Two Episodes Of Mash has been confounding audiences for a few years, mostly because they expect an hour long excursion into the adventures of Hawkeye and company. The brainchild of deadpan stand-ups Joe Wilkinson, winner of Hackney Empire Best New Act 2006 and soon to be seen in upcoming Him & Her (also starring Russell Tovey) and Diane Morgan, runner-up for Hackey Empire Best New Act 2006 who’s has also appeared on Phoenix Nights and Mock The Week.
Their sketches take the fantastic and transform it into grey monotone of the mundane. With a Radio 2 pilot under their belts and their second full Edinburgh show coming up, we caught up with them to talk about what exactly would Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory be like…
Hello Joe, Diane! How are you both?
Diane: Quite tired.
J: You tired?
J: I’m fine actually.
You’ve been preparing for Edinburgh. How have the previews gone?
D: Good, I think. We’ve come on in leaps and bounds.
J: Yeah, they actually have gone well, haven’t they? Which means we’re nervous for a different reason. We assume that, because it’s gone well here, it won’t go well in Edinburgh. But we’re positive for once.
D: It’s a whole different ballgame once you get up there.
J: Last year we had a lot of stuff that worked really well down here in London, and then when we got up to Edinburgh, they hated it. So, we had to change stuff. So, however tight it’s feeling down here, you have to go, “I wonder what bit they’ll hate in Edinburgh?”
D: Yeah, you can never go, “Previews are going well. It’s all sorted. It works.”
J: There’s ten days to go and there’s still lots to do, but we feel in the best shape for a show than ever before. And we’ve got a director who’s fantastic, so that’s been the biggest change. Stefan Golaszewski.
He sounds magical!
J: If you Google him, you’ll be impressed. He’s one of [sketch group] The Cowards.
D: He’s very modest. He wrote the sitcom that Joe’s gonna be in. That’ll be on after the festival.
J: That won’t get any crowds in. [laughs] Everyone Google him, he’s amazing. He’s the reason we’re in better shape than we’ve ever been.
So, for someone who’s never seen your act, how would you describe your style?
D: We always describe it now as ‘low key mundane glamour’, we don’t really know what that means. [laughs]
J: We’re not exactly high energy. I think we’re, and I’ve just thought of this so Diane will go “stop being a twat”, conceptual. Just ideas-led. We like really smart ideas that we wring out and try to make it as funny as possible.
D: [To Joe] A good example is the Willy Wonka sketch, isn’t it?
J: Yeah, it’s odd.
D: The whole thing is that it’s just an ordinary factory. This girl’s won the golden ticket and she gets a tour of the factory, but it’s just ordinary. There’s the staff room over there, some flatpack boxes over there, glue gun.
J: It’s just things like that, really, which doesn’t sound as funny now [laughs] but we bring a sprinkle of the magic to it.
D: And my eyes!
J: Diane has got massive eyes. If in doubt, she just pulls them out and you get this. [mimes eyes expanding] That’s how we end sixty precent of our gigs. “OPEN YOUR EYES GIRL!”
D:That’s probably a bad example.
J: I think it’s a good example, really, because it’s a really tiny idea we thought was funny. And so we play out this idea of someone getting agitated because they were expecting a giant chocolate fountain. You can’t eat the chocolate, it’s just shit, really. [laughs]
Being stand-ups originally, did you both feel like doing something different when you started working together?
D: Well, we both wanted to do sketches. For years we talked about it.
J: We’re friends from doing stand-up, so we didn’t meet from wanting to do something else.
D: We’ve both got a similar sense of humour and find like, similar words funny.
D: Yeah, that’s one of them.
Mellifluous is one of my favourite words.
J: Superb! That’s a good one. Well, we weren’t gonna say that.
D: Tusk is about our level!
J: When we were thinking about what to be called, we were walking past a hairdresser called Tusk and we both started laughing. So, we were going to call it Tusk.
D: I wish we had done!
J: We’re mates and when we were talking about this…
D: “Wouldn’t it be nice to do sketches instead of this awful stand up!” [laughs]
J: The lonely life of stand-up. Then, I gotta be honest, it was fun. It was more fun because you’re doing the shows with a mate. And you’re not hung out to dry on your own. [laughs]
D: Yeah ,it’s always nice to have someone there when it dies.
J: You can laugh about it. The best example of enjoying a horrible moment was when we were doing a sketch about bodybuilders that absolutely tanked. If it was a bit of stand-up and you died that badly, you wouldn’t sleep for a week. But we just laughed our heads off! To the point where, in the second half of the show, we were going to do it again to torture the audience. So, it’s fun.
You can see why a lot of people stop because you have to spend a lot of time with someone, and you’ve got to have a very similar sense of humour for it to work. We hardly ever clash about something do we?
D: No, that’s true, actually. I hadn’t thought of that, it’s always, “Yep, that’s fine!”
J: If one of us shows a sketch to the other, 99 times out of a 100 we’re in agreement, which is quite weird.
D: Yeah, I think that’s quite rare, really.
J: And then it turns out we’re the only two people that find it funny! [laughs] In the entire world! So, it helps we’ve got a similar sense of humour and a love of the word ‘tusk’!
Being a sketch act, does having someone to bounce off on stage affect the show?
J: Yeah, definitely, especially if one of us has given up!
D: It’s nice after you’ve done stand-up to actually have someone you can work with. We do work together well, really. We sort of react off each other. We’ve known each other quite a while now.
J: Six years.
D: And you do find yourself knowing what the other is gonna do, so I can kind of pre-empt it.
J: That’s the kind of thing that we’ve never struggled with. The trust thing. We never hang each other out to dry. [turns to Diane] We’ve built up our own caricatures on stage a bit. haven’t we? You talk shit and you tell me to shut up or you look annoyed.
You did a pilot for Radio 2 that was broadcast recently. How did that compare to a live show?
J: We loved it.
D: It was so much fun. I hadn’t laughed so much in years. You don’t think anyone’s gonna hear it. You’re in a little booth and we just mucked about.
J: We dicked around and we had the most fun. If they let us do a series, oh my god, what a year. We just laughed our arses off. In the radio show we do sketches, but we improvise a lot of stuff between us. Which is us just taking the piss out of each other, really.
D: I think it really worked.
J: The room where Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand got told off for swearing on the phone. That’s where we recorded it.
D: I think there’s something in that room.
J: We mimicked the picture of Ross and Brand doing that prank phone call and the BBC were like “DON’T send that out! DON’T put that on Facebook and DON’T tell anyone!” So, we were in that room, so once we got over that and the fact we were at the BBC, we had a whale of a time.
D: It’s funny, actually, because we didn’t know how the sketches would translate to just audio. But surprisingly, quite a few of them did.
J:We didn’t think they would, did we? We recorded it quite a long time ago, so we hadn’t listened to it for about a year.
D:Yeah, it took them a year to put it out.
J: It’s annoying because we really wanna do it. So, we listened to it and we enjoyed it! We’re natural pessimists, aren’t we?
J:We thought it was funny and a lot of the sketches we did on the radio, we’ve never done live.
Was it a bit weird working without an audience?
D: I thought it would be at first. I thought we’d need an audience, because otherwise we’re just gonna sound flat.
J: We had this sound guy who was amazing.
D: What was his name again?
J: Gary Newman.
D: Gary NEWman!
J: He was fantastic and made these weird worlds for us. I wouldn’t do it differently.
We had this freedom where we had a lot of hours to muck around and warm up and you didn’t have the pressure of that moment. We could tweak it and make it better in the studio, rather than one or two takes if the audience get bored.
We’ve both done bits of radio in front of live audiences and stuff and it is completely different. It’s like you have to nail it in one take and it’s just not as fun.
Do you ever get asked “Who’s Hawkeye?”
D: All the time! Someone did that to me the other day actually. They said, “Oh, Two Episodes Of Mash, are you going to re-enact two episodes of M*A*S*H?” NO!
J: There was a couple we had last year, a sort of older couple and they said, “Oh we only came in because my wife really loves M*A*S*H, but we really enjoyed it!”
We like our name because it’s relevant to what we did and how we got here, but it’s been a bit of a bane of our lives.
D:Yeah, people always ask us why we’re called Two Episodes Of Mash and it’s such a boring story, so we’ve got a lie instead.
J: Do you wanna hear the lie?
Oh, go on, then!
J: The reason we’re called Two Episodes Of Mash is because my real name is Ron Episode.
D: And my name’s Diane Mash. People seem to buy that!
J: And we’re sticking with that, so you can have that exclusive!
So, who do you think should come and see your show?
D: Anyone with arms and legs.
J: People who are open minded to stuff that is slightly weird. It’s not straight forward our stuff, is it?
D: No, and people need a few sketches before they realise what the hell is going on.
To warm them up?
J: Yeah, before we take them down the avenue of potty. We’re not dark, we’re bleak and odd. It’s strange stuff. We don’t want people who have never seen comedy, but anyone who’d wanna come and see us, thank you!
If you’re looking for straightforward stuff, it’s probably not your show, but if you want to see something different, that’s the person we’re going for.
D: I’m trying to think of who our opposites would be, but it would probably be best not to mention them, really.
J: No, we know who they are. [laughs]
Two Episodes Of Mash will be performing in the Pleasance Dome in Edinburgh all throughout August. Him & Her is expected to be broadcast on BBC Three in September.