Cult comedy icon Kevin Eldon has appeared in some of the greatest TV comedies of the last few decades, and is now gearing up to play Penfold in the TV comeback of classic kids’ favourite Danger Mouse.
He spoke to Jay Richardson about stage fright, getting into character, and his new silent “crap superhero” comedy on Sky with Johnny Vegas.
Over the last 20 years, Kevin Eldon has acquired arguably the most impressive CV of anyone in television comedy, with supporting roles in Brass Eye, I’m Alan Partridge, Spaced, Black Books, Fist of Fun, Big Train, Black Books, Green Wing, Nighty Night, Look Around You, Hunderby and scores of other much-loved series besides.
Soon to be heard as Penfold alongside Alexander Armstrong’s Danger Mouse in the BBC reboot of the popular kids cartoon, he doesn’t utter a word in his own superhero physical comedy Brilliantman!, airing on Sky Arts this autumn.
Before these though, he’s making a relatively rare live appearance at the Neuro Foundation’s annual fundraiser on Sunday at the Leicester Square Theatre, part of a great line-up that also includes Adam Buxton, Nick Helm, Tony Law, Michael Legge, Bec Hill, Sophie Hagen and Marcel Lucont.
“Charity benefits are generally a nice vibe. Basically, people are there for good reasons aren’t they? To help out, band together. All those things we bald monkeys are actually quite good at. You can be forgiven for thinking we’re a wretched bunch of violent maniacs if you go by the majority of media coverage”.
“I read a review of a benefit gig once and the reviewer was slagging off a couple of the acts. Couldn’t believe it. That’s like standing by a charity marathon and shouting ‘ooh, you’re not running very fast are you?’”
Trying out new material, in part about his unfashionable name, right now the routines are “like an unset jelly … I hope that reviewer isn’t in.”
Despite attracting awards and acclaim for his 2010 Edinburgh Fringe hour Kevin Eldon Is Titting About, which led to a Radio 4 series and criminally under-promoted BBC Two sketch show, It’s Kevin, Eldon has always felt a “stand-up pretender”. And he still struggles with nerves.
“Having a big old chat with myself. It’s been getting worse for the last couple of years.
“I’ve been finding myself limping along to gigs like some kid facing quadruple maths. Leaving the house with the cry of ‘dead man walkin’!’ in my ears. Pathetic.
“Fear? Ha! Sitting in a tin bath with 300 other people in a force nine gale in the Mediterranean, now that’s fear.
“I’m putting it into perspective. Being a bit nervous keeps you on your tootsies. But I’ve been going on, shoulders hunched, speaking at a million miles an hour and quite frankly that’s not a very pleasant experience for anyone. So. Change.”
After The Orange Avenger and Proper Man from Radio 4’s Kevin Eldon Will See You Now, the dialogue-free Brilliantman! is only his latest “crap super hero”. Eldon is Ian Hedges, a humble council worker with crime-fighting aspirations in the energetic comedy, which also stars Johnny Vegas as his bad-tempered landlady.
“As a kid I was really knocked out by the [Monty] Python reversal sketch where there was a world of superheroes all waking around in capes and shorts and rippling muscles and one of them had a secret identity of ‘Bicycle Repair Man. That was the germ I think. People trying very hard even though they’re completely rubbish is, of itself, very funny.”
Though not a silent cinema buff, with a barely watched Charlie Chaplin boxset gathering dust from Christmas – “I actually took Ben Elton seriously in the eighties when he decided Chaplin was crap, which rather suggests to me that chances are, Chaplin was brilliant” – Eldon still relished the challenge of performing without words.
“It also gave me the opportunity to write the music and record it with my old mucker Martin Bird, who did the musical stuff with me for my radio series and It’s Kevin. We did it all in the spare room of his place in Bournemouth with only red wine and curry to sustain us.”
Similarly, the 54-year-old wasn’t hugely acquainted with Danger Mouse when he took on the role of Penfold. But he’s come to appreciate the “knowing looks to camera and breaking the fourth wall. There are some really nice twists”.
“It’s kept to the original in spirit as far as I can make out. It’s pretty imaginative and has that same wink to the audience every now and then. There are a couple of new characters but a lot of old familiars too. The animation style is much the same as the original. I really hope the fans like it and I think they will.”
The Neuro Foundation fundraising event is at Leicester Square Theatre this Sunday. More info