Nina Conti: how I almost wrote myself out of Family Tree

Ventriloquist jokes that watching Chris O’Dowd in the improvised Christopher Guest comedy meant she left herself with no lines

Joining Chris O’Dowd in improvised BBC2 comedy Family Tree proved problematic for ventriloquist Nina Conti: not wanting to interrupt her illustrious co-stars meant she almost wrote herself out of the show.


“In the scene at the dinner table, I just ate,” Conti told “At the end of the scene Chris [director Christopher Guest] came up and said, ‘I don’t think you spoke’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know how.’ I was just thinking, well Chris O’Dowd is talking and Michael McKean’s talking, I’ll just wait. Then I thought oh s**t, I’m going to write myself out of the show.”

Conti, best known for her ventriloquist act with a monkey puppet, stars as Bea Chadwick. Her brother Tom (O’Dowd) is getting over a recent break-up by looking into his family’s past.

Of starring with her monkey puppet, Conti admitted she found it really weird “inflicting” him on other people. And although Guest himself boasts a great-grandfather who performed a similar act to royalty, Conti joked she’s not even sure why she’s interested in ventriloquism.

“I suppose [Guest] enjoys perverse things as well.”

But Conti soon got to grips with the role. She added: “I always thought, who would this woman be who has a monkey with her all of the time, she must be disturbed – I have to play her differently, I have to play her as a character, and then I thought, no, no, it’s just me.”


Family Tree starts on 16 July on BBC2.