Interview: We Are Klang’s Steve Hall

With a new episode coming up this weekend, Barry talks to Steve Hall of We Are Klang...

How would you describe We Are Klang?

It’s feelgood fuckwittery. We’re joytards. A review of us in Australia called us ‘visually pitiful genius fools’ which is possibly my favourite ever description of us.

How did the decision to have a single setting – Klangbury – come about?

It’s not strictly a single setting – by setting it in a town you can have any number of characters and locations crop up, but by having a coherent identity that bonds those characters and locations together, it makes it easier to tell a story. Once we’d decided we wanted to do something narrative, it was a case of deciding what was the best way to convey the various stories we wanted to write.

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With a second series would the setting necessarily remain the same?

Crikey, let’s not run before we’ve been slagged off on the Internet.

Some of your best sketches have made it into the BBC3 series complete, but faced with television guidelines as they are, did you have to make compromises with any material to adapt it for the show?

I think it’s a case of maturely accepting certain compromises will need to be made, otherwise you’ll end up having those compromises forced upon you. So people who have seen the live show will obviously detect certain changes, but it’s kind of inevitable – we are pretty naughty onstage, and to think we could get certain things through unscathed and unedited would be plain daft (not that we didn’t try on a few occasions…) It’s an interesting time for television, and things that were allowed when we did The Wall are understandably going to make people more concerned these days.

Did the improvised sections featuring the audience ever require any retakes?

There weren’t retakes as repeating something improvised wouldn’t work, so if an audience interaction bit needed repeating it meant we needed to come up with new stuff – Marek came up with loads for the racial identity bit, as we were told to keep going with it – it was exhausting but worth it in the end.

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How involved are you with the promotion of the series?

We’ve been doing lots of interviews and so on, and our producer has been speaking to us a lot about which clips and so on should go out. We went on News 24 the other day – Greg’s girlfriend described our display as ‘cringeworthy’. We had a meeting with some marketing people who told us we should be ‘invading the junctions’. Which led to an awkward incident in Clapham.

How did you all meet?

We were all doing stand-up on the New Act circuit, and cropped up in the same New Act Finals a fair bit. In 2003 me and Greg did a stand-up show in Edinburgh with Rhod Gilbert and Ed Petrie, which we’d wanted Marek to be involved with but he had to work. Klang started a few months after that. Me and Marek first had a long chat after doing the excremental Harper Adams College, the shittest and most pointless gig in the entire universe.

Where did the name ‘We Are Klang’ come from?

We did some gigs in Singapore and went to the zoo there – we were kind of hypnotised by a lion who was staring at us through a fairly flimsy wire fence. As we stood there transfixed he turned round and unleashed a massive jet of piss all over us – his name was Klang and we thought his actions deserved honouring in some way.

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Do you all take an equal part in writing material?

We attempt to certainly – we each took away a few episodes to do a first pass on and then started cross-pollinating. There are certain things we’re probably better at individually, be it coming up with physical stuff or developing one-liners, but it usually balances out.

With three of you involved, what’s the writing process like?

Aggressive organic. It can variously be joyous or tense, inspired or utterly, soul-shatteringly shit. One of the things we were keen on was to try the scripts in front of an audience, so we did a lot of episode reads at the Pleasance in London. Also, we fairly quickly realised that getting the show on its feet changed it massively – so rehearsals with Ben our director became very rewarding.

Are there any particular inspirations for WAK material?

Not in terms of material. There’s a lot of things that have ‘influenced’ us, but then an influence can equally be watching something and thinking ‘let’s not do it like that’. Doing this series, we’ve come to feel that where it works best is where the story is consistently involving over the half hour. So looking at old Red Dwarf episodes was quite interesting for me, the sheer amount of stuff they cram in to each episode is breathtaking.

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What do you get up to individually when you’re not ‘Klang-ing’?

Ooh, loads. It’s good to have an outlet for stuff away from each other – plus it means we’re not reliant on each other’s availability to make a living. Greg obviously has The Inbetweeners, and his stand-up is quite wonderful. It’s funny watching the Ashes as I type this – Greg was W.G. Grace in the campaign four years ago.

Marek is an incredible character comedian – his Brian character that he did on the Edinburgh and Beyond tour in 2006 is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. He’s directing the excellent Cardinal Burns in Edinburgh this year, and the short films he makes with James Branch are always great. I’ve supported Russell Howard on tour about 100 times in the last year or so, and it’s been amazing moving from playing 200-300 seaters to Wembley Arena in such a short time. I directed (in the loosest possible sense, I don’t really feel I did a lot for them) Pappy’s Fun Club’s Edinburgh show in 2007 which was lots of fun.

Will we ever see a return to Edinburgh for We Are Klang, or is it TV all the way now?

We’ll always attempt to do Edinburgh in some capacity if we’ve got something constructive and interesting to offer – but at the same time, having suffered ourselves at the hands of bigger names doing one off gigs in massive venues and draining audiences away during the festival, you won’t find us doing greedy cash in gigs there. Late and Live provided some of our best and most memorable gigs, so doing stuff like that if all three of us were around would be great. We’ve also got a tradition of always trying to do Mervyn Stutter’s Pick of the Fringe show if we can – they’ve been very good to us over the years.

We Are Klang airs next on BBC 3 on Saturday 15 August at 20 past midnight and 3:45am.

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