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Brief Encounter With ... Party Animals Tim Key & Tom Basden

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Award-winning comedians Tim Key and Tom Basden are currently starring in the London transfer of Basden's play Party at the Arts Theatre.

Both are members of the comedy group Cowards (along with Lloyd Woolf and Stefan Golaszewski), and both have won Edinburgh Comedy Awards - Key won the main award for The Slutcracker in 2009, and Basden picked up Best Newcomer in 2007 for Tom Basden Won't Say Anything.

In Party they star alongside Jonny Sweet (who won the Edinburgh Comedy Best Newcomer award in 2009), Anna Crilly, Katy Wix and Nick Mohammed. It continues at the Arts until 13 Mar 2010.

How did Cowards get started?
Tom Basden: Tim and Mark Watson directed me in a Cambridge footlights show alongside Stefan Golaszewski and Lloyd Thomas (now Lloyd Woolf) and we had a lot of fun on that and talked loosely about doing sketch things in the future. Luckily when we came to London none of us got jobs that were important or high powered so we had the opportunity to do that.

Tim Key: I moved to London a couple of years earlier and was doing equally badly, working in a foreign language school. I was already working a bit with Mark Watson and Alex Horne and initially Cowards involved them, as well as Rick Edwards from T4. So there were quite a few of us, but we soon realised that couldn't work, partly because we all had different styles. So it boiled down to the four of us, who formed a pretty prolific writing group, creating new material on a monthly basis.

How did it escalate from there?
Tom Basden: We started doing a BBC Radio 1 show called The Milk Monitors, and we brought in some of our Cowards material. Then we did a one-off special which was just Cowards material and from that we got a Radio 4 show and also did an online project, designing the BBC3 website which allowed us to develop more sketches.

Who are your comedy influences?
Tom Basden: When I started writing people like Harry Hill and Steve Coogan were huge influences, then at University there was a lot of David Brent-type stuff. A lot of our Cowards style owes itself to programmes like The Simpsons, in that the jokes can come out of nowhere.

Tim Key: There's all the obvious influences - Steve Coogan, Armando Iannucci, Chris Morris, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Larry David - but then there are people like Mike Leigh, who doesn't pack in a plethora of jokes, but whose characters are so brilliantly observed.

Tom Basden: Another huge influence was Marion and Geoff, because the jokes are so embedded in the characters as opposed to feeling like they've been crowbarred in.

Do you feel part of a movement in comedy?
Tom Basden: Well, whenever we put our Edinburgh shows together, we only go by what we think are the funniest sketches, as opposed to what we're trying to achieve tonally. So I don't know if our style is deliberate or we align ourselves with a particular movement. A lot of it's to do with Edinburgh, where you've got theatre audiences who are interested in seeing comedy, and the other way round. I think for that reason a lot of the comedy there now is inherently more theatrical.

Tim Key: It's kind of difficult to analyse it for us. I think for me the more remarkable thing is that we're a big group of friends who've managed to make a living out of this over the past few years. But people like Daniel Kitson and Will Adamsdale have been doing really interesting things at Edinburgh for years.

What's Party about?
Tom Basden: It's a play about a bunch of idiots trying to set up a new political party. It's about the way that politics now is very concerned with appearances and the mechanics of operating. I don't really see it as a satire, in that it's not really an attack on public figures; it's more an attempt to talk about the way that people approach political issues. It's much more of a play and a story than a review show.

Tim Key: My character Duncan is a guy who, on the face of it, is the doofus of the pack. He can't really get to grips with what's going on. But gradually, because he's honest and is also massively underestimated, he manages to unravel the party.

How does it feel to bring it to London?
Tom Basden: I feel quite terrified – it certainly wasn't in our minds when we first took it to Edinburgh. So it's been a brilliant but also quite a nerve-shredding few months. I have to defer to people who know what they're talking about with these things, but I've been assured it was a good idea to bring it here!

Part of the reason why it's appealing to do it now is because of the timing, with a lot of people focussing on politics due to the upcoming election. It takes on a different meaning in the light of a looming election.

Tim Key: It's not a high risk piece in that you're relying on an Edinburgh audience – I do think it's got wider resonance, and it's certainly not political in a dry way. It's primarily a cheeky, nimble comedy with politics at its heart. It's brilliantly written and, well, beautifully performed.

Tom Basden: I find it interesting in the way people interpret it. Some people go to town on reading things into it and finding political metaphors.

Tim Key: If it was called Restaurant, it probably wouldn't give people such scope to do that.

What are your views on politics?
Tom Basden: I think issues won't be that widely debated at the next election, it's more of a personality contest. It think vast swathes of the public feel slightly aggrieved that they're having to choose between two candidates that they don't want. And that's quite interesting, when you really don't have a strong feeling either way, which obviously makes for a fairly bleak political landscape.

Everyone’s very centrist in the media, and hates the idea of any kind of extremist voice having a say, and that means that a lot of the feelings expressed are quite similar. Which is fine in that it keeps out the loonies, but it doesn't make for very interesting reading.

What's your assessment of the state of comedy on TV?
Tom Basden: In quite a few interviews, people are keen to find out our views on this, but I think there is some good stuff and there will be good stuff again.

Tim Key: You don't really think about media until you have something you really like, and then you notice how much coverage it gets. Like when Cowards was on TV, it seemed to get a reasonable amount of exposure. I still feel that if you do something good people will pick up on it – and that applies both to live performance and TV.

Do you plan to do more theatre in the future?
Tom Basden: I'd love to write more plays, as I'm really excited about the cross-pollination of comedy and theatre audiences.

Tim Key: Yeah, I'd love to do more theatre, more acting. We're in a nice position in that our work is borne out of collaboration. Because of that you tend to jump about between mediums, that your skillset is quite wide. In a way we've got quite a lot of ajar doors, and I quite like doing a bit of everything. Nice to do acting, stand-up, and obviously poetry.

Tom Basden: More immediately, we're doing a radio sitcom version of Party, which has been great fun, and I'm kind of hoping I can flog as much life from the collapsing horse as I possibly can. I'd love to take it to TV.

Tim Key: I'm also planning a third slut-based comedy show. Maybe Eyes Wide Slut. Or perhaps Father Slutmas – I could make it Christmas-based.

Party continues until 13 March 2010.


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