Totally Tom: interview

Totally Tom Totally Tom - © Rob Greig
Posted: Thu Nov 3 2011

Young sketch duo Totally Tom are rapidly rising up the comedy ranks. Time Out meets the two Toms

Traditionally, the Edinburgh Fringe is where new comedy talent is discovered. With thousands of shows on offer, the festival is like a flea market for TV execs. But in the case of sharp sketch duo Totally Tom, Steve Coogan's production company Baby Cow spotted their talent long before the pair made the trip to Edinburgh.

Not that the Fringe didn't acknowledge 23 year old Toms Stourton and Palmer's abilities; the pair received an Edinburgh Comedy Award Best Newcomer nomination and a ton of four- and five-star reviews for their debut show. But by then the boys had already filmed a pilot with Baby Cow for Channel 4's 'Comedy Lab' strand, which was broadcast last month. Despite some mixed reviews, the half-hour special was generally well received, but the duo aren't banking on it being picked up for a series. 'People tune in less to a sketch show,' says Palmer. 'And Channel 4 have got another double act, Cardinal Burns, who have a series coming in the new year. So that makes it a bit tougher.' 'It also doesn't make it easier that we're another white, middle-class sketch act,' adds Stourton.

'Middle-class' is a slight understatement. These old Etonians are posh. They neither make a big deal of it, nor keep it a secret. But why should they? Sketch comedy has a long association with poshness (just look at Cambridge Footlights and 'Monty Python'). But why are the upper-classes so attracted to the genre? 'One theory is that a lot of British comedy is ultimately about class,' says Palmer. 'Stand-up's pretty much talking about yourself, and the majority wouldn't really want to hear about a posh person's life. So they do fictional characters that are much more interesting than themselves, perhaps.' Stourton adds that their cushy lifestyles have also expanded their imaginations. 'My brother was saying that all our sketches have a lot of cruelty in them. I think that's because we've been emotionally spoilt, so it's a kind of sick fantasy.'

True, the pair often go down a dark route (inappropriate sexual advances are a recurring theme) but whereas some sketch comedy is essentially one joke dragged out for four or five minutes, Totally Tom's skits have strong narratives, rounded characters and high gag-rates. They also don't default to internal typecasting, where each member of the troupe plays effectively the same the role in every scene: the leader, goofy one, straight man etc. Totally Tom share the parts between them, allowing them both to shine. Stourton says this is because they only feel comfortable performing as characters, 'So it's actually quite important to shed our genuine selves to the audience…' He laughs at how theatrical that sounds and provides a simpler answer: 'We don't want either one of us to become more famous than the other.' How noble.

In fact, everything is a collaborative effort with these two. 'One of us might have a very vague idea for a sketch,' explains Palmer. 'But once we're actually writing the lines, it's definitely both of us, in a room, line by line.' 'I sort of pace around pretentiously,' says Stourton. 'Yeah, he bounces a ball, like Doctor House, and I tap away on the computer.'

They may be young'uns in this business, but have been comedy partners since school days, creating YouTube hit 'High Renaissance Man' while at university and then quickly embracing the live circuit. The idea of writing with other people terrifies them. 'I wouldn't trust someone to tell me that what I was saying was fucking terrible,' says Stourton, 'We're so comfortable with each other.' 'Maybe too comfortable,' adds Palmer.

They may have no qualms with pointing out each other inadequacies but it doesn't mean they haven't argued. The biggest row came on the afternoon of receiving their award nomination in Edinburgh. 'We got incredibly excited and got really really drunk,' explains Palmer. 'Our agent came up to us and said, “By all means celebrate guys, but there are some judges and critics in the bar, so just don't make a scene.” Within an hour we were having the biggest row we've ever had, about who was taking the show more seriously.' Stourton claims he came off the worse. 'We can't remember anything, but our agent says she overheard me saying “You think you're in the big man in this relationship.” ' Maybe they are a little too comfortable…

The Toms say work has been quiet since Edinburgh. 'The offers haven't been flooding in, exactly,' says Stourton. But they're writing again for Baby Cow, a sitcom this time, about two failed City boys. They have no idea if a network will pick it up, but whether or not the sitcom, or sketch show, gets commissioned, expect to be hearing a great deal from Totally Tom.