The Real Matt Lucas

Sharon Jaffa - Wednesday 4th 2005f May 2005

If there is anything more bizarre than an oversized adult baby bedecked in a pink romper suit, it’s an oversized adult baby in a pink romper suit playing the drums.

But then it is thanks to this very vehicle, of course, that Matt Lucas made his name as a cult comedian. No longer was Matt simply ‘the bloke off the Cadbury’s Cream Egg advert’.

His appearance alongside Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer in ‘Shooting Stars’ catapulted him to national stardom, although this time he’d become known as ‘George Dawes - the man with the scores’.

But in an exclusive chat with TJ, what we want to know is who is the real man underneath the babygro? And what exactly is it about Matt that made an instant impact on comedy legends Reeves and Mortimer when they discovered him all those years ago?

"David and I are big fans of Elton, even though we show him throwing tantrums"

One thing becomes clear quickly enough - that the north Londoner is one of the nicest blokes in the industry you could hope to meet. Chatty and unaffected, he is clever and funny but not in a wildly attention-seeking way – a trait common in his comedic counterparts.

Matt appeared in the first episode of BBC Two’s new series of ‘Rock Profile’. Following the success of the “spoof rockumentary” originally aired on Play UK, this is a massive venture for the 27-year-old. The show – which features Jamie Theakston interviewing Matt and comedy partner David Walliams in a variety of guises - has already made for hilarious viewing on the cable channel. Being screened by the Beeb signals the chance to reach a wider and more mainstream audience.

From Eurovision darlings Abba, to pop diva Geri Halliwell and Irish wonders Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey, Matt and David metamorphosise into a whole host of showbiz luvvies. So which were Matt’s favourites and how have the real stars reacted?

“I have to say, first of all, that the portrayals had to be rooted in truth and not completely cynical,” explains Matt. “There was an element of affection with all of them. For instance, David and I are both big fans of Elton John, even though we show him throwing tantrums - and his partner David Furnish as this really sinister character.

“Luckily, everyone seems to have been good-humoured about it. Geri Halliwell was going round quoting-me-quoting-her when she bumped into David (Walliams)!”

What’s more, Matt is keen to add that the beauty of the show’s humour lies not in impersonations but in taking the essence of each celebrity (“often we’d come up with someone and the character would completely take a life of its own”). Plus, the pressure of filming on a shoe-string budget - often shooting a whole episode in half a day - forced them to concentrate hard and deliver their best.

A couple of the costumes caused a few more difficulties, however. The dress Matt had to wear for his “over-the-top” portrayal of Shirley Bassey was so tight he was filmed lying down on a bed for fear of indecent exposure!

With Rock Profiles now safely in the bag, Matt is currently busy filming another series of ‘Shooting Stars’ – a thoroughly enjoyable experience for him since “making a fool of yourself is a very liberating”. He is also in rehearsal for a stage musical written by Boy George called ‘Taboo’. It’s set in the early 1980s and is based on the flamboyant pop star’s life, and in it Matt plays the part of actor and singer, Leigh Bowery. And, before you ask, yes, Matt can sing quite well.

Fans of Mr Lucas will know that much of his work has involved Rock Profile co-star/writer, David Walliams, 30. The pair met in 1990 at the National Youth Theatre and was brought together by their love of Reeves and Mortimer. Matt’s ensuing trip to university – he studied drama at Bristol University for two years until he “got side-tracked by comedy” – meant they went their separate ways for a while, but they never lost touch.

Five years later they teamed up to take their show Sir Bernard Chumley - Matt’s “aristocratic actor character” - and Friends to the Edinburgh Festival (the same city that provided Matt with one of the lowest points of his career: being booed off in front of 3,500 people). Following this success, they ventured off on a sell-out UK tour throughout 1997.

The following year, Matt’s alias Sir Bernard presented a six-part TV series about stately homes, assisted by wife-murderer and David Walliam’s alias, Anthony Rogers. Lots more joint small-screen parts ensued: Appearances in fellow Jews’ Dennis Pennis - Too Rude to Live, Bang Bang It’s Reeves and Mortimer, a brief cameo in the film Plunkett and Macleane, to name a few. The humorous duo also sprung up in music videos including Fat Les’ Vindaloo, and, in Matt’s case, Blur’s Country House.

As a writer, Matt has script edited for two series on The Lenny Beige Variety Pack (another Jew) as well as Ali G (ditto). When quizzed about his alliance with Sacha Baron-Cohen, he reveals they go way back to school days at Haberdashers Askes.

“My memories of Sacha mostly involve him break dancing in the lino in our kitchen when he was friendly with my brother Howard,” he says. Matt, who also tried his hand at ‘serious’ acting last year when he made his theatrical debut in a production of Shakepeare’s ‘Troilus and Cressida’, admits he has always been obsessed by comedy. To his amusement, he remembers turning up at parties with videos of Charlie Chaplin at the approximate age of 15.

So what inspires him to write his material? Is it ever his “traditional” Jewish background, much of which was spent “doing lots of stuff with (youth movement) RSY”?

“I can, I do and I don’t draw from my upbringing,” he responds, rather confusingly. (Incidentally, he doesn’t like to define his status as a Jew since he reckons it constantly changes.)

“It’s more about looking around for something interesting, and then the funny bit just usually happens naturally. Worrying about the one gag that didn’t work was always my downfall when I was on the stand-up circuit, but it helps now that I’m more relaxed about that kind of thing.”

And what of his ambitions for the future? “Apart from playing for Arsenal? Apart from seeing Arsenal play well? OK. I’d love to write the lyrics for a stage musical,” he finally concedes.

And you know what? Knowing Matt, a comedian who hasn’t been out of work in the last six and a half years he’s been in the business, it might just happen