Jack Whitehall on being unlucky in love, stealing slang from teenagers and finding comedy in schools

"Everyone always says that I just play myself in these things but I think the real me would be a much less entertaining screen character"

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Jack Whitehall’s school-based sitcom Bad Education returns to our telly screens tonight. The 25-year-old comedian writes and stars in the series, which follows hapless teacher Alfie Wickers as he attempts to woo fellow teacher Miss Gulliver – and not fail his entire class. As the second series gets set to premiere on BBC3, Whitehall sat down with RadioTimes.com…

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Tell us a little bit about why we should tune into Bad Education.

It’s a fun, vibrant joyous show and hopefully has some of the infectious frenetic energy of being back in your school days. It helps you go back to the nicer times at school without the nasty stuff like bullying, self doubt and pubescence. We’ve tried to focus on the fun side to it.

It seems to me that if JP from Fresh Meat graduated and became a teacher, he’d be a lot like your character Alfie Wickers… Do you see similarities between them?

There are definitely elements of their characters that are similar in that they are both very childish, kind of immature and a little bit vulnerable. I think JP is more cocksure. He’s got a lot more bravado and is maybe, on the surface, a lot more confident whereas Alfie kind of revels in his immaturity and his childish streak. But they are both fools so I guess that links them.

But I think the major problem with your comment is that you made the assumption that JP would graduate, which I don’t think he would! I think he’s going off to work for one of his uncles’ firms, if anything. I don’t think he’s going to end up in the education system…

Both Alfie and JP are kind of unlucky with the ladies, too. Is that, dare I say it, inspired by your experiences when you were younger?

Yeah. [Awkward cough] I’m not great… I put my foot in it quite a lot.

JP’s weird because he doesn’t know how he feels about women, like, in general! I think he’s a bit misguided. Alfie is more wide-eyed and in love with the idea of being in love – and is in many ways more inept because of that. In the new series of Fresh Meat, JP has a love interest and weirdly, if they did end up together, it would probably end with his heart being broken.

But I think there is a world where Alfie and Gulliver could be together and maybe be happy. I want to coin “Gulfie” as a phrase. I think is a really nice way of referring to them as a collective. But it got cut from the show and I’ve noticed that no papers or print have picked it up. I don’t know, I just think it works…

Alfie is sporting a pretty special hairdo in the first episode. Did you ever have an unfortunate haircut as a child?

Yeah, I had a bowl hair cut for a while. My mum did it I think. There weren’t very many pictures of me as a child. It wasn’t as severe but it was pretty bad… It was a bit weird going back and reliving it.

If you were a teacher would your teaching style be similar to Alfie’s, or do you think you’d be a bit more competent?

I think I’d be similiarly incompetent, because I’d just want to have fun and entertain them rather than actually teach them anything. I think Alfie is slightly in that world as well.

What would be your subject of choice? 

I’m not very knowledgable about that many things. Maybe football… But I don’t think that’s a subject yet in schools! So until that day I’m going to have to stick to this…

You write as well as star in Bad Education. Is it nice to have that creative control?

Yeah. It’s exciting to write something and see every stage of it through to the edit. It’s kind of a collaborative process though. If someone comes to you with an idea or tries something different and it’s funny, that can only be good because you’re making your show funnier. I’m very open to people if they want to do something different.

Some of the things the characters – especially Matt Horne’s head teacher – say border on the ridiculous. Is it a struggle to come up with new phrases or does the “banter” occur naturally?

The weird Matt Horne-isms we write quite naturally. The kid’s stuff is sometimes harder but that’s why following them all on Twitter and talking to them and listening to them is very useful because they use these phrases and words and insults that I didn’t use when I was at school. We just take them, put them straight into the script and don’t give them a writing credit!

Would you like to try your hand at producing or directing next?

Not for a while! I don’t think I’d be ready to do it yet, certainly not producing, directing and writing – I’d find that mind-bogglingly difficult. Maybe directing if I wasn’t doing anything else…

The schools you went to must have been ripe for comedy  – and there haven’t really been any comedies about private school. Why did you decide not to make a comedy about public schools?

We wanted to make the humour in Bad Education as generic as possible so that hopefully we were using subjects and characters that you could kind of relate to no matter where you went to school. The reason not to do it in a public school I think was that it would turn off quite a lot of people and have a less broad appeal.

They are probably less detached from reality than people would expect. It’s not all kind of mad eccentric teachers and playing polo and stuff. It is actually pretty normal. I think the public school classroom would just disappoint people.

Do you think there’s more comedy in state schools?

Yeah, probably. I don’t know. I think there’s just comedy in schools and the dynamics of schools don’t change no matter where you are. The themes we touch upon, like swimming safety in the first episode, are going to be pretty similar no matter where you are, so that was something we were keen to try and capture.

Do you get a lot of feedback from fans?

I was playing five-a-side football in Camden the other day and there were six or seven… like, youths, as the papers might refer to them, who were hanging around by the Astros not playing football and smoking something that smelt a little bit suspicious. I kicked the ball over towards them and I went over there and they all recognised me from Bad Education and they started going “It’s Mr Dickers”. They were literally bullying me just like the kids bully me in the show. It was quite meta. It completely threw my game, I scored no goals and was substituted at half time!

So you go back to school in Bad Education, uni in Fresh Meat. What’s next? A comedy about making it in comedy….?

Maybe the next thing to do is like a Larry David-esque, Curb Your Enthusiasm type thing and make it about a comedian. I don’t know. I don’t know how happy I’d feel about playing that. Everyone always says that I just play myself in these things but I think the real me would be a much less entertaining screen character.

Do you have any other sitcom ideas up your sleeve?

Well now you’ve given me one I’ll go and do that! But no I haven’t got anything specificially lined up at the moment just more of the same… But I’d love to write more stuff and I’d love to write more Bad Education.

What are you loving on TV at the moment?

Hannibal. I watched the whole of that series with Mads Mikkleson. Amazing. And very similar to Bad Education so… If you like Bad Education try out Hannibal. They are identical.

I watch a lot of comedy. I love Modern Family, Louis and Girls. The bigger serial dramas I always want to watch but I don’t have enough time, it’s so f***ing annoying because I’d love to watch them. I feel like I missed out so much with shows like The Fall, Broadchurch, The Returned…  You feel like such a dick when you don’t watch them! It’s so unfair.

Is there any telly you just can’t stand to watch?

Arsenal matches. I hate watching those. I’m an Arsenal fan and I hate watching them play because it’s so stressful. 

Do you prefer TV or stand up?

I still love doing stand up. I love doing it all and I wouldn’t give up any of it.

What can we expect from you in 2013?

I’m writing my tour and then I’m doing a show with my dad at the end of the year called Back Chat. It’s an interview format. Me and my dad host it together which we did in Edinburgh as a live show and now we are doing on TV.

Your dad pops up quite a lot during your shows…

Yeah, he does. This will be the final chapter of that. It’s coming to an end. I think I’ve exhausted it now for all it’s worth. We’re going to do one last shout.

And then will Whitehall Sr be striking out on his own and forging his own comedy career?

He probably will. He’ll probably dump me…

Bad Education returns to BBC3 tonight at 10:00pm.


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