"A lot of people bring up the same show [again] when it’s been a hit, but we avoided that. We’ve moved on and we’re just having fun with it." The curtain has just come down on the second performance of Funz and Gamez Tooz, Phil Ellis's hotly-tipped sequel to the anarchic kids' game show that swept the Fringe off its feet in 2014.
It would have been very easy to bring back Funz and Gamez in its original format, but Ellis and the gang—James Meehan, Mick Ferry and Will Duggan, plus new addition John Dongles—were eager to try something new.
“We’d done that show I don’t even know how many times and we all wanted to do something different. So it’s nice to have a new show: it’s fresh, there are new characters in it. People can’t say we’re being lazy.”
Ellis’s game show host is still a man in the middle of a mental breakdown just looking to make a quick buck, but he’s now he’s got himself a girlfriend, a 20-year-old who phones repeatedly throughout the show with requests for cash. Jim the Elf has spent the last year enjoying himself in ‘Lapland’ (a wonderland, perhaps, but certainly not one suitable for kids), while Bonzo the Dog has become Bonzo the Hog as a means of showcasing Duggan’s enviably broad acting range. Uncle Mick, of course, died at the end of every performance of last year’s show and so has been replaced by Uncle Rick – who’s like his predecessor only drunker, and wearing an eye patch. Dongles plays the ‘Numbear’, a benign creature that helps kids learn about mathematics and court-appointed restraining orders.
The other big change to the show is that kids are actually showing up, ushered to their seats by a crack front-of-house team at the Bosco Tent in Assembly George Square. Ferry recalls the tricky situation they found themselves in last year: “We had a room full at some times, and [only] about six kids in. Comedians [had] started tweeting about it, which was great. But it meant we had a lot more adults than kids.”
The balance has shifted this year, but look around the audience and you’ll still spot a few famous faces—Michael Legge and Matt Reed at the show I saw—most likely laughing louder than all the little ones combined.
“A lot of comics have already come in and said, ‘Oh, it’s good again!’, says Duggan, with relief. “Because you’re always nervous about your own show. But to hear that takes the pressure off a bit."
As well as the success of the first show there was also the little matter of the TV pilot for the BBC, a large-scale production that toned down the shambolic nature of the live version but kept many of its risqué jokes and life lessons. (What parent wouldn’t be delighted to have their child told, "Don’t get too attached to your nan"?)
The new show flirts with poor taste even more brazenly than last year’s incarnation – a response to the compromises and inevitable sanitisation of being ‘on the telly’, I suggest? Not at all, says Ellis – what they’re doing now is just a different type of distasteful. “I thought it was getting a bit too rude this year. A bit innuendo-y. We’re better than that. So I put a fart joke in because I wanted to show how high class we are.”
“Kids love farting,” confirms Ferry. “I love farting!” Meehan adds, before Ellis brings us back round to the subject of discussion. “We’ve managed to walk the line this year. We sometimes teeter over it.”
One joke—which I won’t ruin here—involves the rather incendiary acronym created by the show’s title. “Every bit of those kinds of jokes is the audience,” Duggan protests. “We don’t make those; they do.”
There’s a brotherhood vibe between the four original cast members, and even newbie Dongles (who leaves the interview halfway through – for a shift at Maplin, his comrades insist). They constantly bicker, undermining Ellis as much as possible as he tries in vain to keep the interview on track and rein in the swearing. (“We’re supposed to be promoting a kids show! Say ‘crap’ instead of shit,” shouts Ellis. “Crap off,” Duggan retorts.)
The lure of terrorising kids with a second show was just too good of an opportunity to pass up. “The thing is,” says Ellis, “I genuinely like kids. I think they’re a good laugh. If I had someone who loved me I’d have kids.”
According to Ferry, Scottish children make the best audiences. “When we did the show in Glasgow, the best behaved kids were there. As soon as we said ‘sit down’, they did it.” Ellis agrees: “Scottish kids are great. They’re a lot of fun and there’s no pretension. The kids in London are good kids, it’s just they’re not used to being able to run around. Normally they’re sat with an iPad. Then they come to a show where they’re not spoken down to—they get told to get involved—and they go, ‘Great, I can do what I want now!’”
The option of doing whatever you want is available to the grown-ups too, says Ellis. “We’re not here to prove anything, we’re just here to have fun. And so are the kids. We’re not here to win stuff. We never were. And that’s why we have fun with it. If we start worrying about it, we’ll stop having fun." Seems everyone is learning life lessons from Funz and Gamez.