next year, but certainly not a series. No it’s too confusing for everyone, and too time consuming as well. But we did seven years on the radio, it was great fun.
Comparisons are inevitable between television programs. Do you have a favorite or least favorite comparison for Count Arthur Strong? Has anyone compared it to the IT Crowd, for example?
Graham: People always think that they want more of the thing that they’ve been given for years, they may think they want that, but they don’t. When the IT crowd started, everyone was annoyed that it wasn’t Father Ted, and when count Arthur started everyone was annoyed it wasn’t the IT crowd. It takes people a while to get used to things, but I believe people don’t actually know what they want, but they know what they want when they get it. So they only way to give it to them is to give them new stuff until they start liking it, and as soon as they start liking it, they end the series.
Steve: When I used to perform live and I started the radio series. People said no no no please do live shows, and when I started doing the television series people asked to have some of the characters that were in the radio series in the TV series and what have you. I got a tweet today about why can’t Wilf and Sally be in the series, and I have to say my heart sinks slightly, those characters were great in the radio but I’m doing something that is new now, it’s a new start for Arthur.
Graham: It’s one of those things, stay still and die, you have to be moving forward or it’s just not interesting.
I loved The Radio Play episode, it very nearly killed me. Have you considered adding a warning not to eat foods that could easily become lodged in the wind pipe while watching?
Steve: It wasn’t salmon was it?
Graham: There was a show here called The Goodies, a guy famously died of a heart attack while he was watching. Didn’t that happen Steve? Or is that an urban myth
Steve: I don’t’ know first I’ve heard
Graham: Yeah, no, famous heart attack laughing his head off watching The Goodies. I’m not sure The Goodies is the show I’d like to go on. I’d go on something like Fawlty Towers or something.
Yeah, You would want to go while watching a show where everyone could understand your dying.
Graham: Yes! Exactly.
Do you think there is anything American audience needs to understand about Count Arthur Strong?
Steve: They just need to see it really. People have to hear about it. With a new show it’s always getting people to see it. It’s making the publicity band wagon is all. I always find Arthur very hard to describe, I’d phone up other people and ask “could you tell me how to describe Arthur” because he is very much a part of me so just to call him one thing would be denigrating, he’s not just a delusional old guy, there is a lot more too him than that. It would be very difficult for me to answer that question. But what I’d want people to know about Arthur before has is that he might slightly put people off
Graham: I guess the only thing I would say from my point of view, if people liked the IT Crowd or Father Ted, odds are very high they will like Count Arthur too, because I haven’t changed my style of comedy. I haven’t said I’ve been heading in the wrong direction all these years I think I’ll try something completely new. It’s very much big set piece situations, and hopefully cracking gags, and the kind of surrealistic edge I’ve had going through my career really. And Steven’s very kindly let me come on board and let me have fun with the character as well, but apart from that, I don’t know, if there is a direct continuity between this and all the other things I’ve done in my career. That’s why I find it odd when people who watched the IT crowd say they don’t watch Count Arthur, it’s kind of the same show with someone more clueless.
We are out of time now; I just have one question left on my sheet. I hate the phrase “across the pond” I feel it is condensing ding to the Atlantic Ocean. Do you have a common phrase you hear often that you just hate?
Graham: Yeah, the mainlands, people in England say about Ireland, they call England the mainland it’s like “Fuck you.”
Steve: I hate the word “hate”
Graham: Aw that’s very hippy, you sound like one of the Beatles.
Steve: I don’t really hate anything really, I think people misuse it, I think Kyle misuses it.
Graham: Oh leaving on a terrible note, poor Kyle.