Javone Prince talks about his new BBC2 comedy – the UK’s first “black” sketch show in a generation

The thirtysomething Londoner tells Ben Dowell why he doesn't see himself as a "black" comedian and wants to show the UK he knows and lives in

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Comedian and performer Javone Prince says he is probably most worried about how black audiences will take to his new BBC2 comedy – a mix of live performance, sketches and music that is sashaying its way to television in a four part series starting tonight.

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So much so, in fact, that one of the sketches features him in a double act of fictional Gogglebox participants mocking his own material.

Bold, huh?

But, er, Why?

“Seeing certain people’s reactions…sometimes black audiences are hard to please,” the thirtysoemthing comedian tells RadioTimes.com.

“I come out in a wig, and they say ‘why are you doing this bruv? Why are you dressed as woman?’ So with the Goggleboxers, we wanted to show those people that I see you, we know you. Before you think that…we’ve said it.”

His comedy characters tap a rich vein of humour from a life spent entirely in London.  There is the Rasta owner of a Jamiacan café whom he cannot understand – and an excellent period skit in which he plays a gentleman on a horse who is stopped by an old fashioned English bobby. “Is this your horse, Sir?” says the policeman as Prince raises his eyes to the heavens. It’s very funny.

As you have probably gathered, many of the jokes play on the trope of being a young black man living in multiracial Britain.  But Prince doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a black comedian – simply a comedian who describes the world around him.

“This is my Britain that I want you to see that I want to present.  It’s not black or white.

“It is really weird. I don’t think about colour at all when I’m at home, but as soon as I get to a bus stop, leave my house, use London transport, I’m like – ‘oh right, yes’. I’m reminded. And then I get home and I’m like ‘oh I can relax now.’

“Day to day I don’t think ‘oh I’m a black person walking through London’. But things happen throughout my day, living my life in London that I’m reminded that I’m black. It’s about how people are responding to me. But I don’t think like that. I’m British. I’m English. Some things that happen and then I’m like ‘oh right you’re seeing me as a black person, not just judging me as a person’. And I want to share that, this is what I deal with.”

Among his other favourite sets of characters are two old West Indian detectives – “cute old men” as he calls them who are deliciously inept at their job.

“They are sort of like my granddad, old West Indians saying ‘bloody hell man, what the hell’s going on?’. They ain’t got a clue. They’re meant to be solving crime. I’m kind of close to it because they’re my granddad’s age, they’re cute old men and they want to be taken seriously but actually they’re adorable characters.”

Like a lot of young black men growing up in the nineties and noughties, Prince admits he didn’t have many black role models on TV. In fact there hasn’t been a black sketch show act on the BBC since the all-female Little Miss Jocelyn ended on BBC2 in 2008. And before that we have to go back to the The Real McCoy which ended its run in 1996.

“Real McCoy was such a magical time and then it just stopped. Where do I turn to?

“Well, I really loved Tommy Cooper. He was brilliant. I used to watch him and my Mum would always tell me he was a magician even though he never did a magic trick. As I grew up – Morecambe and Wise I loved, Benny Hill I loved. I loved the silliness of it. I wanted to put elements of that in my show. I don’t want to take myself too seriously, its comedy. I wanted to be silly, funny, a little bit clever….

“I also loved Lenny Henry – and then I watched a lot of American stuff. Because I couldn’t see a lot of black comedians. We had cable, I watched Eddie Murphy, Cedric the Entertainer and people like that.  And then I watched a lot of Jim Carrey. I saw him in In Living Color He was like the token white guy in this comedy black cast. And I was like ‘this is brilliant, he’s standing alone and he’s smashing it’. I love Steve Martin as well….”

Prince is not complaining about the lack of black and ethnic minority representation [BAME], and isn’t entirely sure what to make of the recent drive, spearheaded by Lenny Henry, into having a greater BAME presence on TV. There is even talk of introducing quotas for talent in front of and behind the cameras.

“All I would say is I want to thank the BBC – everyone saying ‘we back this idea, it’s funny. We’re not backing it because you’re black, we’re backing it because it’s a good idea.

“In the writing room with [lead writer and producer/director] Phil Bowker there were four black up and coming writers in a room with him and fleshing out ideas. There were two white people in the room and four black writers. It was really lovely and refreshing and amazing and Phil gave us the opportunity to do that and stretch our legs and have our freedom to say this is what we want to be on television.

“It’s crazy to think that from being in a council house with no money growing up and thinking actually this is what I’m going to do and actually now I’m here – right now – in front of you. It feels lovely and amazing. I hope that it does inspire other people, no matter where you’re from or what your background is to say comedy speaks to me and I want to give something back.

“The BBC gave us this brilliant opportunity out of nowhere when we went in there. They were like ‘you know what, we’re going to give you this chance’.  I take my hat off to them. They believed in me.”

He’s hoping for a second series and is anxiously awaiting the response to their first.

I’m kind of proud, nervous, scared at the same time and everything all in one,” he signs off. “Hopefully people love it.

“I just want everyone to see it.  I know that black people will tune in. I’m not worried about black people watching the show. I want Britain to watch this show. I haven’t made this for a specific type of person. I’ve made this for Britain, I see Britain like this – do you agree with this? Do you find it funny and thought provoking? I want you to enjoy my Britain, the way I enjoy it. “

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The Javone Prince Show starts on BBC2 on Sunday July 19 at 9.45pm