Matt Berry interview: Spongebob, Toast Of London, House Of Fools

Matt Berry chats to us about his voice work in the new Spongebob Squarepants movie, House Of Fools, music, and Toast Of London...

We like comedian and musician Matt Berry, and it’s a good time to be a fan of him and his buttery-smooth baritone. He’s currently strutting his stuff in the surreal Vic & Bob’s House Of Fools, and his Rose D’Or winning comedy Toast Of London returns for a third series later this year.

Now he’s in The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water, voicing a magic space dolphin called Bubbles. Now there’s a sentence you rarely find yourself typing. So naturally we had to talk to him to find out all about it…

I’ve followed your work ever since Snuff Box, and The SpongeBob Movie might be the craziest role you’ve played, would you agree?

I don’t know, I get involved in some fairly far-out things, namely in Snuff Box I’d say there’s some pushing the limit. The thing about this is, it’s the only thing I’ve done that kids can see, maybe apart from The IT Crowd. But this is the first thing that little kids can see that I’ve done.

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How did you get involved? Have you been a fan of it?

They asked me to do it. But I was aware of it, yeah.

How do you find the right voice for what is essentially a magic space dolphin?

I didn’t know what it looked like then, I hadn’t got a clue what it was going to look like. The only thing they said was ‘it’s got to sound like you’, so that’s what I did.

Were the squeaking fits your idea?

It might have been theirs! I can’t remember, it’s been a while since I’ve done it.

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The idea of a powerful space dolphin is a bit Douglas Adams, are you a fan of his?

I’m a fan of Douglas Adams, yes. I don’t know whether that was their influence – he’s quite a British thing, Douglas Adams – but I guess there’s only so many creatures in the sea, and they hadn’t done a dolphin, so it was time for the dolphin.

Are you interested in more big-screen roles? Ones not necessarily dolphin related?

It’d depend on what it was. If it’s funny or it’s good, then yeah I’ll do it. Whether it’s big-screen or whatever wouldn’t be the deciding factor for me.

Hearing you voice a space dolphin, I couldn’t help but think of you sat in a recording studio and there was an instant mental link to Toast Of London. Do you worry about your creation Stephen Toast haunting you every time you do voice-work?

No, because he’s a character, and it’s not me. If whoever is behind the screen can imagine the difference then I think we’re alright.

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Congratulations on Toast Of London getting a third series. Can you say anything about what we can expect?

More of the same. There’s no arc, so everything happens like it’s the next day to Toast, which is very handy, writing-wise. What does he do that I can tell you about… He spends some time with Bob Monkhouse.

You’ve been on for two series now and won a Rose D’Or award, do you wish Channel 4 would reflect that success by giving it a better place in the schedules?

It works both ways, because if it had been given a more prominent time-slot then a number of things happen and they look at viewing figures and all that. It’s quite niche stuff really, Toast, so I didn’t expect anything different, and I’m just lucky to be able to do my own show. I can’t really moan about these things because it’s not the kind of comedy that on paper you would want to make three series of. The fact that I got through the net was a big bonus to start off with, so everything after that is an even bigger bonus.

Do you get people shouting ‘I can hear you Clem Fandango?’ at you in the street?

Sometimes, yes. Or just ‘Clem Fandango’. If you Google the name Clem, at the top of the list is ‘Fandango’, so that’s sort of pleasing in a way.

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There are some terrifically-named characters in Toast Of London – Ray Purchase, Colin Skittles, Ken Suggestion – are those names your own creation?

Me and (co-writer) Arthur Matthews. He’s a name fan as well, he came up with all the odd names in Father Ted. It just happens names are our thing. I think I’m probably more obsessed with names than Arthur is, and spend more time amusing myself with it, but he’s very good at coming up with them.

Was it you that came up with Beef’s name on House Of Fools?

I think so, but Bob would probably say that it was him. I had Beef Stevens in the background, but then on the last series I called him Beef Galore.

I loved that! It just seemed the perfect name for him…

Well it just came into my head in rehearsals. I don’t know where that came from…it just came up.

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Do you know if there’s a third series of House Of Fools planned?

I don’t know. I don’t know how this one’s gone down, I’m out of the loop a bit really. I don’t watch much TV. If this one’s gone down well then they might make some more, but Jim and Bob are on tour for the majority of this year, so it won’t be this year.

I really enjoyed the two iPlayer comedy shorts you did with Bob Mortimer, are you doing any more?

Yeah I’ve done one for the boat race, and we’re doing others as well, like Space, and all sorts of things. They’re all coming up.

Is there another current comedy that you’d like to appear in? Inside No.9 or something of that sort?

I don’t know. The thing is I’m not up to date with what’s going on. I barely have time to turn around, let alone watch any TV. And then when I do watch TV is mainly documentaries or EastEnders really.

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Which has been really good of late…

Yeah it is good. I’ve enjoyed Danny Dyer in it [laughs], it’s very funny at times!

So would you like to be in EastEnders, then?

Well I can’t be in EastEnders because that’s like my relaxation.

Not even as a cameo?

They wouldn’t want me in EastEnders, I’m sure of that. I’d stick out like a sore thumb and confuse normal people.

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Maybe a visiting market inspector?

I think that would still be very confusing to normal people!

You’re also a serious musician. Listening to your albums – especially Kill The Wolf – feels a lot like wandering into a lovely field you shouldn’t be trespassing in.

Ah that’s a nice way of putting it.

I know your very inspired by the countryside – what is it about the countryside that brings out your musical side?

I guess what it is, I grew up in the countryside, and when things get too much in London I go to the countryside. So in order to relax myself when I’m in London that’s what I think about. So I think that’s why the last two or three albums have had those sort of images. It sounds obvious, and sort of literal in a way, but it is an escape.

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That sounds like a very Romantic poet outlook…

It is. This’ll sound even more kind of wanky, but I can see the countryside a lot clearer when I’m in my flat in London, if that makes sense. I can picture it far more vividly, and I can notice things, even though I’m nowhere near it, than I would be if I was there. I live on the Thames, so it’s fairly natural, but there’s no greenery anywhere.

So music is an escape as well as a profession?

Well I’d be doing that anyway. It’s just another thing that I’m very lucky to do and get paid for.

Do you take yourself more seriously as a musician or a comedian?

Well I try not to take myself seriously at all. I would never do that. Like I say, I’m very lucky to do both and to explore both. Not many people can do that and I’m aware of that.

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Lately with Toast of London and House of Fools, and now SpongeBob, music and comedy have been blending together in your life. Is that something you feel comfortable with?

I do it without thinking. I haven’t given it much thought. They’re two things that I find fun. I find comedy fun and I really enjoy doing music. So if within the comedy there happens to be a musical idea then that gets done. There’s no conversation about it.

Do you think you’ll ever get to the point where you’d do a comedy musical?

Not comedy music as such. I’d maybe do a musical with funny bits, but I’m not really interested in doing funny songs.

Matt Berry, thank you very much!

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water is in UK cinemas today.

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