Comedian Greg Davies writes and stars in the latest Channel 4 sitcom, Man Down. Here he talks about the show which launches tonight.
The series is centred around a character called Dan: a childish idiot who is trapped in an adult’s life. He has crushing character flaws, a uniquely dysfunctional set of friends, a teaching job he loathes and a wilfully insane father conspiring to keep this man down.
Your new series is Man Down. What’s it all about?
I suppose it’s about a man lost at sea. Well I don’t really want to say it’s about a teacher as it isn’t really. He happens to be a teacher because I was a teacher but it’s just about a silly man who’s never quite managed to grow up and his equally ridiculous friends. I suppose it’s about somebody being trapped in a cycle. It’s a story of a man whose own behaviour holds him back but he’s incapable of changing.
A lot of people’s material is, in some way, autobiographical. Is that the case, in any way, with Man Down?
I think it’s hugely autobiographical yes because I was a very unhappy teacher for a long time – for 13 years and I think I’ve mined that period which felt like a directionless period. I mean obviously I had an awful lot of fun and I hope that’s where the fun in this show comes from watching a man disintegrate a little bit as a lot of us do in our lives at some point. ‘Directionless’ is the best way I can think to say it.
That’s what happens to this silly man who prioritises the wrong things so it’s autobiographical in the sense that I did have a period where I was all over the place really. I didn’t really get very far but you know I had a lot of fun! Please don’t think it’s a depressing piece it’s not, it’s just silly.
A lot of dramas and comedies seem to revolve around schools and teachers. Why do you think that is?
I suppose because all human life is there in a school I think that’s probably why. School resonates with everyone – teachers resonate with everyone because we all did it didn’t we, we all went to school. It’s one of the few things that unites everybody is that we were all there so I guess that’s why.
What was it like filming with the children? Did you find yourself reverting back to teacher mode?
A little bit when they got tired I found myself cocking an eyebrow and someone in the crew, when I told them all to be quiet and stand against a wall once, went “you’ve still got it”. But they were lovely kids, they will do great. They were far more focused and mature than me during the shoot. Incredibly ambitious 11 year olds.
Do you like the character of Dan? Is that important when you’re playing a role?
I do like him as he’s so close to how I was – I mean he’s not – he’s a grossly exaggerated version and I think he’s incredibly selfish and irritating but I hope there’s a fundamental kindness to him. He’s just quite sad; he’s quite a sad character really. In every episode he tried to change and he just picks the wrong way of doing it.
In every episode he thinks – my life will get better if I do this thing but you know straight away when he picks it, no that won’t make it better. I think in every episode from the get go the audience are told this is going to end badly and it does! There are no secrets it will end badly so if you watch the first two minutes of one of our shows and think “oh god this doesn’t look like it will end well…” no it will end horribly!
Does it feel different when you’re filming a show that you’ve written and created?
Yes it feels far more frightening.
How does the writing process work? Do you have a set routine?
I think it works for different people in different ways. For me, the way it works is I would stumble out of bed and I stay in my pants all day in my flat then I’d fall asleep then I’d write for five minutes then I would fall asleep again then I would have to go outside, go for a walk then I’ll come back and have a massive meal then fall asleep again and I’ll eat eight packets of biscuits and go to bed.
The next day I’ll get up again have a shower, play on video games watch some tele, fall asleep on the sofa, write a bit more – are you getting the gist? There’s no pattern to it whatsoever.
You cast Rik Mayall as your dad. Was that the easiest bit of casting in TV history?
It was easy in that I thought before I’d even started writing the sitcom wouldn’t it be amazing if Rik Mayall was my dad because I’ve been compared to him for the last ten years and of course he’s one of my comedy heroes. It was a fantasy casting in my head before I’d even started writing it and then to find out he was interested was beyond exciting.
I mean I didn’t used to look like him. It seems in the last decade I’ve morphed into him for some reason so it seemed an obvious thing and then he came into meet me and I knew straight away that we’d have a great time together and we have.
When you were filming did you often find then that you would crack up and laugh a lot?
Yes I thought it was really good fun to shoot we had a brilliant, lovely crew. Sometimes it doesn’t work 35/40 people together to try and make something creative, what are the chances of it clicking but it really did click with this group. I don’t think you’d meet anyone who’d tell you we didn’t have fun. There was a lot of laughing on set and I just hope that transfers to the screen.
Man Down airs tonight (Nov 1st) from 9.30pm on Channel 4.