Tim Key and Jonny Sweet: interview

Tim Key and Jonny Sweet Tim Key and Jonny Sweet - Simon Pearce
Posted: Thu Feb 11 2010

Edinburgh award winners Tim Key and Jonny Sweet talk Time Out through planning for comedy success and composing that all-important acceptance speech.

The Edinburgh Comedy Awards, (formerly and probably better known as the 'Perriers') are the comedy world's equivalent of the Oscars. Past winners include such luminaries as
Al Murray, Tommy Tiernan, Dylan Moran, Steve Coogan and The League of Gentlemen and last August two new names were added to this impressive line-up - Tim Key, who won the main prize for his superbly surreal show 'The Slutcracker', and winner of the Best Newcomer gong Jonny Sweet, for his delightfully whimsical 'Mostly About Arthur'.

They are friends, share the same agent and both also starred in the highly acclaimed and Fringe First-winning play, 'Party'. Now both are bringing their award-laden solo offerings to the Soho Theatre. Time Out caught up with them to see how their lives have changed since bagging these much-coveted prizes.

It was quite an Edinburgh for both of you…
Jonny Sweet 'It was, but to be honest I found it all a little knackering. I remember everyone else was always going out and having fun in the evening, and I'd be in bed by 10pm after my chicken Kiev and potato smiley faces.'
Tim Key 'You shouldn't have found it that tough. How old are you?'
JS 'Twenty-four.'
TK 'I think you should've taken a much less successful show up there and just got pissed.'

Did either of you expect you might get a nomination?
JS 'Well, I'd written ten drafts of my acceptance speech… Not really. I was utterly surprised. In fact at the actual ceremony, when Frank Skinner was reading out the result, I remember praying it wasn't going to be me because I hadn't prepared anything at all. When I did go up I did this dogshit speech where I went, “Haaaaa, thanks.” And I forgot to thank loads people.'
TK 'I don't think I got a thank you, did I?'
JS 'No. Although I never actually planned to thank you.'
TK 'You really should have thanked your mentor and inspiration, though.'
JS 'I did.'
TK 'Ah… bit awkward. I knew I was on the long list, so I thought I had a chance, but that just meant I worked myself up into an awful state. Then when I found out that I had got the nod it was amazing. I had a show that I really liked, lots of people said lots of nice things about it and I'd ended up with a nomination. It meant I could just relax and enjoy the run.'

What difference has winning the awards made?
TK 'The main difference for me is I that I used to play small rooms for no money and suddenly I have the opportunity to headline gigs and play some lovely large rooms. The main challenge for me is not saying to a promoter, “Oh, bloody hell, you're a bit nuts booking me, you should probably get a proper person who does this professionally.” '
JS 'It's like that for me as well but a few stages behind. I've never really done that much stuff on my own before. So basically, this was an experiment to see if I could actually end up being a comedian for a few more years, and it paid off.'

How would you describe each other's shows?
JS ' “The Slutcracker” is a comedic experience. It's Tim doing a series of (mostly) hilarious poems, films and lists. Afterwards you feel like you've spent an hour inside a really amazing brain. Although, it wasn't my sort of show to be honest, it was a bit weird.'
TK 'Thanks, mate. It's kind of a weird and wonderful array of poems, knitted together with a bit of multimedia and bit of shambling around.'

And Jonny's show?
TK 'It's a very charming piece of character comedy. In some ways it's very well written, but it's also charmingly unrefined.'
JS 'It's basically an obituary for a fictional dead brother, who was a blurbist - someone who writes the blurbs on the backs of books. My character, Arthur, is devoted to a person who basically doesn't warrant that level of adoration. Quite touching, really.'

You're also going to be reprising your roles in Tom Basden's play 'Party' again soon. What's it about?
JS 'It's about five divs setting up a political party in a shed and how they try to tackle the heavy issues of things like China and the congestion charge but fail miserably.'
TK 'It's not too preachy or didactic, but at the same time it's a very relevant and zeitgeisty little piece.'

It's not your first foray into political drama, though, is it, Jonny? You played David Cameron in Channel 4's 'When Boris Met Dave'…
JS 'Indeed. It was quite stressful when it came out, because I didn't know my performance was going to be so scrutinised by the political press. It was fun to do though and my mum admitted that it was the only thing I've ever done that she would've watched on TV by choice.'

And you've not escaped political scrutiny, either, have you Tim? Your show, 'We Need Answers', was attacked by the Conservative think tank Policy Exchange for being a waste of the BBC's money.
TK 'That was a bit weird. But I don't really mind, it was just some Conservatives in a room: it really doesn't matter. It was a little peculiar to single out our show. I guess they just didn't get it.'

And finally, what three words would you use to describe each other?
JS 'Shambling, incredibly fit.'
TK 'Lovely, lovable, funny.'

Tim Key's 'The Slutcracker' is at Soho Theatre, until Feb 20 with extra dates at Arts Theatre, Mar 3-6 and 10-13.

Jonny Sweet's 'Mostly About Arthur' is at Soho Theatre, until Feb 20.

'Party' is at The Arts Theatre, Mar 1-13.