Watson & Oliver are not French & Saunders, ok?
They have their own BBC sketch show and endorsements from some of their idols, but Lorna Watson and Ingrid Oliver are not French & Saunders clones.
As Oliver (pictured, right) recalls it, it was a night to remember.
“They took us out to a Talent Dinner as they call it and I was sitting next to Matt LeBlanc because he was promoting Episodes, thank you!” she laughs.
“He took me and my boyfriend home and drove us through the 24 hour McDonalds. And we pulled up at some traffic lights, he rolled the window down, and there was a car full of guys beside us and he went ‘How you doin?’ And they just exploded!
“He does that in real life. It’s amazing!”
“It’s how people know him. But it’s weirdly quite zen, so he just accepts it.”
Now the two UK comedians have just wrapped their second season of Watson and Oliver. The first season is about to debut in Australia on UK TV. Both girls were recently in Australia to promote their show, a mix of traditional sketch and studio audience comedy.
They have already been likened to French and Saunders, but both feel their style stems back to even earlier British comic roots.
“We’ve got some classical, very wordy sketches, like the way Ronnie Barker used to do rhythmical sketches. Then there’s some catchphrase-y stuff, so it’s a real mixture of styles and types of comedy,” says Watson (pictured, left).
“We have some recurring characters but we try not to have them in each episode. If they come back it’s three times at the most, as opposed to every episode,” Oliver adds.
“We just finished shooting our second series the day before we flew out here and it’s interesting what you learn. For the first series we were brand new and nobody knew who we were. It was quite scary doing a whole show on your own, with your name above the title and people thinking ‘Who are these girls?’ But I think we’ve learned a lot.”
Indeed. When the two former school pals turned to live performing in 2005, early audiences presumed Watson & Oliver were actually male comedians.
“People always assume. At one of our first ever gigs in London we were playing a tiny venue and we found out it was sold out and we couldn’t believe it. Apparently it was a group booking and they thought it was a comedian called Mark Watson and John Oliver who is now doing The Daily Show in America. So when they found out it was two women they cancelled,” says Oliver.
“We turned up having only ever done two gigs in our life and everybody left. So we had two people and one of them was the technician’s girlfriend, so that doesn’t even count,” Watson recalls.
Since meeting in school they have developed as writers and performers, but gaining a self-titled BBC series is tantamount to saying one has arrived in the UK.
“It’s such a big-form, silly, character sketch show with a bit of live studio, in front of an audience. We’re not sweary, we don’t do satire really. So I don’t know what you would call it. We’re quite old-school,” says Oliver.
Watson agrees: “We both love comedy and not just one type, but a lot of different styles of comedy. So I think somewhere in there you’ll see that. It’s not just one thing. There are some silly surreal things in there but in a mainstream capacity.”
Oliver adds, “I don’t like cruelty. I don’t like watching people suffering in a comedy way or in those hidden camera shows.
“I’m not a prudish person at all, I can swear like a bastard. But when it comes to writing our sketches saying ‘F***ing’ or ‘Shit’ or whatever, neither of us would do that.
“Plus it was always designed to be a pre-watershed show in England, a family-orientated slot. So that very much informed the house style. It had to be something everyone could watch.
“We always used to end our Edinburgh shows with a big song and dance number in an unapologetic way and we’ve managed to keep that in the television show. They were very dubious to start with. We did a whole live, condensed James Bond (medley).”
In their TV series, John Barrowman appears in the first song and dance number.
Both girls also got a big vote of confidence from French and Saunders for their first series.
“The night that our first episode aired, Jennifer Saunders tweeted a lovely thing. It’s ridiculous, being compared to them and fielding questions about them. We grew up with them, we love them. And Dawn French sent us flowers as well. It was like a proper moment. Amazing,” Oliver gushes.
And when it came to a sketch with the pair “being themselves” they were mindful to avoid comparisons.
“Someone suggested a living room but we said ‘No we can’t do that, French and Saunders do that.’ For our first series that would have been a very stupid thing to do. And film pastiches we steered away from, anything that was a direct comparison.”
“We’ve been likened to them since we started in 2006. So it’s not a new thing,” says Watson.
So will they ever get to a point where they have their own ‘How you doin?’ catchphrase? Perhaps.
“Watch this space. We haven’t decided on it yet.”
Watson & Oliver premieres 7:30pm tonight on UKTV.