Les Dennis had an All Star Funtime Filming the Life's Too Short Special
Les Dennis became a household name with his comedy impersonations and TV work on shows such as Russ Abbott’s Mad House and of course his 16 year stint presenting Family Fortunes. Whilst many thought the series Extras was his first real acting role this couldn’t be farther from the truth as he has spent many years slowly adding feathers to his acting cap, performing in television, theatre and musical theatre.
What he has confessed on various occasions is that his performance on Extras was certainly a career changer with him literally baring all – both physically and psychologically – with him coming across as a down and out TV star. Despite this portrayal, Dennis is adamant that writers, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, were by no means ridiculing him and he was in fact eager to take things to the extreme to show that, despite his follies, he could look back on them and laugh in front of millions of viewers. His appearance was so well accepted that he made a welcome return, this time in Life’s Too Short, with Keith Chegwin and Shaun Williamson, or the “Twat Pack” as Gervais calls them, which also went down so well that audiences will now be treated to another helping of their hilarious camaraderie when they appear on the Life’s Too Short Easter Special this Saturday. Eager to find out what the three amigos have planned I had a chat with Les who is ecstatic, to say the least, about the new episode:
So you’ll be appearing in the Life’s Too Short Special this week. You must be really excited to say the least.
Oh I’m REALLY excited. I’m actually only going to get to see it tonight for the first time (26 March). We’re doing a screening of it in town so we’re really excited. It was just so exciting to do. It leapt off the page as very funny and then when it got to actually doing it it kind of leapt again and was even more hilarious and I’m sure now that it’s all edited together it will be great. The added element of Val Kilmer being in it is incredible.
Absolutely. Did you get to meet Val or share any scenes with him for the special?
No we didn’t actually have any scenes with him but apparently he wanted to hang around and in fact the days after he finished shooting he went to another scene but we weren’t in it and he said he might come when the guys were around but he had to go back to New York.
And when you found out you would be in this episode were you taken aback seeing as there was no second season ordered?
Completely. I was just jumping with joy. I’d had so much fun when we did the previous episode with Keith and Shaun on the sofa and I’ve known the two of them for some time now from corporate gigs and the like so yes I was really excited.
So this time round you’re arm twisted into touring The All Star Funtime Roadshow around the pubs and clubs. That must have been great fun filming from what I’ve seen from clips.
We had a really great time although it was kind of a bizarre experience having to stand up and tell gags to a room full of extras who had to pretend to laugh at our jokes. It’s also been a while since I’ve actually done any stand-up on stage with the exception of the odd corporate do. I did perform Jigsy at the Edinburgh Fringe last year which did involve stand-up to some extent and we could be taking the show to London soon. But we had a really good time and you’ll see me rapping and doing my best Jamaican accent. At the end of the day it’s all harmless PC fun and Ricky and Stephen are by no means taking the piss out of us. It’s just us being cheesier versions of ourselves and having a laugh in the process.
When I did Extras I actually told Ricky to take things as far as possible and I even turned up the volume for the final bed scene as I wanted it to go as far off the scale as possible. Another good example is the naked scene. Ricky asked me if I wanted him to hire a bum double for it and I refused completely and to be honest all the off-the-wall ideas that Ricky threw at me I agreed to without a doubt.
Talking of getting your kit off, it’s Cheggers who strips down to his undies for a group hug in a clip that was released last week. Did you give him some pointers or was he totally up for that?
Oh yes. He really wanted to do that and had even lost a bit of weight at that stage from his skating and what not and we had great fun doing it and there was quite a bit of improvisation as a result of the mayhem and laughter.
Right, so do Ricky and Stephen allow for improvisation or do they tend to prefer to stick fairly closely to the script?
Well obviously they have created a really well written script but there is a fair amount of improvisation as we have so much fun filming the whole thing. In the Easter Special there’s an amazing scene where we head off to visit Warwick’s spiritual adviser Bryan Medici, played by Colin Hoult, who is just hilarious. He’s just such a funny guy so it was just impossible to keep a straight face with him and it ended in some great scenes with quite a bit of improvised stuff.
So would you be up for maybe taking The All Star Funtime Roadshow on a real tour or maybe doing some sort of spin-off series?
Well there’s no talk of that at the moment but it would be great and the sofa scene we did where we were talking about various ways to commit suicide is kind of like an updated version of Last of the Summer Wine so yeah it’s a great concept definitely.
A lot of people know you as a stand-up and presenter but you have done a lot more acting than people realise. You have mentioned that one of your favourite directors is David Jason, who you worked with in The Quest 2, as he approaches everything from the point of view of an actor. Did Ricky and Stephen have a similar approach to directing?
Working with Ricky and Stephen is a totally different kettle of fish because they are the writers, directors, everything so they have a different viewpoint. The truth of the matter is that Stephen often had to send Ricky out of the room as he just breaks into fits of laughter and can’t stop. Something else is that they like to wrap things up by 4:30 as they don’t like to work any later.
It’s pretty clear that you have your eyes fixed pretty firmly on your acting career and I’m sure it will surprise people who are used to seeing you in comedies and panto.
Yeah, I guess it’s just nice to surprise people by doing things that they aren’t used to seeing me in. Having said that I played my very first dame in panto last Christmas as Widow Twankey with Noel Sullivan and John Clegg at the Crawley Hawth Theatre which was great fun.
So acting wise are there any plans you can tell us about after this Life’s Too Short Special?
I wish I could tell you about something very special that I’ll be doing on the television soon but it’s all under wraps for the time being but it is going to be very big and I’m very excited about it.
Apart from that I’d also love to do some serious acting such as a bit of Shakespeare. The Fool in King Lear would be a great part to play. We’ll see what happens…
The Life’s Too Short Easter Special will air on Saturday 30th March at 10 pm. We’ll leave you with the recently released trailer for the show. Watch this space for an interview with Cheggers very soon.