Modern Toss: interview

Scabrous comic 'Modern Toss' is entering the live arena with its photobooth and a periodic table of swearing. Chris Waywell gets his picture taken

Video: watch Modern Toss's 'Periodic Table of Swearing'

Those concerned that British manufacturing is not what it once was should take heart in Modern Toss’s latest creation. A solid example of vernacular craftsmanship, the ‘Periodic Table of Swearing’ is both a piece of brilliant filth taxonomy, and an actual table. Press the buttons and it delivers, in sober Radio 4 tones, some of the Toss’s choicest vulgarities: ‘Face like a shitflap’; ‘Cock garage’; ‘Arseholes for goalposts’. The design is also available gracing a tea towel, and the interactive piece of furniture has proved popular with adults and children alike. ‘Kids were all over it at Latitude,’ observes Mick Bunnage. ‘Quite relaxed parenting there…’

Modern Toss: Mick Bunnage (right) and Jon Link Modern Toss: Mick Bunnage (right) and Jon Link - © Rob Greig

Since 2004, Bunnage and Jon Link have spewed new life into the tired art of English oathmaking. Modern Toss magazine’s bilious colours and build-up-free punchlines have sustained a wealth of linguistic invention, epitomised by their most celebrated creation, ‘master signwriter’ Mr Tourette (‘Make up your mind, you fickle cunt’; ‘You need to be a bit more fucking specific’). ‘Our swearing sounds like someone trying to stop themselves swearing,’ says Bunnage. ‘It kind of bursts out.’ ‘It’s quite throwaway, the way that a postman might talk to a fellow postman,’ continues Link. ‘I think that’s what’s nice about it. When people just swear in a really relaxed way at work.’ Like all their output, the periodic table is a one-liner simultaneously elevated in status and undermined to pointlessness. ‘The idea of making it systematic is just stupid, isn’t it?’ says Bunnage. Link later describes their aesthetic as ‘I can’t believe they fucking bothered to make that’.

A recent spate of diversification has seen Bunnage and Link create shiny new C4 animation ‘Business Mouse’, and enter the live comedy arena, in the form of a ‘photobooth’ from which appear their hand-drawn portraits. Graciously, they do mine, in which I seem to be a furious Rolf Harris.

They’re running it on April 1 at Somerset House’s ‘Pick Me Up’ graphic art fair, where you will also have the chance to take the periodic table for a spin. It seems appropriate that the venue is just across the river from the Hayward Gallery, which is currently showing David Shrigley, perhaps their most obvious peer. There’s no sense that they’re also about to join the fine-art crowd, though. ‘We’re not very precious about our drawing,’ explains Bunnage, perhaps unnecessarily. ‘When our first book came out someone said the artwork was “barely serviceable”,’ adds Link. Like all decent comedians (and humans), they put the needs of their audience first: ‘We like to get out and meet the punters, see what they think of it,’ says Bunnage. ‘We did an exhibition last year in Shoreditch, and the gallery owner said he’d never heard so many people laughing at a show.’ ‘That was the first time we did the portrait thing,’ says Link. ‘We did a three-hour session, everyone was really drunk and it was a massive success. It’s nice that people can come along rather than just look at something on the wall.

Time Out's Chris Waywell as drawn by Mick (left) and Jon (right) Time Out's Chris Waywell as drawn by Mick (left) and Jon (right)

‘Business Mouse’, on the other hand, seems to belie Modern Toss’s ad hoc approach to creativity, and is definitely their slickest work yet, though their explanation of its development is predictably off-hand (‘We had a really good drawing of a mouse’) and some of the lines are up there with their best (‘I like you: you remind me of me when I was a fucking idiot’). The similarities to a certain member of the House of Lords seem undeniable. ‘No one believes us, but we weren’t really out to do a parody of Alan Sugar,’ says Bunnage. ‘We were just doing a mouse that was a bit business-orientated. Because Alan Sugar is Essex as well, it just came out sounding like us. He’s really taken off. Jon did a big oil painting of him, CEO-style…’ ‘… in a big gold frame…’ ‘…toting a machine gun.’

A culture which promotes berks like Theo Paphitis and Peter Jones to celeb status while the rest of us are getting our P45s is clearly going to provide plenty of material for Modern Toss – ‘Hypocrisy is the root of everything,’ reckons Bunnage – and their next project suggests that social iniquities are on their collective mind. ‘We’re going to do our own version of Robin Hood,’ says Link, ‘which is going to be quite special, I think.’ ‘Our version is cutting out all the exciting bits, all the action,’ says Bunnage. ‘We’ve got rid of all of that. It’s going to be pretty grim. Grim, but funny.’ ‘It’s going to be good,’ interrupts Link. ‘It’s three minutes long,’ Bunnage concludes: ‘But you’re looking at six months’ work on that.’

Pick Me Up’ is at Somerset House, Thur Mar 22-Apr 1. Modern Toss’s live photobooth, plus ‘master screenprinter’ Dan Hipkin of Ink_d, is on Apr 1.