Back in February, a desperate message appeared in my Twitter feed. The IT Crowd, the sitcom by geeks for geeks (They did it first, Big Bang Theory!), needed extras for an episode of the fourth series. Geeky extras. Realising that I was not only a geek but someone with an unholy acting talent to rival that of Calculon from Futurama, I couldn’t not apply.
They had asked for a photo of myself geeked up. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything special for such an occasion. Resigned, I sent a photo of myself looking normal, in the hopes that they might keep me in mind for another occasion, one where they needed suave, sexy people like myself. Confusingly, they got back to me within a few hours, telling me they very much wanted me as one of the geeks. There had clearly been an administrative error, but I decided to pop along to filming all the same. This is my story…
1300. Arriving at the rendezvous point half an hour early, I’m greeted by the UK’s least intimidating street gang – the phrase “Should’ve gone to Specsavers” has never seemed more appropriate. It’s the first day of university all over again, as “Have you travelled far?” and “What do you normally do?” fill the air like a nerd mantra. The crowd murmur, impressed, as Norwich, Scotland and Ireland are mentioned, and jaws drop as one of our number, Micha, reveals that he’s come all the way from Germany for this. For some reason, my half-hour walk from home to the location fails to elicit much of a response.
1330. We’re met by the lovely Chris Jones, who has the unenviable task of nerd-herding over the course of the shoot. To the bemusement of passers-by, this gaggle of geeks marches into our very own TARDIS, a white trailer whose insides resemble an American diner, only without a jukebox. Or any food. There’s a television, though, and we sit chatting as someone from wardrobe comes to assess our nerd credentials. I watch, nervously, as some of my cohorts are handed extra-nerdy shirts and cardigans to wear. With my checked shirt, striped tie and thick glasses, could I be about to get sent home for looking too cool?
1400. No. In fact, the wardrobe lady compliments me on how nerdy I’m looking and waves me through. I’m told there’s a danger I might strobe, though, and spend the next quarter of an hour envisaging myself as a superhero, a bit like Dazzler from the X-Men (but with larger breasts).
1430. A group of glamorous female extras from an outside agency comes to join us in the trailer. I’m later told that they were dressed rather provocatively, but I’m too busy looking around at the bevy of bespectacled nerdy beauties to notice. I may not have the social skills to actually go up and talk to any of them, but I can sure as hell stare. So that’s exactly what I do.
1500. The call comes through from the not-so-evil overlords on set: bring on the extras! We’re shepherded out of the warmth of the TARDIS and into the bitter cold of a disused multi-storey car park. It’s a glamorous life, working in television. I wonder, as we’re separated into several small groups and positioned between metal fences, if perhaps we have been gathered for a darker purpose – I suspect the sitcom gods would look quite favourably upon a sacrifice of 30 or so nerds in exchange for another successful series…
1515. It seems their plan is more fiendish than I had imagined, as it’s revealed that our first task… is to run. There are some things in life that I just don’t do, and running’s one of them (Counting past 23 is another, which makes birthdays difficult). I consider storming out, but at that moment we are greeted by comedy legend Graham Linehan, writer/director on The IT Crowd and one of the brains behind shows such as Big Train, Black Books, and Father Ted. He thanks us for coming along and explains a little about the scene, and as his Irish tones wash over us my reservations melt away. I don’t do running, but I’ll make an exception for Graham Linehan. Plus, I realise, if I do everything exactly to the letter then he’s sure to promote me to a regular on the show, right?
1545. After several takes, Graham congratulates us, I get my breath back, and all is well. One of the other extras compliments me on my particularly nerdy-looking running; how did I manage to get my limbs to flail around like that? “Four years at RADA”, I tell him.
1600. Richard Ayoade, aka Moss, arrives on set. At once, three dozen fanboys and fangirls go into silent raptures, all of us wondering who will be the first to smash through our delicate veneer of professionalism and give him a big hug. Nobody does, but we all secretly really want to. We are told that the next scene will involve a lot of standing around and cheering. Now that, I can do. Several big barrels of fire have been lit on set for atmosphere, and we’re told not to go near them. Instantly, like a child with a candle at the dinner table, I find myself resisting the urge to wave my hand over the flames.
1700. I manage to avoid third degree burns, and before long another scene is in the can. Despite the icy conditions, there’s a slight party atmosphere among the extras as members of the crew distribute hand-warmers. One of the agency girls, having been recruited through more traditional means, seems a bit confused by the afternoon’s events, and asks me if this is going to be on television. I reply that I think it’s some sort of internet thing.
1715. As the crew sets up the next scene, we break to go to the toilet. As I stand at the urinal, the man next to me thanks me for coming along. Now, there are some things in life that I just don’t do, and talking to people at urinals is one of them. However, as the words filter through to my brain, I realise I know the owner of those Irish tones. I don’t do talking to people at urinals, but I’ll make an exception for Graham Linehan. We have a lovely conversation in which he tells me we’re all doing a marvellous job, and I tell him how great it is to be a part of it. I decide that it’s probably the wrong time to ask him about my becoming a regular character, and with a parting warning about the hot tap, Graham is gone. Eventually, I calm down enough to go about my business. Oh, and he was right about the tap.
1730. Chris O’Dowd, who plays Roy, is brought down to the set, and we continue our crowdly duties during a scene between the two of them and actor Benedict Wong. I’m completely swept up in it by this point. It’s Moss and Roy! In the flesh! Moss and Roy and… Pete? Fearing my own name isn’t nerdy enough, I try to come up with a suitable moniker for my character. Eventually, I narrow it down to Billy and Eustace. I’ll let Graham decide.
1830. The room buzzes as another guest actor is brought in, and a jumper is borrowed from one of the extras for him to wear. It looks better on him, somehow. As the scheduled end of the day approaches, we’re asked if we’re okay with hanging around for an extra half hour so that they can finish the day’s scenes. Of course we’re okay with it. I do feel slightly sorry for the agency-hired extras, though. Most have been doing this for so long that there’s no longer any novelty value to being an extra, and they’re certainly not imbued with the sense of sheer excitement that can only come from being a massive fan of the show. For them, it’s just been a cold day standing around in a car park. My sympathy quickly evaporates, though, when I hear one of them refer to it as ‘The It Crowd’. Some things just cannot be forgiven (Graham has said in the past that either pronunciation is acceptable, but we all know the truth…).
1930. The day comes to an end, and we are sent back out into the world to resume our place at the bottom of the pecking order. Each of us has an extra spring in our step, though, because we’ve just had the most incredible afternoon. And we get to do it all again tomorrow!
Read part two of Pete’s adventures later in the week! The IT Crowd is screening on Channel 4 on Friday nights.