Mitchell and Webb, Armstrong and Miller, Fry And Laurie, Jackson and Grumitt — which is the odd one out? It could be Fry. After all, he is a self-absorbed, tousle-haired, national dickhead treasure who seems to have wormed his way into the limelight primarily through his ability to wear colourful blazers, whereas the rest of them all seem like darn good self-effacing chaps. It could be, but it’s not.
The right answer is in fact Jackson and Grumitt. Why? Because, unless I am very, very much mistaken, they are the only duo performing a sketch show at the BT Studio in 8th Week (they’re also the only duo never to have had a BBC sketch show series, never to have received widespread critical acclaim for their comedy, et cetera, et cetera, but give them time).
Olly Jackson and Richard Grumitt are almost certainly the latest in a long line of successful double acts to meet at Oxbridge, make a splash with their wacky, off-the-wall comedy, and enjoy a long career of sitting next to the insufferable Alan Davies on BBC panel games. They just haven’t done that last bit yet.
I caught up with them in the very JCR bar of St Hilda’s, before they performed a few sketches from their upcoming show, to ask them why the fuck not? They didn’t seem to have a good answer to this, so I revised my conversational approach slightly. How had they met? Who wrote the material? How did they come up with such a startlingly original idea?
“Rich and I met during a college play,” Jackson tells me. “There was a 15 minute long scene in which we were in the background with nothing to do, so to avoid boredom we tried to make each other laugh by whispering comments.”
“I’d always wanted to do some comedy at Oxford, so after the show finished, I asked Richard whether he would like to do some writing and luckily he said yes. We started doing Audreys [the Revue’s fortnightly comedy evenings] and bar gigs, then we performed at Worcester Ball, which was great.”
“Usually, one of us comes up with an idea for a sketch, the other person writes it, and then we edit it together”, Jackson continues. “It’s quite a productive system because the bones of the sketch come from one person and the humorous substance is added by the other.”
Jackson talks like the hundred-mile-an-hour dog runs, in a breathless, hurried manner. In a valiant attempt to involve Grumitt in the interview, I ask him about their comedic style.
“When we started, it tended to be that Olly would play the sillier characters and I would play the straighter ones. That bias is probably still there a bit, but it’s evened out slightly. We try and do universal comedy now, so there’s some surreal stuff, there’s some silly stuff, and there’s some satire in there too.”
Jackson eagerly takes up the conversational reigns again after I enquire as to the duo’s influences.
“I grew up with Mitchell and Webb, so I’m hugely influenced by them and their ilk,” he thunders. “Atkinson [Rowan that is, not Big Ron] is probably my favourite, though. He is just the master of physical comedy but he can do vocal stuff too.”
“I love Monty Python”, counters Grummitt, “but I’m also a big fan of some American comedians like George Carlin [yeah, me neither] and Louis CK.”
Stage-fright, as Renee Fleming (of BrainyQuotes.com fame) once said, ‘can undermine your well-being and peace of mind, and it can also threaten your livelihood.’ So I am interested as to whether or not Jackson and Grummitt shat their proverbial pants when they first performed their own material.
“I think the beauty of performing sketch comedy is that you always have someone else with you. Someone can pick you up, someone can validate that yours isn’t the world’s shittiest comedy.”
I take it that their underwear remained unsoiled, then. Indeed, when I see them take to the cleared corner of their JCR bar, they certainly do seem to exude a confidence in themselves and their writing.
Taller than Grumitt by a good few inches, Jackson is a man seemingly made up of elbows (I imagine he could play a seminal talking cricket in Pinocchio). Despite, or perhaps because of this, he is as versatile as a bipolar Derek Jacobi, transforming from a confused Egyptian builder to a simpering English maiden before my very eyes.
Allowed space to express himself, Grumitt reveals that he is much more than his innocent chorister appearance suggests; his emphatic hand-gestures and resonant voice are genuinely entertaining. He relies on the humour of the writing more than Jackson, but he seems equally comfortable embracing physicality for laughs.
A sketch about the construction of the pyramids goes down particularly well with the gathered crowd of St Hilda’s students who have nothing better to do on a Sunday evening than head down to their college bar, and a satirical pharmaceutical advert for a medicine “distilled from pure bleach and filtered through the ball-sack of a mountain goat” is similarly well-received.
Don’t miss the chance to catch this aspiring comedy duo during their cutting-edge student phase because if you don’t, in a few years time you’ll (probably…) see them on BBC3, forcibly laughing at the soul-destroying banalities of Rob Brydon, and boy, what a fool you’ll feel. It’s also in 8th Week, and you’ll have nack all else to do.