Matt Berry is softly spoken. From a man who’s made a career of his sonorous tones, it comes as a surprise when he first greets me – and it’s a reaction he’s used to getting. “I don’t really hear it how others hear it so people are a bit shocked when you’re not shouting at them.”
He only finished filming his surreal new comedy, Toast of London, a few days ago but already the bristling moustache and silver streak that characterise his protagonist, Stephen Toast, have been banished. “We wrapped on Friday at 7 o’clock, I went to make up and had it shaved off at 7:15pm, and was in Groucho for the wrap party about 7:30pm. It was the first thing I did.
“It looked f**king awful and I had it for six weeks and was embarrassed to go out or do anything normal because blokes don’t have big taches. It just looks weird.”
Berry’s only got himself to blame. He created and co-wrote the eponymous character of Stephen Toast, a conceited and largely unsuccessful actor who starred in Berry’s own pilot last year before Channel 4 took the wise decision to commission a full series. The entire idea stems from his own experiences doing voiceover work and the curious characters he met on the circuit. “It’s being around them and seeing how happy some of them were, frustrated some of them were, furious some of them were,” he explains. “How they acted was what I took and some of their stories I nicked and redressed but it just came from that. I was keen to write something about something I’d experienced or knew something about.”
But while Stephen Toast is Berry’s baby, he’s got his friend and collaborator, Arthur Mathews, to thank for much of the development. The creator of Father Ted was “instantly inspired”, according to Berry, and the two went away and brainstormed a list of ideas. It’s a partnership Berry is certainly grateful to share in. “He’s got my favourite sense of humour; I’m really fortunate that he wants to work with me.”
As the star of the show, Stephen Toast is, incidentally, in every scene – a fact his writer didn’t quite take into account before the start of filming. “When you look at it in black and white you realise, hang on, I haven’t got any breaks here. Before you know it it’s six weeks of being in every scene.
“It’s also a massive headache and you become a huge pain in the arse for the art department because you know exactly what it’s going to be, even down to the kind of shade of green, so you’re constantly on them.”
So, will he be taking some well-deserved time off now filming has finished? Not exactly… “I can’t really because we’re in the edit and there’s incidental music I’ve got to do, then I’m on tour and then I’m doing Vic and Bob.” The man never stops.
Reeves and Mortimer’s new BBC2 sitcom sees Berry play a “lady-obsessed lothario named Beef”. After weeks of Stephen Toast, in addition to his famous serial dater, Douglas Reynholm, in the IT Crowd, does he ever feel pidgeon-holed? “It’s always lady-obsessed in everything. I don’t know if he is as such, but that’s an easy way of summing him up. He’s an oddball in as far as they’re oddballs. I always get lady-obsessed or sleazy.”
In person he comes across as neither. I wonder if he’s ever felt tempted to play entirely against type? “Maybe. If it was funny enough. I just find anyone who’s arrogant and pompous is always the funniest for me.”
Berry is a Jack of all trades. In addition to his writing, acting and voiceover work, he enjoys painting (he studied contemporary art at Nottingham University) and has forged a musical career, too. It is the latter he takes the most pride in. “I think the last album, Kill the Wolf, is the thing I’m the most pleased with because it was nice how it was received and I didn’t know how it was going to go down. I enjoyed doing it and some great friends are on it and again, a little bit like Toast, every idea I had I managed to do. It was done for me as opposed to being done for a market or something that’s in fashion.”
Nevertheless, it’s The IT Crowd that remains synonymous with Berry’s name, although that may be about to change with the final episode airing last month and the full series of Toast set to begin this weekend. Does he feel he has closure on Douglas and Reynholm Industries? “I can’t do anything more with it because there’s only so many sleazy and weird things you can do. I think it’s come to its natural end. It’s a long time, especially in this day and age of sitcoms.”
Onwards and upwards to the “sleazy and weird” Stephen Toast, instead. He already has many fans, so what fresh nightmares can they expect to see this series? “Everything that happens to him is terrible and unfortunate and it is unfair as well. There’s a lot of relationship things and all of them are bad, because he thinks he’s pretty good but you’ll see how he conducts himself.”
Berry is certainly sticking to his formula, but it’s one that’s yet to let him down and Toast of London really is terrifically funny; the first episode introduces us to an unhinged beak collector and the daughter of a Nigerian ambassador whom botched plastic surgery has left looking like Bruce Forsyth. It’s surreal but smart and will no doubt delight Berry’s committed fan base. It may be battling against sleepy Sunday viewers – sadly, it doesn’t air until 10:40pm – but Toast is well worth setting the record for. Trust us.
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