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Together, Mr Wellington and Mr Peters are Mantlepies, self-styled independent comedy creators and part of the writing team on BBC TWO's Time Trumpet. Comedy Soup spoke to them about their experiences making comedy for the web and on the telly.
Comedy Soup: You work in advertising. But how did you get into the comedy end of being creative?
Mr Peters: We started out as St Martin's College students, where we bonded by doing cartoons on our wallspace. We realised we had a similar sense of humour, and that wallspace grew with ideas and cartoons. Then we put them down into a book and presented that as part of our degree show, and because our tutors took that seriously, we started to take it seriously too.
After that we sent our work off to newspapers. There was some interest, but it never went much further
But that was the start of it all. Then we got into digital advertising.
Comedy Soup: So when you first started out, you just did illustration?
Mr Peters: Yeah.
Comedy Soup: You didn't think about other media?
Mr Wellington: No. When we started we didn’t really have a clue about computers - we avoided them most of the time at college. But then we got the opportunity to work in digital advertising. Even though we didn't have a clue about what it was, we thought we'd give it a shot, and from there we learnt many different things, which gave us the incentive to start making and publishing our own stuff.
Comedy Soup: Did you do all the animations on your site yourselves?
Mr Wellington and Mr Peters: Yeah.
Comedy Soup: So you really have learnt a lot.
Mr Peters: We started off doing just basic animation using the yellow from our cartoons, using that style and working out how we could make it move.
We ended up with loads of tiny animations which we put with our cartoons strips, and that was the birth of Mantlepies.com.
Comedy Soup: Then you sent the animations to E4.com...
Mr Wellington: Yeah, we sent them off to E4.com who'd just started up, just to see what would happen. E4 really liked the animations even though they were in their early stages, and we were asked to make some more.
Mr Peters: So we were commissioned to do 12 episodes of our series called Fancyteeth. They were only meant to be 30 seconds long, but we thought we'd do three minutes, just to prove that we could.
Mr Wellington: After Fancyteeth was published there were some articles about the animations, but it never went much further. E4 were quite excited, but then the E4 site got merged into the main Channel 4 site. They're still on there.
Comedy Soup: There was a bit of a fad around that time for media companies, including Zeppotron and the BBC, to release online animations. It seemed like that area was going to be big, but then...
Mr Wellington: We were lucky, I think we got the last of those kind of deals. There was a lot of money around to produce material for E4's website, and we managed to get in: I sent a blind email to customer services at E4, and they actually sent it on. Which would never normally happen – it was just luck.
Comedy Soup: Would you mind explaining what digital advertising actually is? It sounds like there could be some crossover, in terms of the skills that you need.
Mr Peters: It started out as the banners and popups you see on websites, but now it's all sorts of crap – games, viral videos, TV ads online... there is a crossover, not necessarily with us, but with other internet artists like Joel Veitch. They've been doing their own thing for a long time like we have, and certain people have cottoned on to their style and said they want it for their brand. So you get online humorists/artists who end up doing digital advertising themselves. But we've never done digital advertising through Mantlepies - it's always been a separate thing. A lot of our digital advertising is actually quite straight compared to the 'wackiness' of our Mantlepies work.
Mr Wellington: It's just concepting as well. We didn't actually have to produce anything, it's off our own backs that we decided to learn Flash and play around with video. You can pick up things like HTML.
Comedy Soup: How did you move from web cartoons to working in video for Time Trumpet?
Mr Peters: Our involvement in Time Trumpet came about because we'd carried on doing our own thing – we'd taken stock shot imagery (which is where there's another advertising connection, as in advertising agencies there's all this stock imagery lying around) which we started messing about with. It started off in 2D, where we drew over images and then made animated stories out of them.
We did quite a collection of little still shots, which we animated into a cartoon sequence, and those built up over time. We named the collection Stock Shot Mayhem, and one day Armando Iannucci saw it. So he got us in to do that kind of thing, only for TV.
When we started we were going to do literally that, transfer it direct to TV, but it ended up as personally wanting to do some new fresh ideas as full-on shot video instead of just editing. And some of it was edited video, some of it he shot himself. But we didn't do any of the editing ourselves – we didn't have time, only the time to concept, because of the day job.
Comedy Soup: But that must be quite nice, in a way.
Mr Peters: Oh, absolutely.
Mr Wellington: We're not really skilled in broadcast. We can mock up stuff in video and send it over – we edited some Jeremy Clarkson stuff – but nowhere near as good enough quality to put on TV. So he'll look for the bits that we've used and remake it.
Comedy Soup: So for example, how did the Jeremy Clarkson material come about? You happened to be watching Top Gear and thought "this could be useful" and somehow got it off the TV...?
Mr Peters: Yeah... the first version we did we had to literally film a TV playing a VHS video with a DV camera so we could capture the footage. But once Time Trumpet came about we got sent a lot of videos – we requested DVDs of video that was already MPEG'd up so that we could manipulate it directly.
There's a 'drunk Clarkson' sketch: we noticed when I notched the DVD player down by one, it kind of worked – we did a few versions of it where he was driving around, pulling really odd faces, and we held it on his face so that he's driving along in a weird pose.
Mr Wellington: Have you seen the EastEnders special effects sketch? It's about this guy who has big ideas and says "oh, we can do all this with green screen". For instance he wanted to shoot all the bottles in the Vic first, against a green background, and then digitally insert them into everyone's hands. So it looks as though they've done that, when they haven't.
Comedy Soup: Which other bits did you do in Time Trumpet that we might recognise?
Mr Peters: We did the drunk Jeremy Clarkson, a business conference centre made entirely of skin, a solicitor's theme pub and a car that parks on corners – we did some little cartoon cars that were like our old strips, and I think Armando liked that one in particular.
Mr Wellington: We also did the Mars probe finding money (finds a fiver on the planet's surface) a few versions of University Challenge, like one where we'd noticed that the audience sounded like it was just a load of people cracking nuts, one which has got a sea of contestants, and one where they all look really lovingly at one another.
And there was a debatable one about QVC selling pig bacon, which changed slightly so I don't know whether someone else has worked on it as well, or what.
Online Comedy Favourites
Comedy Soup: Back to online comedy – do you have any favourites?
Mr Peters: Did you see the spoof trailer for The Shining?
Comedy Soup: Where they've changed the soundtrack? Yeah, it's great.
Mr Peters: I love that. And The Vader Sessions, where they've got all the dialogue from James Earl Jones' old films and put them in Star Wars when Darth Vader’s on. So they’ve got all these old Blaxpoitation movies’ completely inappropriate dialogue when he’s on the Death Star and stuff.
I like all the old Zeppotron stuff - TV Go Home, Unnovations...
Mr Wellington: And The Framley Examiner. b3ta we use a lot. We're part of the community who post stuff, and it was our testing ground for a while. Like the Stock Shot Mayhem work, that was built up through posting on b3ta, where we checked out the responses.
Comedy Soup: Was that how you first got the word out about Mantlepies?
Mr Peters: Pretty much, we regularly submitted our new stuff to the Friday Newsletter, which we always linked back to our site.
The Online Audience
Comedy Soup: So b3ta is your main focus for online comedy?
Mr Peters: Not so much now - we don't do so much online stuff anymore, though we do have a few little bits we're thinking about. We've got two other TV projects to do after this, one with Channel 4 which is a pilot – we've almost finished the script, it just needs a bit of honing - and once that’s done hopefully we can get on with a bit more other stuff.
Comedy Soup: How do you perceive the online audience as consumers of comedy compared to traditional media?
Mr Peters: Obviously there's a crossover. It's weird because a lot of TV is going online - YouTube is where a lot of TV material is being dumped at the moment. Everyone's checking missed episodes. In fact I actually watch most TV online as I'm always missing stuff.
But there is a different kind of audience, like the b3ta crowd, they get turned on by different things from say people on Cook’d and Bomb’d.
Mr Wellington: They can be vicious - we're interested to know what they think about all the stuff we've written for Time Trumpet. After 2004: The Stupid Version we were straight on there, checking out responses.
Comedy Soup: They're the kind of comedy community who're enthusiasts of traditional comedy as much as – or more than - online stuff.
Mr Peters: Well they've coined a term, "internet twat".
Comedy Soup: So most of the things they talk about are more traditional, while you’ve also the b3ta types and fans of the more Americanised, nerdy web comics.
Do you think there are any new types of humour, specific to the web, which wouldn't transfer so well to TV – or are we going to start seeing more of the internet's 'memetic' approach to TV, where lots of little ideas are reflected?
Mr Wellington: It's interesting because Modern Toss was something we were into when they came out as cartoon strips, which we were sent. Then they made that transition to television, and you don't watch them in quite the same way as you do on the internet – the internet's less passive.
Mr Peters: I have to say I think Modern Toss really does work well online. I love the comic books.
The internet's a brilliant testing ground - I see Adam Buxton has been putting stuff on YouTube. It's how we started out: realising our potential was through the testing ground of b3ta. Without that we'd never have got the confidence to do anything bigger than what we did then, which was just a few little animations.
There can be snobbishness towards 'internet style' comedy, though it tends to be more the dancing kittens type of thing.
Comedy Soup: What resources would have helped you when you started putting your work online? What about learning Flash, did someone talk you through it?
Mr Wellington: No we just did the tutorials, and you have to want to do it. We were lucky in that we had everything around us, we had materials to grow – for example the photographic animated stuff with Stock Shots, that material was already there. We were just fortunate that being in a creative industry like digital advertising meant we had so many materials and tools to hand. Like Flash - our company said "go ahead, learn it, here's the package". They encouraged us around that time to learn things like that, even though we usually work just on paper as advertisers.
For other people starting out it'd be nice to have those resources, like a stock library, which they can take material out from and mess around with. Doesn't the BBC have something like that?
Comedy Soup: Well in fact Comedy Soup does! We've got an asset library - which is part of the Creative Archive - of thousands of images, hundreds of audio samples and, er, some video stock footage.
Mr Wellington: So that's what you need. That kind of thing we would have been really helpful for us at the time. But in terms of learning software, you literally do have to pick it up for yourself.
Comedy Soup: In that respect presumably you were quite lucky in already being clued up in that field, and of course with your art degree background.
Mr Peters: Yes, it was a graphic design course, but we went into advertising. For us also it was about learning to work in a partnership, which is something you do in advertising that also carries through into comedy. There are similarities in the way that you work – coming up with ideas for adverts-
Mr Wellington: - bouncing an idea off each other, running with it, stretching it, coming up with different ideas together, is much better than working on your own, because you've got no-one to get feedback from.
Mr Peters: For us, the rule of writing comedy is: have you just made the other person completely piss themselves laughing? If you have, then it's a good idea. Put it down. That's the best testing ground – try it out on your partner, then try it on the internet, and then maybe on TV.
Comedy Soup: What advice do you have for Comedy Soup users who want to follow in your footsteps, or at least give it a go?
Mr Peters: One thing we've found is that having pictures in the script, even at a really early stage, has been very helpful for us. We were never schooled in how to write comedy or scripts, or how to illustrate an idea, so we just Photoshopped images into Word documents.
Mr Wellington: We've found images break up the monotony of words and time-precious people need something to grab their attention.
Mr Peters: Though we don't normally script internet stuff, that doesn't mean you can't, and there's actually a couple of concepts we've got that didn't go into Time Trumpet that we want to do, and we want to do on the internet. That'll all be from the script and an interesting way to do it.
Mr Wellington: I'd say, if you've got an idea, just try out. Don't leave it there in the back of your mind, get it out there and see what people think.
Mr Peters: And also don't dismiss ideas – a lot of our stuff comes out of conversations, flights of fancy. It's important to remember if you've said something funny, to write it down, because it's those moments that are the best. It's natural and not forced, so it's important to capture it. You might be able to get something out of it.
Mr Wellington: That's where most of our ideas come from – those moments - rather than sitting down, knowing how difficult it is, and trying to come up with ideas on a blank piece of paper. Most of the time, we don’t. You have to forget about whatever it is you're doing and start talking about something else.
Comedy Soup: What's the longest period of time you've spent just working on comedy together?
Mr Peters: Only an evening, really. We've never done a whole day!
Comedy Soup: So it'd be interesting, if you were to move out of advertising and had lots of space to work on comedy... would you end up sitting and staring at a blank bit of paper?
Mr Peters: Yes, that's our worry.
Comedy Soup: It sounds like right now you have lots of other stimuli...
Mr Peters: There is another side to it though, that you'd have time to stop worrying, to allow the ideas to flow. Whereas at the moment, say we're doing Time Trumpet and Armando wants something by the end of next week, we've only four hours a night to do it. We could have a whole day to think "okay we might not come up with anything, but during that time we might have a lot of good conversations and hopefully something will come out of it".
Comedy Soup: Mantlepies, thanks!
More on Comedy Soup...
Time Trumpet Challenge
Comedy Soup Asset Library
Getting Started in Comedy
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