'Little Britain' Plays Well in America

It's crude, it's rude, it's offensive by design — it's also very funny. The show Little Britain has picked up in Britain where Monty Python left off, and now it's making its mark on America. A talk with its creators, Matt Lucas and David Williams. The sketch-comedy show is in it's second season on BBC America.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

It's crude, it's rude, it's offensive by ambition and design. We should also mention that it's extremely funny. The sketch comedy program "Little Britain" has picked up in the United Kingdom where "Monty Python" left off, it's now making its mark on the American viewing public.

(Soundbite of "Little Britain")

Unidentified Man: Britain, Britain, Britain, cultural capital of the world. The Sistine Chapel British, Mozart's "Requiem" British, the Great Wall of China, British; but none of that stuff would have even been invented were it not for the people of Britain--the men, the women, the boys, the girls and the monkey children that populate this wealthy country. Let's have it.

SIMON: Matt Lucas and David Walliams are the creators of "Little Britain," which is now airing on BBC America. They join us now from the BBC in London.

Thank you both very much for being with us.

Mr. MATT LUCAS: Hello there, Scott.

SIMON: Hi there.

Mr. DAVID WALLIAMS: Hello.

SIMON: Well, why don't we identify you by name. Mr. Lucas.

Mr. LUCAS: This is me, hello.

SIMON: Hello. And Mr. Walliams.

Mr. WALLIAMS: This is me, Scott. Hello.

SIMON: Ah, OK, hold on. No attempt to distinguish between those two voices.

Mr. WALLIAMS: OK.

SIMON: Thanks so much for being with us. We've been enjoying watching this around our offices a great deal. What--my God, this is a--all right, let me--a very effete question, as we tend to put it on public radio here in the United States. What is the premise that informs "Little Britain?"

Mr. WALLIAMS: Well, it's supposed to be a kind of journey round Britain, sort of taking in all the different types of people that live there; fortunately, most of them, for us, are freaks. Those are the people that we're most interested in. So it's a kind of survey, if you like, of sort of British folk.

SIMON: Now the second season is now airing in the United States. But before "Little Britain" was ever on television it was a radio series.

Mr. LUCAS: That's right. And a lot of British comedies begin on radio before making their way onto BBC television.

SIMON: How'd you make the transition or--and I'm asking the question corporately...

Mr. WALLIAMS: Yeah.

SIMON: ...as much as anything else. You began a following on radio and then somebody said, `Let's turn this...'

Mr. WALLIAMS: And then you start begging desperately, going into TV executives' office on your knees and begging. No, you can create a little bit of a buzz on Radio 4. And the BBC being the organization it is, it means that there's lots of communication between different people in different jobs. So it is noticed if you have a successful show on Radio 4 and then, you know, TV sort of comes calling. It was great. I mean, we started doing the show on radio, I think, in about the year 2000?

Mr. LUCAS: Yes.

Mr. WALLIAMS: So it wasn't on British TV until...

Mr. LUCAS: ...about 2003.

Mr. WALLIAMS: So it's been quite a long time in the making.

SIMON: Are transvestites as funny on the radio as they are on television?

Mr. LUCAS: Well...

Mr. WALLIAMS: I'm dressed as a lady now and...

SIMON: Well, and you're very funny. Yeah.

Mr. WALLIAMS: ...I think I'm delightful.

Mr. LUCAS: Yeah. It was great to develop the show on radio because we were able to develop our comic sensibilities. But you're able to take a lot more risks on radio.

SIMON: That's you, Mr. Lucas, right?

Mr. LUCAS: That is me. I'm Matt Lucas, yeah. That was me.

SIMON: All right. You play a character named Dafid(ph), who lives in a small--forgive me if I mispronounce the name--lives in a small Welsh village and he is extremely proud and protective of the fact that he is the only gay in this small village.

Mr. LUCAS: That's right.

(Soundbite of "Little Britain")

Mr. LUCAS: (As Dafid) Mom. Dad.

Unidentified Man #1 and Unidentified Woman: (In unison) Morning, son.

Mr. LUCAS: (As Dafid) There's something important I have to tell you both. I am a gay. Ahhh!

Unidentified Woman: Oh, that's nice, dear.

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah, good for you, lad.

Mr. LUCAS: So you're not going to disown me or cast me asunder?

Unidentified Woman: Hey! Oh, no. To be honest, lad, we did have an inkling.

Unidentified Man #1: So you've got a boyfriend then?

Mr. LUCAS: (As Dafid) No.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, well, then we'll try to fix you up with someone.

Mr. LUCAS: (As Dafid) Well, that won't be very easy as I am the only gay in the village.

Unidentified Man #1: Come to think of it, there's a right handsome lad who works down the mine.

SIMON: Are--have you ever heard from anyone who's offended by the show?

Mr. WALLIAMS: No, it is...

SIMON: Less the language, which can be frank, are sometimes transvestites or gays offended at...

Mr. WALLIAMS: Well, we got a letter from a transsexual who wanted me and Matt to be the president of the transsexual group of Great Britain. We felt it wasn't quite appropriate, so we turned it down. So, no, I think it's all done with a sense of fun...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. WALLIAMS: ...and so we've never really offended anyone as much as we've tried.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LUCAS: There's a great history as well in Britain of...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. LUCAS: ..that slightly smutty, kind of vulgar humor, but it has a wink to it.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. LUCAS: It has--you know, it's all in fun. It's not too aggressive or shocking.

Mr. WALLIAMS: No, and we're making ourselves look ridiculous the whole time. So I think, you know, we're not cruelly kind of commenting on these people. We're becoming them. We're acting out kind of our own neurosis as much as anything else.

SIMON: We want to play another clip, if we could.

Mr. LUCAS: Thank you.

SIMON: This is from the first season. A character named Emily Howard--and she is just about the least convincing transvestite that you will ever encounter and doesn't seem to be capable of fooling anyone.

(Soundbite of "Little Britain")

Mr. WALLIAMS: (As Emily Howard) Whoo! Whoo! Absolutely tipping it down out there. That's the only reason I came in here alone without a chaperone. I'm a lady, you see. Please, pay me no heed. I've never been in a pub before. Tell me, what does one do?

Unidentified Man #2: Well, you can order a drink if you like, mate.

Mr. WALLIAMS: (As Emily Howard) Yes, sir. I'll have a lady's drink, s'il vous plait.

Unidentified Man #2: What can I get you?

Unidentified Man #3: I'd like to buy the lady a drink.

Mr. WALLIAMS: (As Emily Howard) What?

Unidentified Man #3: I said I'd like to buy you a drink, if that's OK.

Mr. WALLIAMS: (As Emily Howard) But I'm a lady.

Unidentified Man #3: Yeah, I know, and I'd like to buy you a drink.

Mr. WALLIAMS: (As Emily Howard) Oooh. Well, a drinky poo-poo. Yes, I'll have a slim lime tonic water, please.

Unidentified Man #2: Right you are.

Unidentified Man #3: So tell me a little bit about yourself.

Mr. WALLIAMS: (As Emily Howard) Well, my name is Emily, Emily Howard, and I'm a lady. And because I'm a lady I like to do lady's things like attend the operettas and les ballets ...(unintelligible). Do you like the theater?

Unidentified Man #3: No, but I like you.

Mr. WALLIAMS: (As Emily Howard) Well, you must know that I'm a lady. I press flowers and stroke kittens and swim in rivers wearing dresses and hats.

Unidentified Man #3: You're a very lovely looking lady.

Mr. WALLIAMS: (As Emily Howard) Ooh! (Titters)

SIMON: And, by the way, I believe the sequence ends with both of them standing at the urinal, right?

Mr. LUCAS: Yes.

Mr. WALLIAMS: That's right. Very subtle, the humor in this show.

SIMON: Now I want--don't want to put you in the position of explaining to us why this is funny, because we were certainly laughing, but I'm wondering when you're putting together the show, what makes you want to follow a character through to his or her logical conclusion?

Mr. WALLIAMS: I think the best characters have kind of an emotional life to them. Most of the time we're just trying to make each other laugh or ourselves laugh. And when we're both laughing, that normally means we're on to something in the character. But the great thing about this show is that we've always done it in front of an audience. The radio show was done in front of an audience and the TV show is, too. And when we prerecord on location we show it to an audience. And that means that they ultimately decide for us, you know, when we've gone too far, what's funny, what's not, you know.

SIMON: Does there come a time when it becomes harder to rock people back with what you're doing because you have surprised them with so much?

Mr. LUCAS: Well, I think the fortunate thing that we have is we have a format where we can still continue to write for characters that continue to entertain the audience and continue to inspire us, but we can constantly bring in new characters. And in every series we've killed off popular characters and brought new ones in. So I think we're blessed in terms of this format that we're able to keep it fresh.

SIMON: Well, we want to thank you both very much for being with us. We've enjoyed it and enjoy the show a lot.

Mr. WALLIAMS: Thank you so much for having us, Scott. Really appreciate it.

Mr. LUCAS: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Matt Lucas and David Walliams. They're the creators of the program "Little Britain," airing now on BBC America.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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