Alex Casey talks to comedian Ed Gamble about his time impersonating a prince on Almost Royal, and how to catch a catfish.
The BBC America series Almost Royal follows the aristocratic sibling duo Georgie and Poppy Carlton – supposed descendants of the royal family – as they travel to the United States to meet the locals and soak in a different culture. About 687th in line for the throne, the pair bumble through the land of the free hoping to achieve their goals of becoming more manly (Georgie) and more famous (Poppy).
But here’s the kicker: it’s all a load of codswallop, as the Queen or someone fancy might say. Comedians Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart largely improvise their way through the surreal scenarios as the Carltons, the only ones in on the joke in what is really a very prim and polite version of Borat. I spoke to Ed Gamble about faking nobility ahead of his appearance in the New Zealand International Comedy Festival.
First of all, congratulations on completing the London marathon on the weekend. How are you feeling?
Thank you very much. I did the marathon on Sunday and then on Monday night I waddled onto my flight here. I feel okay now, but the 30 hours I was travelling was hell. Luckily I managed to get some extra legroom otherwise I would have been a shaking prawn.
Had you done a marathon before?
Never done one before. Never done a marathon before and never been to New Zealand before, I thought I’d just pack it all into a two day period.
Sounds like a bucket list, are you dying?
I might be.
Did you see Prince William at the finish line?
I don’t think I was quick enough to see any of the royals, unfortunately. If you do it in under three hours, then they give you your medal. I just feel sorry for the guy who just made it as they were wrapping up, they are just walking away and he’s like ‘please give me my medal, I am so tired’.
I didn’t realise the royals just rocked around in public so freely these days.
It’s weird because recently the younger generation have been doing that a bit more. Will and Kate and Harry are a bit more open, like they’ve been on podcasts. Imagine that, a royal on a podcast.
Are the royals on Snapchat?
If they’ve only just caught up with podcasts, I reckon we’re at least a decade away from Snapchat.
Talking of royals, how early on did you get involved in Almost Royals?
The idea was actually thought up about eight years beforehand, they made some test tapes for it and then it went away. BBC America came to the production company and said they wanted something set in America but British-skewed, so they re-auditioned for it and I got the part.
Because it’s semi-improvised, we create the characters, really. We get to write the little lines that we try to insert into scenarios.
Do you come from quite a posho background?
I don’t think I do, but maybe compared to most people in Britain, yes. A lot of my friends and people I went to school with are a lot posher than me. I’m not aristocratic posh, I’m not ‘live in the country and shoot a pheasant’ posh.
Was there a particular royal that you tried to emulate in Georgie?
It just came from every posh idiot I’ve ever met, Physically, I tried to copy the older royals. I would walk around with one hand behind my back and the other just awkwardly perched out in front of me, very stiff and very solid. All of my muscles were as tight as possible the whole time, because that’s what they look like. You see Prince Charles and he looks like someone has shoved a broom handle up his arse.
How were most of the Americans to deal with on the show?
I think what we did that is different to something like Borat is that we didn’t want to ruin people’s days and we didn’t want to take the piss out of them. We weren’t there to expose any hypocrisy in American society, it was just us posh British idiots bumbling in there and getting their reaction to us.
People had no reason not to believe us, because as soon as you say “The BBC” the Americans are in absolute awe of you and believe everything you say. When you see two minutes on screen though, that might have been a three hours before we got any of that. We’d be as normal as possible so we really got them to trust us and then say really stupid shit.
Has anyone ever clocked that you are playing a character during filming?
Twice. It was always because we went in too ridiculous rather than gently ramping it up. One of them was a shaman in the Hollywood Hills, and I think that was because you can’t bullshit a bullshitter. He spotted it straight away, because we were being too stupid. I drank a litre and a half of Pepsi Max. We knew he was going to ask us to close our eyes and breathe a certain way, and I just did a massive fart and Amy lost it laughing. Obviously, he knew it was a joke then. What kind of aristocrat would turn up and do a massive fart?
The other one was Lisa Vanderpump, the reality star. She spotted it because she was English. She was just like ‘no, you’re not royal, I would have heard of you’. She already knew Charles Spencer who was Lady Diana’s brother, and said she was going to call him and found out. Someone really should have spotted that one.
What is your favourite moment from Almost Royals?
The whole experience will stick out in my mind as long as I live. The pilot that we did in Nashville, I had to get into a massive lake and catch a catfish with my hands. You know? Who thinks to themselves ‘oh, well I guess I’ll go to Tennessee and catch a catfish with my hands now’. That moment when the catfish sort of clamped itself to my arm I thought ‘this is is just absolutely ridiculous’.
Does it hurt to catch a catfish?
It really hurt. I had little catfish teeth marks on my arms for ages.
And so what’s been going on for you since Almost Royal?
I’ve been doing a lot more stand up in the UK and some writing work. I went to America a few more times, I got to go on Conan off the back of Almost Royal which was nerve-wracking, It was a bit of blur, I agreed to do it and the next minute I was backstage waiting to go on and Antonio Banderas had just been interviewed.
Did you get to hang out with him?
Unfortunately not. He was in the dressing room next to me though, so we were kind of hanging out with just a big wall in the way.
You show in the festival is called The Best of Ed Gamble, does this mean you are retiring already?
I didn’t name it! Me and all the other UK comics who are here for the first time are delving into our back catalogues. It’s called The Best Of, which means I’ll be trying my absolute best.
Click here to buy tickets to The Best of Ed Gamble, and below to watch him as Georgie in Almost Royal
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This content, like all television coverage we do at The Spinoff, is brought to you thanks to the excellent folk at Lightbox. Do us and yourself a favour by clicking here to start a FREE 30 day trial of this truly wonderful service.