Cardinal Burns on the "funk odyssey" of series 2
Comedy really is the new rock 'n roll when it's by Seb Cardinal and Dustin Demri-Burns. We talk to the duo as their raucous sketch show moves to C4
Welcome back. What’s new in series 2?
Seb Cardinal: Our hair’s a bit longer.
Dustin Demri-Burns: It’s a bit bigger and bolder, the show, slightly more ambitious than the first. This one feels like…more of a grabber.
Cardinal: There are new characters. We haven’t got Phil and Terry the cab controllers, they’ve been replaced by Hashtag and Bukake, two minicab drivers. It feels like we take our time with the stories more. It’s more like several sitcoms in one episode rather than quick-fire sketches.
You don’t strike me as sketch-writing purists: set up the premise, develop it, hit the punchline, all done in three pages.
More like this
Burns: No. It’s admirable as a skill, and sometimes we do try to write those. People who can write them, hats off, because it is a hard thing to make funny. But with some sketch shows, after a while, if it’s very regimented, it does become a bit “and-the-next-and-the-next-and-the-next”. It’s nice to have a bit of flow, a bit of variety.
Your show’s got more of an improvised jam vibe.
Burns: Yeah, it’s a funk odyssey.
Cardinal: We were gonna call it Funk Odyssey but then we thought, “Nah, we’ll stick to our names.”
No but seriously, watching you does feel a bit like watching a rock band.
Burns: Oh, thank you. After rock, sketch comedy is the coolest thing. You can go to any sketch night in some toilet pub, and it’s very cool. So we get lots of groupies, and… I’ve forgotten what we were talking about.
Are you aware of being a bit sexier than most comedians?
Burns: Yeah, definitely. It’s something we have to live with.
Cardinal: We took a look at ourselves, and thought: we’re sexy guys. We can’t play musical instruments. We need to get into sketch comedy.
A lot of sketch shows are very austere, very sexless.
Burns: Right, yeah. Most of them are.
Cardinal: Yeah, and it’s fun to play around with that. Also we like to play characters who are quite vain. There’s a lot of comedy in that.
You could walk into bar as some of these characters and cause mayhem, if you chose to. There's a powerful musk coming off the screen.
Burns: During filming we would go out between takes, or go to a bar as Jonesy and Metcalf. We filmed a whole sequence around Leicester Square dressed up as pissed businessmen. We had antlers on and pretended we’d been to a Christmas lunch do which had turned into a… sordid thing. And just walking around Leicester Square at Christmas with antlers on your head pretending to be pissed, it was amazing how you could approach people.
Cardinal: Jonesy and Metcalf attracted completely…we attracted women who…
Burns: It’s easier to pull!
Cardinal…women who would never ever talk to me in real life. I thought, “Right! I’m gonna spike my hair up and wear a pink shirt!”
Burns: You could just go to the bar and say [in character as Jonesy] “Hello ladies, alright?”
Cardinal: You’re gonna get attention.
Burns: Confidence, blind confidence.
Have you had to rein the show in a bit, because you’re on C4 now, not E4? Or because you’re aware you’ve got an audience, or because you’ve won awards?
Burns: I think it’s just good taste. We want to make sure we don’t go too far in any direction, too much of one thing.
Cardinal: You can get indulgent with an idea sometimes. You have to keep an eye on that. But in terms of doing something too shocking, there’s been a few... instances, but I think it’s mostly us who say no.
Burns: We veto it. We don’t set out to be shocking.
Hmmm. Didn’t season one, episode one open with zombies eating a corpse’s penis?
Cardinal: I mean there is that, yes.
Burns: But in the edit, you look at the balance, you go: “Well we opened with that so we can’t close the first half with something toilet or sexual.”
Cardinal: It was nice to grab people’s attention with a dick joke. Dick jokes can be frowned upon, but if you get them right they can be a lot of fun.
Burns: Hopefully we’ve got a good balance of toilet humour and just being silly, you know. We’re lads, we like to have a laugh.
Cardinal: I’m not a lad.
Burns: You are a lad.
Cardinal: I’m not.
Burns: No, you’re not.
Why are you resisting being a lad?
Cardinal: For me, the word lad seems so 90s, it just makes me laugh.
But the show is often an exploration of laddishness, at least.
Cardinal: It is, but it’s a funny thing to laugh at, cos that kind of pack mentality, which a lot of lads have, is quite amusing.
Burns: We are lads, but we’re poking fun at lads. OK, you’re not a lad.
Cardinal: Not a lad.
There’s a lot of campness in the show too.
Burns: We’re camp lads who like to cross-dress.
Hashtag and Bukake exhibit a high level of gay fear.
Burns: Well that was a Top Gun thing, that bromance that’s just so testosterone-fuelled, but underneath it all it’s like, what’s really going on here? That film was quite a big influence on that particular strand.
Cardinal: Yeah, and I think it’s going from one extreme to the other. The Paranormal Investigators are incredibly camp, and then you can go straight to Hashtag and Bukake, who are incredibly macho and oversexed…
…but constantly tempted by a blowjob from a male street hustler.
Cardinal: [laughs] Yeah, it does come up a lot. I can’t explain it.
Burns: No, I can’t.
Cardinal: There’s something bubbling under our relationship.
Burns: I think there is. We’ve worked together for eight years now and maybe it’s time to come clean.
The writing process must be quite intense. Stuck in a room together. The steady rhythm of the typewriter.
Cardinal: Yeah, we do use a typewriter.
Burns: We spend a lot of time together, and we gig as well. But we’re good friends. We were friends first, which I do think helps. A lot of the time people set off thinking, “Right I want to be a comedian,” and I’ve met so many people who come to gigs and go, “Yeah, I’m sort of writing stuff; I need to find my partner now.” That must be hard, because especially if it does go somewhere, that’s a lot of pressure on each other, if you’ve not got a solid base.
Do you hang out together outside work?
Burns: Yeah. You know, we sometimes keep our distance.
Cardinal: A healthy distance.
Burns: We don’t hang out every night, but there is an element of…for example, his wife's invited me to a barbecue on Friday. [to Seb] Are you gonna come?
You’re going to your own wife’s barbecue, surely.
Cardinal: No. I’m going to his girlfriend’s barbecue.
Burns: But it’s good to maintain a friendship, because that’s why it came together, and if it just becomes a work thing, we’d get bored of each other.
Cardinal: And also if we go out and socialise, we get a lot of ideas then, rather than sitting in a room thinking, "What’s funny?"
Burns: A night on the piss is as important as sitting in a room writing all day. That’s what we tell the producer, anyway.
What are the main differences between you?
Burns: You’re a bit more considered than I am. You think a bit more before you speak. I rush in.
Cardinal: [after a long pause] Yeah… you’re right. I think there’s a good balance of you kind of running about, more…
Cardinal: …puppyish, running into ideas. I’m slightly more editorial, and we balance each other out.
Do you feel like the next anointed sketch duo? Your producer Jenna Jones has basically said as much: there wasn’t one, she wanted to find one, she went to Edinburgh, there you were.
Cardinal: She was just being nice. I don’t think we can really think about that kind of thing. It’s not where we should be focused. We’re trying to make each other laugh and do good work. If we started thinking about who’s gonna be the next Mitchell and Webb, or whoever, it’d drive us nuts.
Who are your influences, then?
Cardinal: It changes all the time. You might watch Blue Velvet and use the atmosphere of a scene. Chris Lilley is a big inspiration. And Human Giant, a sketch show that was on MTV: it was very fast-moving, but the sketches sometimes lasted 10 minutes. That was a good way of showing people that you don’t have to do a show that is just three-minute sketches.
Burns: And the way it was shot: quite dynamic, quite fresh, rather than just still.
Cardinal: And Eastbound and Down was a big influence.
You can see that in the show.
Cardinal: Yeah you can.
Burns: Can you? Dammit.
What were some of your rejected ideas for series 2?
Cardinal: One thing I was sad to put aside was two horror screenwriters who are locked in a hotel room because they’ve got to deliver a film, and they do loads of coke and slowly drive each other mad. It turns into a horror film in the hotel room. But they were full-on, in-your-face characters. We didn’t really hold back. The characters were screaming the whole time, and we thought it might be a bit too much of an assault.
Burns: We also had a few other horror references that we did include in the show, so again it was looking at the overall balance. I can’t think of what else we dropped. We dropped less this series. The first series we went through more ideas.
You’ve got the proverbial bottom drawer full of stuff?
Cardinal: Full of second-rate sketches.
Burns: There for the next double act.
Were Hashtag and Bukake always called that?
What were some of the draft names?
Cardinal: Baklava and…I can’t remember.
Baklava and Bukake?
Burns: Baklava and Bukake at one point, yeah.
You’re both half-French. Is that a big help?
Cardinal: It’s a huge help when it comes to sketch comedy. Our dads are both French and our mums are both from Essex. So we thought, let’s put a sketch group together!
Burns: We’ve got a double act at the moment on stage called Mise en Scène. We do a whole routine in French. We do these really stupid boring sketches, as this Parisien double act.
Cardinal: Mise en Scène should be on BBC4.
What was the last thing that made you laugh?
Cardinal: I just watched Stewart Lee the other night, on TV, and I was laughing solidly for half an hour.
Burns: I was quite moved by The Trip. Rob Brydon, sitting on the bed doing his Tom Jones. It’s pretty special.
You’ve got a couple of decades on them – or maybe one decade, I’m not sure how old you are – but it’s quite sad, isn’t it? The stuff about ageing.
Burns: Especially the second episode. Really existential.
Will more pathos come into your show as the character sketches get longer?
Burns: Yeah, especially with the Office Flirts.
Cardinal: It always has really. Even in our Edinburgh show. Even the fly in series one, a lot of people said they were moved!
Burns: People feel for Yumi, don’t they?
Cardinal: Pained characters can be funny. If it comes out naturally.
Burns: This is in our book, “Tears of a Clown”.
Cardinal: Moving an audience.
Burns: Chapter two.
You don’t seem to feel the need to pour your innermost feelings into work, though.
Cardinal: No. In a sketch show, that wouldn’t feel quite right. But later on in our books…
Burns: We’ll have a Trip in two decades’ time…
Cardinal: THREE decades' time.
Burns: We'll be a bit more heart on sleeve.
Cardinal Burns series 2 starts on C4 tonight at 10.30pm