Jonny Sweet: "My dad was worried I might convert people to Conservatism"

Award winning comic talks about his upcoming WWI sitcom

Feature by Bernard O'Leary | 28 Feb 2012

There are many questions to ask the enigmatic winner of Best Newcomer at the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe. But first we must address the fact that he played the Prime in When Boris Met Dave. Jonny Sweet, are you now or have you ever been a member of the Conservative party?

“An emphatic 'no',” he laughs. “My dad was really worried that I might convert loads of people to Conservatism. It sounded ridiculous, but afterwards I did get this email from a guy who said, “Great performance and because of you I'm going to vote for the Tories”. I had to email him back and say “I don't mind you doing it, but please don't do it for that reason.”

Jonny is a difficult act to pigeonhole. He's happy to admit that “I'm not a standup per se”, which is fair enough from someone whose last Fringe show was a Powerpoint presentation about the HMS Nottingham. So how was he affected by winning the coveted award? Did he start to take himself more seriously as a comedian?

“I don't regard myself seriously full stop. It legitimises you, even though it shouldn't. Although I had friends and peers guiding me, the award was enormously encouraging. That show was me writing alone for the first time. It was a big leap of faith and I was at sea for most of that year. I felt much happier the next year. But not that happy.”

Jonny & Ade Edmondson perform a lost Pete & Dud sketch

Jonny is going to appear at the Edinburgh stop of the Invisible Dot's UK tour. They seem a perfect match, with the Dot having established themselves as one of the most brilliant and innovative production companies in Britain. Jonny explains that he first worked with the Dot's founder, Simon Evans, when trying to promote one of his own shows. “We met him in 2006 when he was flyering, but he already had big plans and schemes. The following year we wanted to do this show called The Meeting where the audience would sit around a boardroom table and there would be an agenda and everything. It was a tricky show to market but Simon helped us. He's amazing.”

Those who can't make it to Jonny's live show will be able to see him soon on Sky 1's new sitcom Chickens. This much-anticipated comedy co-stars Simon Bird and Joe Thomas from The Inbetweeners, and follows the adventures of conscientious objectors and chickens running away from World War I. It's certainly a compelling premise for a sitcom with a deep emotional resonance.

“We were never thinking about that sort of thing when we were writing,” he says, “it just seemed like a rich, interesting idea. But it's an interesting period. After the WWI, everything in society as we know it changed. We're doing it because we like that period but also the idea of writing about people who were left out of history.

“It's really annoying,” he continues, “because whenever we're interviewed about it we end up talking really pretentiously and saying things like, 'that's when society as we know it began'. Like I just said a minute ago. Look, we just think it's really funny.”

“I'm pleased we can finally talk about it. We started writing the series in September. We were really arrogant and everyone told us it would get a commission form C4, and then it didn't. So we kept working at it and then Sky came along .”

Sky have been drawing considerable attention to themselves recently. They've made a huge investment in homegrown comedy and, to everyone's surprise, the shows have been great. Are they markedly different to deal with from other production companies?

“I wouldn't want to comment,” says Jonny, a little nervously. “I'm not the elder statesman of comedy who can say 'The thing about Sky is...'

“Sky have been brilliant though. They came at it with a really open mind and just said 'we believe in you guys.' I really like the other shows they've commissioning and I think it's really exciting that they've got money and ambition, and want to make things that are really interesting.”

It's one of the most exciting pitches for a sitcom in some time and if it keeps up the standard of Sky's recent shows, Chickens should be an enormous hit. We can't way to see it.

Of course, if Chickens does work, it will help to finally exorcise the memory of Sky's disasterous 1990 attempt to make a war-based sitcom, the infamous Heil Honey I'm Home. Here's an extract from that show. Lest we forget.

Jonny Sweet, Sheep and Nick Mohammed will be performing at The Invisible Dot 2012 tour at The Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh. Friday 2 March, Doors 7.30pm. £12/£9