Mo Gilligan on social media, his Netflix special and The Lateish Show

With his Netflix special Momentum coming to 140 countries near you, The Lateish Show’s Mo Gilligan chats characters, GIFs and diversity

Feature by Rob Young | 26 Sep 2019
  • Mo Gilligan

If any comedians want to know the value of social media on their career, they would be wise to consult self-proclaimed ‘meme hoarder’ Mo Gilligan. The star of Channel 4 chat show The Lateish Show shot to fame through his character-driven videos, and now boasts more followers than a minor religion. Perhaps the first commandment of the Holy Church of Mo would be ‘GIF hard or GIF home’, as Gilligan is a master of the millennial favourite.

He is, naturally, a supporter of social media. “Listen, I love GIFs,” he says ardently. “It’s quite hard now to explain things these days without using a GIF. And I’m a big fan of memes. I’m a hoarder: if I see a good one I have to take it. You know how people have bad pictures on their phones? I don’t have that. I just have tons of memes.” He laughs joyfully, perhaps bemused by his own online geekery.

“Social media is how I got my audience and how I ended up doing the tour, so I am locked in to what’s happening,'' he explains. “It’s not wasted time. I learn a lot about politics through the trending topics, and that’s cool. I do have days when I think I’ve got to have a detox, but I just find myself back on it!” Indeed, short-form videos featuring characters like ‘The Geezer’ (Friday having it large, Sunday at B&Q) and ‘The Roadman’ (think classic teen at a London bus stop) are what built Gilligan’s audience, and fans will be pleased to hear that these creations plus his crowd-pleasing observational style all feature in the new Netflix special, Momentum

About the rest of the show, however, he is uncharacteristically coy: “It’s different, but I don’t really want to give away why. It’s a personal piece: a lot of it is about me, my family, my upbringing. If you’ve never known who I am, it’s the perfect special to watch.” Gilligan is the first black British comedian to have a Netflix special, and he is certainly proud to be at the forefront of the changing comedy landscape. The title of the show was supposed to be Gilligan’s debut Edinburgh hour in 2017, but unfortunately, he couldn’t afford to go. However, with his huge online audience and the potential exposure of Momentum, it is difficult now to imagine Gilligan wanting to slog it out at the Pleasance for a month, and that’s without considering The Lateish Show, an excellent vehicle for sketches, camaraderie and introducing Steve Coogan to grime music. 

Put simply, it is unlikely you will find a more eclectic group of people on the sofa than here. It is a world where Kelis can share milkshake recipes with Danny Dyer, or even more incongruously, Anderson .Paak can chat rap next to Eamonn Holmes. This diverse and inclusive feel is something carefully cultivated by Gilligan. “I’m such a fan of seeing people on screen who you would never see together; it’s important for TV and representation. Everyone’s got different stories, and sometimes I notice when people on the sofa are learning stuff about the other guests.”

There is no word yet on The Lateish Show coming back for a second series, but if the online community get their way, we will definitely be seeing Gilligan on Friday nights again. That said, the problem with being so entrenched in social media is that you have to deal with a few naysayers. Remarkably, Gilligan even has a positive spin on trolls, and enjoys reading negative comments about the show. “I’m always finding ways to make it better," he says. "Sometimes that criticism is really good, and you can take those things. It’s important: you can learn a little bit about yourself.” 

It’s this anti-showbiz attitude and humbleness that has surely contributed to Gilligan’s popularity, but that’s not to say he’s stopping at the lowly world of chat shows and Netflix specials. He fell into comedy almost accidently, realising a talent for copying mannerisms, but Gilligan’s background is in performing arts, and anyone who has seen his character work will know that he is a superb actor. So, is Hollywood around the corner for him? Well, not without some admirable conditions.

“If I ever got into [acting] I would want to do it properly. I never want to feel like I’m being typecast or doing a cameo. I would want to be taken seriously. Sometimes it’s hard when you’re a comic and they just want you to be the funny guy.” With Gilligan’s thoughts on typecasting, it is difficult not to think about how black comedians are represented in the UK, almost as if there is a limit to how many success stories are allowed at once. On the suggestion that the average Briton would still struggle to name a black comedian who isn’t Lenny Henry, Gilligan sighs thoughtfully. 

“If I think of black people hosting a TV show, I can count them on my hand. It’s not people’s fault that they can’t name a black comedian, but hopefully things are going to start changing. There’s a new generation watching my content who might want to get into what I’m doing. In the next ten, twenty years it’ll just be the norm: I can’t think of a black female who has hosted a show in this country, so things do need to change.” The future, thankfully, is promising, as evidenced by a small change that Gilligan noticed recently. “I was listening to the radio, and they played four black British artists in a row," he says. "And I thought to myself, when I was younger that would never happen.” 

Of course, you can’t open a newspaper these days without reading a story about racial identity, offensive jokes and who exactly can get away with what, so how does Gilligan square the fact that The Geezer feels like a white character? 

“He’s actually not!” he quickly protests. “He is whatever you want him to be. My characters never have names. If you say ‘oh he’s pretending to be a white guy’ then that’s what you take from that. I’ve never tried to portray a white guy. You know, I’ve got black friends in East London who act like that! For me, I just want people to laugh at it.” Well, his audience are certainly doing that, and can fall in love all over again with Kavani’s Mum et al when the Netflix show drops. 

It has been a hectic year for Gilligan, and now that the momentum is calming down, he can value a (slightly) quieter life. “There’s a bit of time to chill now, and I can spend time with family and friends," he says. "I’ve had a TV show and a Netflix special in the same year: I just want to go on holiday to be honest!”. 

Mo Gilligan's Netflix special Momentum is out on 30 Sep