An Interview with Angelos and Barry
By Victoria Holdsworth
It was a Saturday afternoon I shall never forget. Arriving at the venue to meet tonight’s act, I was a little taken aback that no one had mentioned the Comicon was in full swing.
After dodging some Daleks, salivating over some Lego Stormtroopers which were around three feet high, and marvelling at the starved version of Deadpool, whose lycra seemed to drip from him, running around like a mad man, I wondered if my day could get any more surreal…. But it was about to!
Meandering through the overweight Blade doppelgangers, I met one half of the duo performing this evening, Mr. Alex Lowe, or as some know him, Barry from Watford. Striding through some dubious looking Arrow sorts, and a few Walking Dead fanatics comes his partner in crime, Dan Renton-Skinner, otherwise known as Angelos Epithemiou. It does make me chuckle, that with so many geeks in the room, that none of them can recognise these alternative comedy legends mingling amongst them.
Handshakes and introductions over with, we make our way through to the theatre. Deciding that all of us being sat in a row is not a good seating arrangement for an interview, Dan skips up the stage steps, closely followed by Alex and we head up the back stairs to the VIP area. Well, I say VIP, it was a room with a few sofas in, and a travel kettle.
“We love this sort of place!” Dan exclaims, as he throws himself onto one of the humongous 1970s sofas. “It’s such a dramatic place, isn’t it?”
“We love playing places like this,” replies Alex, as he dithers with his phone, speaks to some loved ones, then gets told off by Dan to pay attention. If I did not know any better, it was like being in the middle of a Terry and June episode, such is the affection and intimacy of this partnership. You can see from the off set, that there is a genuine appreciation and respect of two great friends here, and it kind of restores your faith in humanity a little just witnessing it.
“We love all these old music halls”
So how has the tour gone so far gentlemen?
A: It’s gone really, really well. We have absolutely loved it! We have been all over the country again, as we did another tour last year. Without any nonsense, honestly, thus far Whitby has been our favourite place to play.
D: We also loved playing at City Varieties in Leeds though. We love all these old music halls and theatres. We love it if they’re a little run down or quirky, because it just seems to suit our characters.
You both started doing these two characters for quite a while before teaming up, as a double act. Just how did Barry meet Angelos?
A: Oh well… there are various stories. We like to try and keep things a bit vague. It has been in the bookies, in the toilets, also at MENSA, where it saw them being too stupid to even get through the front door. We like to keep it vague because we like the idea that they have such a ridiculous back history, so that when we do our podcasts we can dip in and out of it and give people a little bit more each time.
“We aren’t fussy!”
I do actually listen to your podcasts.
A: Oh excellent! I hope you enjoy it. We love doing them.
D: The other way, was that Barry was doing a show on the radio which was about three hours long. As you can imagine, that is a lot of time to fill, so Barry rang up Angelos, and asked him to speak to him. There was one time that Angelos was talking to Barry from the back of a police van, after being arrested, and they had a good chat for about half an hour. Then when he was finally released, he went to host the show with Barry. That’s the true story.
A: No, it is true that we did an internet show together, but we left it because they owed us a lot of money, and we started our own podcast, which we don’t get any money for.
So you now have full control over your act?
D: Yeah, absolutely.
Both of you have done some serious acting in the past, especially you Alex. Is it hard to accept serious roles sometimes as a comedians?
A: Nah! We’ll do anything! [laughs]
D: As long as there’s money coming in, we aren’t fussy! [laughs]
A: Yes, it’s true… I was a child actor.
D: [laughs mockingly in a luvvie way] A child star!
A: Then I did my degree in drama. At the age of about thirty I started to do more comedy, and attempted more comedy than anything, but I mean Dan and I are both actors anyways.
D: Basically, the characters that we do are just acting anyway. First and foremost, it is just an acting role because it’s not like us doing stand-up.
So the acting remains the same, it is just the genre that changes?
D: Yeah, it’s just writing funny things for them, as you still have to embody them as a character.
A: I do think there are times when we just get away with blue murder, because of [slipping into Barry’s voice] some funny vocal tricks, or a funny face, or just something that is unique to that character.
Quite a lot of the newer comedians these days, tend to act more like rock stars. Do you think that these personas help or hinder the profession for other comedians, who are more focused on their careers, rather than perfecting their acts?
D: Good question. Recently, the more peoples’ posters that you look at they do tend to be going for the Rockstar vibe. But to be honest all that matters is if they are funny, and if they are funny and believe what they say then I don’t see it as being an issue.
A: I think that from doing stand-up, especially in a room above a pub somewhere, it used to make me be so nervous, I would feel sick all day. So, if you have gone from all that to larger stadiums, then fair play to you, and I don’t begrudge any one getting a bit rock starry. Touring like that is really hard. Good luck to ‘em.
Alternative comedy has suffered some major blows over the last decade. Most recently with the death of Sean Hughes. Unlike some musicians and actors who may only work together a few times in their careers, comedians seem to be a little tighter knot as a community, and supporting each other more as a collective, so how does it affect you when a significant member disappears from the dynamic?
A: Well I would say, that personally speaking, I straddle so many different fences, with acting, writing, comedy, stand-up. I even have these card ranges that I write that are in the shops, that I never feel as though I belong to a specific group. I always say to Dan, when we have comedians come along and do stuff with us, they’re often just talking about this promoter and that promoter, and I always think, I really don’t feel part of any particular community. I’d say in general, I find that actors are more generous than stand-up comedians, even if it’s all insincere nonsense, there is something about being on stage with lots of other people, or in a dressing room filled with other actors being together, it just feels like a team sport.
“We love real physical comedians”
D: The difference is that with comedians, it’s just one person, and it is all about them, but you work with a group of people and the whole unit has to work. There need to be a complicity there. There needs to be that team mentality there or it just doesn’t work.
A: I really love doing this double act. Apart from anything [slips back into Barry’s voice and takes Dan’s hand on the couch, playfully slapping the back of it, just like a Nan would] he’s a very dear friend of mine. [Back to Alex now] When you’re on your own, knowing that you are going out, and you have to step on the stage, hearing the sound of your own footsteps, it can be tough, so it’s so lovely to have someone there with you. We have great fun and a great laugh together.
The great Barry Cryer has a dictum that jokes are not owned but rented. If this is the case, what would be the longest loan you have had from the comedy library?
A: Oh! Really! Are you wanting us to tell you whose jokes we’ve nicked? [laughs]
D: [laughing] I think Mr Cryer might be right about that. You just seem to find your own thing though. You could say that we borrow from those old-school acts like Tommy Cooper. We love real physical comedians that really make you laugh. You seem to gravitate towards what you find funny. You do really go out of your way to not nick jokes, cause it’s just not good. Besides, as you said, it is a very tight knit community, and if people hear that you borrowed a joke from here or there, then they’re pretty quick to let you know about it.
“It’s a craft”
A: Having said that…
D: [switching straight into Angelos] Yeaaaaaaaaaah?
A: There are a couple of jokes I do as Barry, which I think are just old classics.
D:[still as Angelos] Do go on!
A: They are just so old, that there is something endearing about them.
With the rise of social media and YouTube revolutionising comedy output to the masses, is there much room left for good live stand up?
D: Blimey! Oh yeah! There is still plenty of room for good live stand up. It’s completely different if you are performing for YouTube or even on a podcast. It’s like chalk and cheese. Someone that might make a YouTube video, may find that by the time they get out on stage they can’t do it, or they don’t know how to react to a live audience. It’s a craft, from working up from ten minutes at a local club or open mic and progressing from there really. I think people love live. Live music, live comedy, live anything. People like being in front of people and coming out to see a show, and being made to laugh in a massive group. It’s a real event.
“An audience will enjoy watching you fail”
A: In terms of it being a different thing. When we did our podcast, we initially wanted to take it out on the road. We were trying to do exactly what we did on the podcast, but we soon realised that it’s alienating. If you’re sort of squished up together doing an Alas Smith and Jones type thing, it doesn’t work and you can’t really do that as characters. It took us a while to kind of realise that and to open out and really engage the audience. Then people would think it was a live event rather than….
D: But did you tell people to come and see two people perform a live podcast though?
D: Well that’s the thing. If people know what a podcast is, then they know the deal. Our podcast’s are completely improvised for half an hour. There will be some stuff which makes you think, where is it going? It seems to work. An audience will enjoy watching you fail. [laughs]
“No one else is doing this”
On a recent ‘Richard Herring Leicester Square Theatre Podcast’ or RHLSTP as some of the cool kids are calling it, Dan said he was inspired to write a comedy based on The Wrestling by Simon Garfield, only to be told by the author that it had already been done, by none other than the man sitting next to you on the couch, Alex Lowe. Is it hard to visit something that hasn’t already been touched upon?
D: No, I don’t think that is necessarily true. Alex, do you want to answer this one?
A: I think what we do, and I might be wrong here, is pretty unique. No one else is doing this. An old aged man meets another bloke, which has a nod to traditional old music hall stuff and a nod to some of the more slightly surreal stuff, a bit of a traditional double act, even a bit of panto. Even though we have nodded to those, I think it has created its own genre of nonsense.
D: Having said that though, if you haven’t bought into it from the beginning, then it probably won’t be for you. [laughs]
“More drunken men without shirts”
Comedy seems to be creating a bigger profile for itself on the festival circuit these days, and you performed at Latitude festival this year. Does performing in an environment like that change your delivery, material, or the style of your act?
D: Not really for me. We just go out there and do out show. It’s… a bit….
[Alex cuts Dan off and they both start giggling again]
A: There is one slight difference! There are more drunken men without shirts [laughs].
D: Yeah but Latitude was a good festival.
A: We did do some festivals over the summer, [laughs] where there was no attention given to the venues they were being hosted in. It was like we’ll just get any old venue and stick some comedy on in there, and call it a comedy festival. You just get there and think, this is so unconducive to what we are trying to do here.
D: There needs to be certain, basic benchmarks that allow comedy to thrive.
A: We went down to a place on the south coast, and we won’t go back there. It was so not catered for us. They couldn’t even turn the spinning disco ball off! At least learn the basics!
D: It was a group that had taken over a pub/bar and they thought, we’ll just put on a comedy festival. The acts all had to be on for an hour! We had to do an hour. The poor audience, same old hour repeated. By the time we came on stage, they were all smashed.
A: Which I don’t mind. [laughs]
D: I know, and that’s fine, but think about the audience. I know I’d be knackered!
“Backstories have to correlate”
Both of you have vast experience working within radio. Do you think that writing for, or performing on radio shows grants you more carte blanche to be able to express your abilities or opinions?
A: I have done lots of Radio 4 and 2, and I would say that neither of those would allow you to have even a little bit of carte blanche. I often do Steve Wrights show, and I’ll think something is funny and Steve will say, just don’t go there with that. Radio 4 never really seem to push the envelope that much. The only thing that it provides is a more descriptive writing backdrop as you don’t have to produce everything.
You are currently writing a sit come together. When will it be finished, and can you tell us anything about it?
D: That is right!
A: Damned right!
D: Well, we don’t know when it’s going to be finished. We can’t really tell you anything about it at the moment because, it may change, and keep changing until we bring it out. We want it to be bang on.
A: But we are trying very hard with it!
D: Writing a sitcom is about solving problems, like how’s and why’s and everyone’s backstories that all have to correlate. Once you have learnt how to do that, then you can just crack on.
“I’d smash his face in!”
Finally, just going back to, The Wrestling. If the fight promoter Eddie Hearn was to offer you a celebrity wrestling match, who would win? Angelos or Barry?
[laughter from both]
A: Well…Barry is an old man!
D: He’s an 82 year old man! I’d smash his face in! [laughs] He’d probably scratch my eyes out though.
A: [as Barry] I learnt a thing or two in my national service!
D: Not really though. [laughs]
A: He is quite a big lad, Angelos.
D: Nah, I’d belt him!