The Version Interview... David Walliams on Walliams and Friend

David Walliams returns to BBC One later this month with his brand new sketch show, Walliams & Friend. The show features a different guest 'Friend' every episode, creating a one-off, brand new double act.

Filmed on location and in front of a live studio audience, David will be joined each week by a famous face playing a number of characters in a series of hilarious sketches.

The friends are:

  • Comedian Harry Enfield (Harry & Paul)
  • Comedian Jack Whitehall (Bad Education)
  • Writer and comedian Meera Syal (Goodness Gracious Me)
  • Award-winning actress Miranda Richardson (Mapp And Lucia)
  • Star of stage and screen Sheridan Smith (The C Word)

There will also be a Christmas special with actor Hugh Bonneville (W1A).

The series also features a talented support cast including Morgana Robinson, Mike Wozniak and Jason Lewis.

David Walliams tells us more...

Why were you eager to return to sketch comedy with Walliams & Friend?
I wanted to reconnect with something purely comic. This show has no agenda - it’s just there to make you laugh. It’s rather old-fashioned in that way, like The Two Ronnies.

Why do you think sketch shows remain popular?
A sketch show is a great way of doing comedy, because it is constantly reinventing itself. If you don’t like one sketch, another one will be along in a minute. People often try to write off sketch shows and say that they’re finished, but they are a perfectly valid way of doing comedy. You can also cover a lot of ground doing sketches. You can do everything from spoofs to relationship comedy.

Were you anxious to make a show that does not replicate your huge sketch show hit, Little Britain?
Yes. The big thing for me was to be different from Little Britain. On that show, we didn’t do historical sketches or spoofs. Little Britain had a very strong idea of its own identity. I didn’t want Walliams & Friend to be like a spin-off of that. I wanted it to be very much its own thing.

What is the advantage of having a different guest star every week?
It means the show can reinvent itself week to week. It feels very fresh and never gets boring. In other sketch shows, there are a lot of reasons why you end up doing the same characters every week. You need at least a hundred sketches for a series, and that’s very hard. But if you’re writing for specific people, you can constantly reinvent the show.

In addition to your guest stars, you are featuring some old-school celebrities such as Bob Carolgees and Spit The Dog in the sketches, aren’t you?
Yes. I loved working with them all. For instance, it was great filming with the Chuckle Brothers. They’re so talented. They’re natural clowns. They’re very hard workers, too. They come prepared with lots of ideas and really deliver. I’d love to work with them more. It would be great to have them on set every day because they’re such fun!

Could you please talk us through the qualities of your six guest stars in this series? Firstly Jack Whitehall
He’s so, so funny. In fact, he is too funny. He needs to be stopped! He made me feel really old when he told me, “I used to love watching Little Britain when I was at school”.
“I’m sorry, how old are you?” He’s still in his 20s. It’s absurd!

What about Meera Syal?
She is fantastic. She is very nice, very intelligent and brilliantly funny. Having been in Goodness Gracious Me she’s a wonderful sketch performer. But she’s also a really good serious actor - she’s been in dramas such as Broadchurch before. So she’s got a lot of gravitas - unlike me! She is excellent with scripts, and very committed to everything. Meera and I also had the delight of doing a sketch with Jeanette Krankie!

And Sheridan Smith?
She’s a consummate actress. She’s proven herself on stage and she’s a huge star in musicals. She has that vulnerability and likeability that you can really play on. She’s like Julie Walters - there is nothing she can’t do. Although she is known for comedy, you could give Sheridan any dramatic role and she would excel in it. Not many people have that talent.

How about Miranda Richardson?
She is an incredibly classy actress. She is iconic to the nation because of Blackadder Two. Although it is now 30 years ago, her performance as Queenie is still emblazoned on our imagination. She has done comedy before, with French and Saunders. She is a brilliant and incredibly committed performer. Because she’s such a great actress, everything she does is believable.

And Harry Enfield?
I’ve always been in awe of him. He is one of my absolute favourite comedians. I loved him when I was growing up. When he did Stavros and Loadsamoney on Saturday Live it was so fresh. It’s an incredible thing when someone who is your comedy hero treats you as an equal. I never lose that sense of wonder when I meet my comedy heroes.

What about Hugh Bonneville, your guest in the Christmas special?
I worked with him on Mr Stink, and I knew that he was a fantastic comic actor. He throws himself into everything. It’s great to see him in a way that we haven’t seen him before.

Could you envisage making more series of Walliams & Friend?
I’m very old now! But I’d love to do more. Hopefully it’ll stand out because there are so few sketch shows these days. We’re trying to be funny in a very uncomplicated way. You don’t have to think too much - it’s just meant to be a fun watch. The moving moments in The Office are magic. But comedy is valid in all its different forms.