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June 2005
Rob on Keith: "I love him so much!"
rob brydon as keith barrett
Rob Brydon as Keith Barrett: "It is shocking...but it's great comedy!"
Rob Brydon aka lovelorn cabbie/chauffeur/chat show host Keith Barrett is heading for Bradford as part of the city's annual Festival with the aim of bringing a smile to the faces of everybody in the audience at St George's Hall. BBC Radio Leeds' Bob Walmsley has been catching up with him...

Rob Brydon Website

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It must be difficult, even intimidating, to take a show like this on tour. It must be a different proposition to doing it on the TV?

Yeah, you've got to have your wits about you. What happens is that Keith comes out in the first half and gives his lecture Making Divorce Work, which is his guide to how to have a happier divorce. Then in the second half he gets a couple out from the audience and interviews them in the same way he does on the TV show, but of course this time it's not a celebrity. What you find with members of the public doing it is that they're not as well-rehearsed in their answers as the celebrities. If you remember on the TV show we had Darren Day and Tracy Shaw who told us everything was hunky dory and then about a week later they split up. The same with the McFaddens, with Brian and Kerry. Now, on stage I've been amazed at what people will say. We've had people admitting to affairs and the look on the audience's faces are just priceless.

keith barrett
Rob on Keith: "I love him so much!"

The other night we were in Manchester and we had an older couple on stage whose grown-up children were in the audience and somebody asked, 'How do you keep your lovelife interesting?' Now, as the mother tentatively answered in very general terms, the very grown-up son in the audience put his hands over his ears going, 'La la la!' and didn't want to hear! Keith took exception to this and said, 'Now hang on a minute! Your parents are both human beings with desires and urges of a sexual nature and I think you're being unkind to them. You have to accept that your Mum and Dad will have stood together and taken off each other's clothes…' He carried on along those lines, describing the things Mum and Dad might've done to enliven their marital togetherness and the audience were in tears but the son was mortified but laughing too. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry!

On the TV show, the celebrity couples are almost there as stooges for you to do your comedy with Keith Barrett, but when you're doing this live and you have somebody - a real life person - admitting adultery, do you ever get shocked? Or are you so deeply into the Keith Barrett character that it doesn't hit you till after?

No. I'll be shocked, as is Keith, when people come out with stuff like that. It IS shocking. But it's great for the comedy because the way it works is that if someone tells you something very, very big, one way to get a laugh off that is to respond to it very 'small'. After all, comedy is the juxtaposition of opposites. There are lots of devices and techniques you can use within it. But, yes I have been genuinely shocked by some of the things people say. One of the things that surprises me on a smaller scale is how often in a relationship how often either one or both of them can't remember things that've happened. The number of couples I've had up on stage and when I've asked them, 'What about the first kiss?' and they genuinely can't remember it! Some can't even remember how marriage was proposed. But to not remember your first kiss I think is a little bit sad personally. Very often the husband has forgotten everything and the wife is the one who remembers.

That must be why Marion and Geoff worked so well, though. It was comedy, it was a bit over-exaggerated, but it was real life…you could relate to it. How did you tap into that reality? Was it just observation?

keith barrett
Rob as Keith in Marion And Geoff

Originally with Marion and Geoff, the joke was - and this was before the TV show, when I used to do him on the radio - that he was a man driving around in his taxi, very very happy and very chipper, unaware that his world was crumbling around him. That was the joke, it was as simple as that. You'd embellish that, you'd add things to it but that was the joke. When it came to doing the television it changed. It became a man driving around in his taxi because his world had collapsed. Now he was very happy telling us about all these awful things that had happened but remaining very chipper, and that was the basic joke there. It's really just a comedic device which fitted that setup.

But it was heart-wrenching as well! Seriously poignant at some points, it really hit you…

Well, one of the reasons for that - for me anyway - was me wanting to play a more serious role than the ones I was being offered at the time on the television, which were few and far between, and when they did come along they would be very silly little roles like a newsreader or a policeman who just comes and moves someone along. There was no emotional depth or growth to them. So that was one of the reasons that I wanted to do Marion and Geoff, I wanted to play a character with some depth basically.

Was it your idea that Keith Barrett became a chat show host though?

What happened was that we'd done two series with the car: the 10-minuters when he was in the taxi and the half-hours when he was a chauffeur. I'd adored both series and I felt there was nowhere else to go with that. It's very hard to pull off one camera shot in a car. I'd taken Keith on the road just after the second series doing a very small tour and I loved the interaction with the audience. Now, the BBC were asking me to do a show that was more accessible, that was more open. The thing with Marion and Geoff was wonderful but it was never a big ratings winner because it demands a lot of the audience, you really have to concentrate. In a lot of television now that isn't the case. It was very cult-y and that was great but you want your work to be seen by a lot of people. So I didn't want to do the car again, but I also didn't want to get rid of the character because I loved him so much.

keith barrett
Keith Barrett and Judy Finnegan

Then I thought that in the age we live in now somebody like Jeremy Spake or Brian Dowling will appear on a reality show and will then be given their own show, and I thought it would be a neat little satire on television. How many people perceive it that way, I don't know. But I thought, 'Wouldn't it be funny if Keith was offered his own show about relationships?' Part of the joke could be that he was out of his depth. Keith would say, 'I've been offered my own television show, I've never done it before, but what's the worst that could happen?' Of course, the show is the worst thing that could happen! That was one reason for it, and the other was that I was just wanting to do some broader comedy with an audience and to get that laughter straight off.

rob brydon as keith barrett

Rob Brydon appears as Keith Barrett at St George's Hall as part of this year's Bradford Festival on Wednesday 29th June at 1930 BST.

Bob Walmsley can be heard on weekdays between 1400 and 1600 on BBC Radio Leeds.

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