Richard Herring introduces each of his guests on his RHLSTP podcast (audio / video) by highlighting the most obscure roles they’ve done, which have been excruciatingly excavated from the farthest reaches of pop culture (by which I mean Herring poked around on Internet Movie Database for about a minute). So, for you trivia nerds, here are some of your favorite people in the roles you’ve never heard of.
Steve Coogan is a multi-award winning actor and comedian, the writer behind Philomena, and co-founder of Baby Cow. He’s best known for his impressions (seen in standup and The Trip films) and for playing Alan Partridge on TV, film, radio, and audiobook. He has played a number of roles in American cinema.
The Indian in the Cupboard (1995)
The Indian in the Cupboard is really only obscure if you weren’t born in America during the 1980s (I guess that makes it obscure, then). I remember having to read this book in elementary school, and I think I might have owned the film on VHS. Richard Herring decides it’s “controversially racist” and that a better title would be “The Native American in the Cupboard.” It’s a Frank Oz children’s movie about a boy with a magical cupboard that brings toys to life. The Native American doll is the first and the boy’s favorite, but other characters include a depressed cowboy and Tommy Atkins the soldier, played by Coogan.
Coogan says, “I played a miniature person and I decided after that I wanted to play more miniature people. In the Night at the Museums I also play a miniature soldier, so I’ve done four miniature soldiers in films.” You will, of course, remember Coogan as Octavius alongside Owen Wilson playing…a cowboy…This sounds familiar.
Miranda Hart is the winner of four British Comedy Awards, the creator and star of the hit TV show Miranda, the author of Is It Just Me?, and series regular on Call the Midwife, Hyperdrive, and Not Going Out.
A Very British Cult (2009)
A Very British Cult is a film short starring Richard Herring as David, a cult leader followed apathetically by a small cluster of English couples who spend more time talking about donuts and home décor than they do about the return of Christ, which, according to David’s prophetic dream scrawled out on the kitchen wall in marmalade and jam, is tomorrow. Miranda Hart plays one of the followers. Her husband is played by Gus Brown, who is 5’4”, “so our children would be the perfect height,” says the 6’1” actress. Although the numbers that appeared to David in his sleep do turn out to be a message from God, they are misinterpreted, causing the band of dwindling devotees to wind up at a gas station where they meet an actor in the local Jesus Christ Superstar production. “Genius film writing,” Hart says.
Stewart Lee is the winner of British Comedy Awards, creator of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle and The Alternative Comedy Experience, frequent columnist, standup comic, co-writer of Jerry Springer: The Opera, and Richard Herring’s former radio writing partner.
This Morning with Richard Not Judy (1998-1999)
In 1994, Richard Herring did an Edinburgh show called This Morning with Richard Not Judy, a play on the This Morning news program hosted by Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan. It was a unique brand of faux naïve scatology and smug self-satisfied intellectualism, which satirized the economics of Edinburgh, which is that comics were less likely to lose money if they gave tickets away on the street than if they put their shows through the normal system. It was, essentially, an Edinburgh show parodying Edinburgh shows.
Having no script or plan, Herring brought Stewart Lee into the production at the last minute to fill out the show a bit more. It was performed in an attic right before or after a young Graham Norton routine.
Hoping to turn the idea into a television program, Herring met with TV presenter Nick Owen. But This Morning with Richard and Nick was not to be. Stewart Lee says, “I was doing standup gigs for thirty pounds while Richard Herring was at the Ritz with Nick Owen trying to get his own thing going with him and Nick Owen, not with me in it, and then he had to come crawling back.” The television show went on to star Lee and Herring in 1998 and lasted two seasons (18 episodes).
Taped in front of a live studio audience, TMWRNJ gave away prizes, such as a car, which was won by a student who happened to have the same model and color of car already. Lee says, “No one in their right mind now would develop a show with such broad parameters and no obvious aims at Edinburgh as we did twenty years ago when losses were absorbed and you could raffle a car off that cost three hundred quid.”
Josie Long & Isy Suttie
Josie Long is a standup comic whose Cara Josephine show took Edinburgh by storm last year. She is the host of podcasts Utter Shambles and Lost Treasures of the Black Heart. Also, creator of hand-drawn mustache magazine DMIMMM (BM).
Isy Suttie is most known for her role as Dobby in Peep Show, but is also a popular musical standup comedian, where she appears on various standup DVDs like 9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People and The Alternative Comedy Experience.
Improvisation My Dear Mark Watson (2011)
Improvisation My Dear Mark Watson—“which I think is the worst title of any TV show ever,” says Richard Herring on the grounds that “Improvisation does not even sound like elementary, and Sherlock Holmes never said, ‘Elementary my dear Watson’ anyway”—was a one-off improv pilot hosted by comedian Mark Watson and starring Josie Long, comic Charlie Baker, Derek‘s Colin Hoult, comic Rufus Hound, comic Stephen K. Amos, and Peep Show‘s Isy Suttie, all looking very enthused in the photo above. A mash-up of panel shows and improv, the production failed to get enough laughs for a series. Let’s blame the green screen technology, which is too distracting even on successful improv shows like Whose Line. Josie Long recalls, “It’s one of those things where you do it in the rehearsal and they say, ‘Brilliant. Do that exactly again,’ and I go, ‘That’s not improvisation. That’s the opposite.’”
David Mitchell is one half of the Mitchell and Webb writing duo, the co-star of Peep Show, the author of Back Story, and team captain on Would I Lie to You? He was also the PC in the PC/Mac Apple commercials.
Phineas and Ferb
Phineas and Ferb is a Disney cartoon show for kids. (“It’s made by Disney and yet it pays quite poorly,” Mitchell notes.) David Mitchell does the voice of Mitch, sometimes called Big Mitch when his evilness is particularly intimidating, which he played in episodes “The Chronicles of Meap” (2009) and “Meapless in Seattle” (2012). “I’m playing a baddie in it,” Mitchell says. “I display rage. It’s the closest I’ve ever got to an Oscar.”
Mitchell recorded his bits from a sound studio in the UK with people “on the high-tech phone in America” coaching him. “It’s a good program, I believe, from the bits I’ve seen,” Mitchell says. “Rather rudely, instead of actually televising me, they just have a drawing.”
Jon Ronson is a well-known investigative journalist, documentary maker, and author of books such as The Men Who Stare at Goats, Them, The Psychopath Test, and So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. He is the co-writer of the film Frank.
Man from Delmonte
Jon Ronson was the manager of the 1980s indie band Man from Delmonte in Manchester. Ronson addresses Herring’s audience: “I feel you all would have heard of the Man from Delmonte if they’d landed less inept management. I managed them for three years. I managed them into the ground. I was fired for having an affair with the singer’s girlfriend. It was a rightful firing. I was in the Frank Sidebottom Oh Blimey Big Band, and it coincided with me being fired from that, for tax reasons.”
Ronson had moved to Manchester after getting the role of keyboardist in Frank Sidebottom’s band while working as the entertainment department secretary under Ricky Gervais at University of London Union (ULU). Though he wasn’t meant to answer the phone, one day he did and had a conversation not unlike the one in Ronson’s Frank film (“Can you play C, F, and G?”) that landed him the role as keyboardist in Frank Sidebottom’s band.
Mark Gatiss is probably best known as a writer on Doctor Who and co-creator of Sherlock, but he’s done a lot of acting, not just as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft and Who‘s Lazarus, but also in TV shows like Being Human, Game of Thrones, and of course This Morning with Richard Not Judy.
Sex Lives of the Potato Men (2004)
Starring comedian Johnny Vegas and The Office‘s McKenzie Crook, Sex Lives of the Potato Men is exactly what it sounds like: men who deliver potatoes partaking in lewd acts. Director Andy Humphries set out to make a film that depicted real men’s behavior, in response to what he saw as an inaccurate portrayal in Nick Hornby films. What he got instead was a movie widely considered one of the worst films ever made. Mark Gatiss (as Jeremy) joins a recognizable cast also including Miranda‘s Dominic Coleman, Hogfather‘s Nicholas Tennant, Shaun of the Dead‘s Lucy Davis, and Human Remains’ Julia Davis.
Mark Gatiss says, “The best thing about it is it was the first time I worked with Julia Davis.” Gatiss and Davis went on to do Nighty Night later that year. In 2006, they co-starred as husband and wife in Fear of Fanny, which got them nominations for best performance from the Royal Television Society and Monte-Carlo TV Festival. It was a TV biopic about TV chef Fanny Cradock, an early advocate for cosmetic plastic surgery.
After claiming that he wouldn’t abandon British media for Hollywood, Simon Pegg went on to be in three Mission Impossible films and is currently co-writing the next Star Trek movie, having played Scottie in the latest reboot. In Britain, he’s most known for Edgar Wright’s Cornetto film trilogy and his TV show Spaced.
Six Pairs of Pants (1995)
Six Pairs of Pants was a three-episode sketch show starring Simon Pegg, Jessica Hynes (then Stevenson), Miranda‘s Sally Phillips, Spaced‘s Katy Carmichael, Neil Mullarkey, and Simon Schatzberger. The show, which Pegg claims is “more intimately funny than most sketch shows,” ran on TV everywhere…except in London. This is the first time Pegg and Hynes had ever worked together. After three comics backed out of the 1996 Edgar Wright-driven sketch show Asylum for claims that it was in poor taste, Pegg recruited Hynes, and from there, Spaced was born. Pegg and Hynes have gone on to play opposite each other in Shaun of the Dead, Burke and Hare, and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).
Edgar Wright is most notably a director, having directed the three Cornetto films, Spaced, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. He’s also written and produced many great films like Sightseers, Attack the Block, and The Adventures of Tintin.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
Disney’s attempt at Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was directed by Garth Jennings. Edgar Wright and Garth Jennings like to give each other uncredited cameos in their films. Consequently, Jennings has appeared in all three Cornetto films: Shaun of the Dead (as a zombie), Hot Fuzz (as a crack addict), and The World’s End (as a beer drinker), while Wright has appeared in The Son of Rambow and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy wherein a super computer called Deep Thought spends seven and a half million years coming up with the answer to life, the universe, and everything, but then has to design a different computer to work out what the actual question is. Blink and you’ll miss him–Edgar Wright plays the Deep Thought technician.
Nick Frost got his start in show biz when he met his co-worker’s boyfriend Simon Pegg who cast him in Edgar Wright’s Spaced. He went on to star in all three Cornetto films, as well as Hyperdrive, Attack the Block, Mr. Sloane, Cuban Fury, and even a role as Santa Clause in Doctor Who.
Man Stroke Woman (2005-2007)
Man Stroke Woman was a comedy sketch show centered around the roles of men and women. Nick Frost starred with Episodes‘ Daisy Haggard, Sherlock‘s Amanda Abbington, Game of Thrones’ Ben Crompton, The Good Night‘s Meredith MacNeill, and Uncle‘s Nicholas Burns. In 2008, there was an American remake of Man Stroke Woman.
Stephen Merchant is a standup comic, actor, and TV writer. He’s most known for co-writing The Office with Ricky Gervais. He also wrote and co–starred in Extras, wrote and starred in Hello Ladies TV show and TV movie, and co-produced An Idiot Abroad.
Run Fatboy Run (2007)
Run Fatboy Run stars Simon Pegg and is “directed by Ross from Friends,” says Stephen Merchant, referring to David Schwimmer. The basic plot is Dennis (Pegg) tries to get back in shape by winning a marathon with the hopes of winning back his ex, and does so with the help of his friend Gordon (Dylan Moran). Merchant cameos as “man with broken leg.”
Merchant plays small parts in other Pegg-fronted films, Hot Fuzz and in Burke and Hare. In 2002, Simon Pegg & Nick Frost hosted an Edinburgh radio show where Stephen Merchant & Ricky Gervais lent out their Xfm radio producer Karl Pilkington to join Pegg & Frost’s show.
He also played a CTU staffer in 24. “I got to know the guy that created 24 and I was visiting the set because I was a fan, and he said, ‘Put on this shirt and tie and have this woman hand you a floppy disk.’”
Stephen Fry is historically associated as one half of the comical duo Fry and Laurie, alongside his companion Hugh Laurie, having co-starred in Jeeves and Wooster and A Bit of Fry and Laurie, but Fry has gone on to do incredible television and film work on his own and has written several books. He also hosts the panel show for clever people, QI.
You’ll remember Lionel Jeffries as Grandpa Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, who despite being in his early 40s played Dick Van Dyke’s father. In 1993, Jeffries starred in a kids program about an old man with a boy who could turn into a dog. It was called Woof! and ran ten episodes. Lionel Jeffries was the reason Stephen Fry accepted a role in the show. He plays a cartoonist whose house is being redecorated by Jeffries’ character and the ‘dog.’ “He was a wonderful man,” says Fry of Jeffries, “whose every other word was c***.”
Rebecca Front is in pretty much everything, from one of the stars of The Thick of It to Grandma’s House, Alan Partridge, Up the Women…the list goes on. She’s also been in a bunch of sketch shows like Fist of Fun, Big Train, and the Catherine Tate Show. Her book is titled Curious: True Stories and Loose Connections.
You Can Choose Your Friends (2007)
You Can Choose Your Friends is a TV movie written by Richard Herring about a family of grown siblings getting together for their parents’ anniversary. The siblings are played by Richard Herring, Claire Skinner, and Robert Daws. Robert’s character Simon is married to Amanda (Front) who is struggling to get through the reunion despite knowing that her relationship with her husband is over for good. “That was a really good program,” Rebecca recalls on RHLSTP, and having seen it on YouTube, I have to agree, that it’s quite a charming little film.
Chris Addison is a standup comedian, as well as a star of The Thick of It and In the Loop. He was also a regular on Skins. He has appeared on a number of panel shows and has presented some, such as Have I Got News for You (guest) and Show and Tell. You may also remember him as Seb in last season’s Doctor Who.
Dotcomedy was a show that used the internet as content, along with studio guests. Hosted by Chris Addison and Gail Porter, the Channel 4 lead in script goes, “Join the dots now on Channel 4 and you get a Gail, a Chris, and some sexy cyber stuff,” all of which basically sum up why it failed. The Guardian criticized Dotcomedy as being already behind the times, having a predictable boy/girl flirty dynamic between the hosts, and being too much about sex. Chris Addison says that Dotcomedy helped his career because it was so bad, he forced himself to do something good afterward. Next, he did was a live show called Gentleman Scholar Acrobat (a Pink Panther reference). He performed this at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival August 1999. His website cites this solo show as “fairly unremarkable.”
Robert Llewellyn is best known as, though not immediately recognizable, Kryten in Red Dwarf. He’s also hosted shows like Scrapheap Challenge and his online shows like Carpool and Fully Charged. He is the author of many books, including The Man in the Rubber Mask, Sold Out, and the News From novel trilogy.
Birds of a Feather (1990)
Birds of a Feather, started in 1989, is now in its twelfth season. It’s about two sisters fending for themselves after their husbands are arrested for armed robbery. In the season 2 episode “You Pays Yer Money,” all about one of the leads not knowing who to vote for, Llewellyn plays a Tory candidate. He learned on the set that the characters were written for the actresses so that they were similar to their real personalities. Llewellyn remembers getting a lift home with one of the “Birds,” and jokes that he hopes they don’t bring his character back after all these years.
Graham Linehan is best known as a writer and show creator. Some of his big successes include Father Ted, The IT Crowd, and season 1 of Black Books.
I’m Alan Partridge
In season 1 episode 5 “To Kill a Mocking Alan” of I’m Alan Partridge starring Steve Coogan, Graham Linehan plays one of two Irish radio DJs, Aidan Walsh, who Alan desperately tries to impress. Unfortunately for Alan, they are far more interested in Lynn’s fond reminisces of Ireland than Alan’s ignorant comments about the Irish Famine. Hoping not to be outed as a resident of this sterile hotel, Alan invites the DJs to his home…that is, the home of a man he met in the lobby called Jed, who claims he is Alan’s biggest fan. It isn’t until Alan and the two DJs discover Jed has a room-sized Alan Partridge shrine that this claim gains some merit. The DJs are frightened by the shrine, thinking it’s Alan’s own doing, and flee the scene, leaving Alan to grapple with Jed, who’s now ripped off his shirt and donned an Alan Partridge mask.
To make this episode weirder, it is inspired by a real life event. Partridge writer Peter Baynham, who used to reoccur on Fist of Fun, was inspired by an anecdote of Stewart Lee’s. One evening after a gig, Lee didn’t have a place to stay and was invited to crash at the home of one of the audience members. When he arrived, he discovered the man had posters of Lee on the walls. Considering there were probably posters of other comedians, too, this isn’t as extreme Partridge’s adventure.
Armando Iannucci is a television writer and creator best know for his work on the Alan Partridge shows, The Thick of It and In the Loop, and HBO’s Veep. In 2009, he wrote a book called The Audacity of Hype.
The End of the Roadshow (1992)
The End of the Roadshow was a BBC Radio 4 show written by Lee & Herring, hosted by Mr. Bean’s camera thief Nick Hancock, the half of Mullarkey and Meyers who didn’t become Austin Powers, and Tony Hawks (not Hawk the skateboarder, the one with the fridge), with Rebecca Front playing roles. Armando Iannucci is credited as assistant to the writers. You can download the episodes here.
John Lloyd is a tv/radio writer and producer known for many things, including The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Blackadder, and QI. He co-authored The Meaning of Liff and currently hosts The Museum of Curiosity.
Doctor Snuggles (1979)
In the mid-70s, John Lloyd and Douglas Adams were radio producers, but they moonlighted as writers. They co-wrote two episodes of a kids cartoon show called Doctor Snuggles. The episodes were called “The Remarkable Fidgety River” and “The Great Disappearing Mystery.” Lloyd and Adams spent a lot of time together, writing together, sharing flats, and eating burgers at Tootsies. Besides The Meaning of Liff and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, another project they worked on together was a sitcom idea called Snow Seven and the White Dwarfs, which was about two astronomers in an observatory on Mount Everest.
Victoria Coren Mitchell
Victoria Coren Mitchell is a newspaper columnist, author, and host of the quiz show Only Connect. She also set out to make the best porn film ever and has won 2.4 million dollars in poker games. The yin to David Mitchell’s yang, basically.
I Love the 1980s (2001)
VH1 remade this show in America. I Love the 80s is the name of the BBC series, but each episode deals with just one decade. Victoria Coren Mitchell was one of many British celebs chosen to reminisce on music, TV, and trends of 1980 and 1988.
Dara O Briain
Dara O Briain is best known as a standup comic and frequent panel show participant, including Mock the Week where he is the host. He also went on the road with fellow Irishman Ed Byrne in Dara and Ed’s Big Adventure earlier this year. He presents Stargazing Live with Prof. Brian Cox.
Don’t Feed the Gondolas (1997-2000)
There is a myth in Ireland that when the council were discussing putting a gondola in a lake, the Councillor argued, “That’s all very well, but who’s going to feed it?” Some attribute this to Jimmy Mahoney or Jackie Healy-Rae, but it is most often attributed to Jimmy Miley. Thus is the namesake of the Irish TV panel show Don’t Feed the Gondolas where Dara O Briain served as one of the team captains. “Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.” It was hosted by Sean Moncrieff and discussed topical issues, interspliced with cut-away sketches and prank phone calls.
Dave Gorman is best known as a standup comic, his schtick being nearer investigative journalism than any form of standup you’ve seen before. Using visual aids to his benefit, Gorman has presented his findings live, via book, and via TV shows like Dave Gorman Gets Straight to the Point, Modern Life is Goodish, and Googlewhack.
The Top of the Form Story (2006)
Top of the Form was a University Challenge–like show that began in 1948 and ran for 38 years. In 2006, BBC Four hired Dave Gorman to host a one-hour TV documentary on the history of the game show. This included interviews with Top of the Form hosts Geoffrey Wheeler, Paddy Feeny, Bob Holness, Tim Gudgin, and others, plus interviews with the children contestants all grown up. Gorman recalls that it was freezing cold filming that show, so the only comment he ever gets on it is why is his nose so red?
In America, Peter Serafinowicz is most recognizable as the voice of Darth Maul in Star Wars, and more recently as The Tick, but you’ve also seen him in Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, not to mention The Peter Serafinowicz Show.
Jack and the Beanstalk (1998)
Simon Nye wrote four pantomimes for ITV, starting with Jack in the Beanstalk in 1998, where Peter Serafinowicz played Henchman #2, a character he was promised would have more lines by the time it was performed at the Old Vic Theatre, but sadly, the lines were reduced to none. Serafinowicz says, “I just stood on ITV in this horrible skintight purple and green thing with a skullcap on, and it was just really horrible, actually.” The show starred Julie Walters, Griff Rhys Jones, Neil Morrissey, and Julian Clary. “I regret doing that because I felt like I was around these people I thought were really great and I felt like just this big extra.” Cheer up, Peter. You didn’t have as bad a time as Lee Mack, who, four years later in the fourth ITV panto, broke his ribs in a prat fall, but because it was in front of a live audience, he had to do the rest of the show with busted rib bones.
You can listen to Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (pronounced Rehellisteppa) for free on Comedy.co.uk or buy the video versions from Go Faster Stripe for just five pounds. There are some video episodes on YouTube for free, but if you want to help the show continue, don’t forget to buy some episodes, too.