When Jo Van Es first auditioned for a narration role on a new show about people watching television, she wasn’t especially hopeful of landing the gig, and at best thought it would be a short-run contract.
8 seasons later she is now an integral part of Gogglebox‘s success, giving it a flavour without ever being seen.
“It was just one of those auditions that don’t end up as anything. As voice-over artists we do a lot of auditions,” she tells TV Tonight.
“I thought, ‘This is a weird concept for a show'”
“It pretty much involved me reading a sample script from start to finish without any of the footage, so it was a little bit tricky because I didn’t have any pictures to play off. They wanted a fairly neutral delivery. They didn’t want any crazy personality or over-acting.
“I thought, ‘This is a weird concept for a show. It will probably be something I do for a little while and it will disappear into the winds like a lot of jobs do.’ But it’s just grown and grown.”
Van Es has a been a full-time voice over artist for 16 years and is now one of the busiest (she is also the voice behind ABC promos).
She has a background in radio copywriting and journalism, and it was copywriting promos that provided the opportunity to try her hand at voice-overs. At the time the field was so male-dominated she remembers research insisting male voice were “more persuasive in selling products than the female voice!’”
“I often stop and ask them ‘What does this bit mean?'”
Her Gogglebox week begins with recordings on Tuesday afternoons, lasting about an hour. Sessions occasionally, but not always, include footage of the cast for added script context.
“Often I rely heavily on the writers and producers to say to me ‘Let me explain why you have to say the word Sausages!’ Because it makes no sense, without having seen the footage,” she explains.
“I often stop and ask them ‘What does this bit mean? Is it meant to be sarcastic or serious?’ So that we can make sure that the tone is right. There is the risk I could read it all wrong if it’s out of context.
“There’s lots and lots of laughing and bloopers, which is the most fun part for me!”
Van Es attributes her success to the script writing and editing as much as to the families creating the ‘gold nuggets’ on the couch. Over the 8 seasons her contribution has developed from ‘straight’ narration to bringing the sass.
“If you go back to the first episode it was very straight narration.”
“The scripts have become more comedy-based as the characters have developed. If you go back to the first episode it was very straight narration.: he said, she watched…. But the writing and the editing is a huge part of it.
“I think it’s morphed gradually with each season. People are saying this season is the most hilarious yet and that’s a combination of the footage with the scripting.
“I certainly feel like I’m part of the conversation now, rather than just the voice from the side. I’m interacting with a lot of the footage and there is an expected level of ‘sass’ and ribbing which is lots of fun.
“The UK (Gogglebox) narrator is really different in style. It’s a male voice and a really weird droll, and everything is a bit slow.
“So it works very differently to ours.”
While she admits to watching the show with her 3 kids (“I tell them ‘Ignore the swearing!”) Van Es has never met any of the cast -but there is some contact on social media. Ever the diplomat, there is no chance she will nominate a favourite family amongst the cast.
“No! That’s like asking do you have a favourite child?”
“No! That’s like asking do you have a favourite child? No!” she laughs.
“I love it when they are completely silly and over the top because that gives me more material to work with.
“But I couldn’t ever pick a favourite!
“Gogglebox has the balance right, offering a little bit of seriousness, but not so much that it brings people down. The comedy element of the show is still everybody’s favourite.
“It’s so much fun, so I feel really fortunate and honoured to be a part of it.”
Gogglebox airs 7:30pm Wednesday on LifeStyle and 8:40pm Thursday on TEN.