John Dredge talks

❉ James Collingwood chats with Plinths frontman John Dredge about his magical comedy world.

I love the Goons. They created their own world and I sort of got drawn into it. I still think it’s amazing… It’s pretty clean, The Goon Show, because they were restricted at the time about what they could say, and I think that adds to it. It hasn’t really dated too much. I’d say 90% of it hasn’t dated.” 

John Dredge is by a mile one of the funniest people on the internet at the moment. His Nothing to Do with Anything podcast has been running for about ten years now and creates a magical comedy world, all of which is available online. His Resonance FM ‘Eighties shows are a hilarious listen too and over on Twitter he is constantly funny. Check out his impressions of Mark E. Smith singing the Wurzels or John Peel singing the Neighbours theme tune which became a bit of a Twitter sensation during lockdown.

John is also a musician with his bands The Plinths and The Balcony Shirts Band, who recently released the single Double Agent, Working Alone.  I interviewed John over Zoom and started by asking about one of his great heroes, Kenny Everett.

I know you’re a massive fan of Kenny Everett.  Was he a big influence on the podcast and a big influence on your stuff generally?  

Yeah totally. I always, in my head, wanted to do something like his Video Show. So, I guess it comes out of that tradition. I don’t know how well people remember him now?

Yeah, you’ve got to be a certain age. I remember he did the show on Thames TV originally, didn’t he?

Yeah. He was massive when he first went to the BBC.  When he first did the BBC sketch show he was No 1 in the ratings. I think people of my age remember him fondly but if you’re younger than that I think some people may not know much about him.

He had Barry Cryer writing with him for the TV show?

Yes, and Ray Cameron – Michael McIntyre’s dad. He was on something called Jokers Wild with Barry Cryer in the ’60s or seventies. A panel show of standup comedians – I guess they might have met there. 

I’m a big fan of your podcasts and radio show and you have hilarious things like Mark E Smith singing Harry Nilsson, characters like Farmer Collins etc. What was your inspiration for doing that? Obviously, you’re influenced by comedy of the past, but you’ve created your own world.

I’ve always been attracted to writers and comedians who just exist in their own space. Their own world. I think the less that it’s got to do with reality the more I like it. So I’ve always liked Vic Reeves, Spike Milligan, Kenny Everett…. those are the main ones. And things like The Burkiss Way and Python I suppose.

It also reminds me a bit of Saturday Night Fry.

I love Saturday Night Fry.  When I first heard that I loved the way Stephen Fry used language. I hadn’t really heard something like that before. A really sort of erudite style but he was actually just talking rubbish! I was reading one of his many autobiographies and he said he wrote the whole series in a week! It was a great show. Still funny. 

It reminds me of your stuff with the voices and the segues. He’s also got that authoritative voice. 

I loved the idea of sounding very serious but the content of what you’re saying being utter nonsense.  Chris Morris did that a bit when he started off on radio. I guess Victor Lewis Smith did it a little bit as well. I just like the idea that if you’re listening to it in the background you probably think it’s a normal Radio 4 show but if you listen a bit closer you think “Hang on a minute – what are they going on about?”.

Your Eighties show on Resonance is great as well. It has that vibe of Saturday afternoon radio shows I remember from when I was younger.  On Radio One in the early eighties you might have had Adrian Juste on or something – comedy and pop music. You’ve created a world where it sounds like a normal radio show but the things you say are hilarious.

I try to write a serious radio show but it always comes out stupid haha! I love the old Radio One. I grew up when Radio One was this massive entity of strange personalities. It was a definite influence. Steve Wright In The Afternoon as well. People forget it was more of a comedy show when he started out. Adrian Juste would do stuff – I was listening to Kenny Everett on Capital at that time as well. Yeah, you don’t really get disc jockeys doing comedy anymore. I don’t hear it anymore which is a shame. You don’t really hear music radio that’s funny.

I’m surprised because it’s set up for that really.

I don’t know if the BBC have just got a bit scared of doing things like that. I just always thought comedy seems to go well with pop music.  I relate it to Kenny Everett in those terms. He would always have Captain Kremmen in the middle of his music radio shows which was nothing to do with music at all. It was him doing a sketch really. It sounded amazing to me. This incredibly well produced mad science fiction serial in the middle of a pop show, and it just seemed to fit.

The same with his Video Show. He would be the silly presenter then there’d be all these groups on and that just seemed a really cool thing to do. He was almost like the first video jockey years before MTV did it. And he did it much better than any of them. He had Bowie on. He was friends with Queen – all the musicians really liked him because what he did was rebellious. He was like an outsider, and he really loved pop music, so he fitted in that world I think. 

Peter Sellers is another big influence on my stuff. He was almost like a serious actor that went mad. It seemed almost like he could have been as good as Laurence Olivier or anyone like that. But he had this weird comedic side to him. I quite like that idea as I say. It looks serious but in fact it’s just ridiculous. 

I love the Goons. They created their own world and I sort of got drawn into it. I still think it’s amazing.  There’s a podcast called Goon Pod that comes out every single week.  I’ve been on it a few times and they’ve had some really really good people on there.

It’s pretty clean, The Goon Show, because they were restricted at the time about what they could say, and I think that adds to it. It hasn’t really dated too much. I’d say 90% of it hasn’t dated.

Yes, you can hear the influence on your shows. 

Yes, and I never really wanted to be offensive. I’m not particularly interested in that sort of thing. It’s more difficult not to be offensive. I like the idea of anyone being able to listen to it. Almost like a family entertainment show or something.  Harry Hill is like that. He’s the nearest thing I can think of to what I’m doing at the moment.  He loves things like TISWAS as well. I mean I used to love TISWAS! 

And you had Sally James on the Nothing to Do with Anything podcast…

I did! I got her to record some jingles. I went to see the TISWAS reunion last year. It was incredible. They all came on and Chris Tarrant threw buckets of water over the audience!  I was not expecting that. I was sat about three rows from the front, and I got it right in the face. What I would have given for that to happen when I was a kid!

People talk about the Swap Shop/ TISWAS wars, but I used to watch the cartoons or The Monkees on Swap Shop and then switch over to see what was going on on TISWAS.

I grew up on all that. I did a send up of Scooby Doo on one of the shows and just tried to get it as near as possible to what they used to do and send it up. It’s hard to send something up unless you really like it.  I did a parody of Space 1999 which is very niche!

Yeah, listening to the podcasts there’s references people won’t get like the Hans Keller/Pink Floyd clip you parody. That’s one of the funniest things ever on your podcast.

Haha it’s just funny as it is, isn’t it? It’s a really obscure reference. Like Vic and Bob used to reference quite obscure things and it didn’t really matter too much. it was just funny so you would go along with it.

Yeah, you reference music, TV programmes, old ITV shows, Terry and June etc…haha. 

Yeah, I guess maybe it’s only funny for people who are like 40 and over. You could probably work out the references though if you were younger. Like with Python. They used to reference someone like Marcel Proust and when I was a kid, I had no idea what Proust was. I still thought the sketch was funny because it was sort of obvious what sort of writer he was from that sketch. So maybe you don’t need knowledge of all these weird things to find it funny. I hope not.

Me and Richard Cray, he’s the producer and co-writer, we just tend to write what we think is funny and that’s about it. We do spend a lot of time on the scripts.

You can tell. It’s got to be quite tight hasn’t it, with the segueing into things and the structure of the show?

Yeah, that’s down to Richard. He pushes me to rewrite things that otherwise probably I wouldn’t bother to do. He’ll pull me up on something or he’ll suggest different lines or different ideas. And so, I’ll rewrite it and it’ll get better.  Sometimes I’ll write whole sketches and he won’t want to do it. That’s fine. I’m almost trying to write for him. He’s my audience. If he doesn’t like it I tend to think it’s not good enough. 

He’s someone to bounce off?

Yes, for example he’ll say, “Oh, you’ve already done that idea” and when you’ve done five series it’s difficult not to repeat yourself. Monty Python only did four and I think Cleese only did three of those. It’s difficult not to repeat yourself on a sketch show or any show really.

Radio Active was also a big influence. Do you remember that? Michael Fenton-Stevens one of the stars of that show is now big in the podcasting world. He’s really nice! When the internet was just starting up he was on Facebook or something and I said to him “I really like Radio Active” and he sent me a lot of shows for nothing. Just sent me some CDs of it. 

He does a great podcast.

He does a very good podcast called My Time Capsule. That’s what’s so great about the internet. Audio has exploded. That’s why I started the podcast. There’s no outlet for it anywhere else. When I realised what a podcast was, all those years ago, I thought “great I can put all these audio ideas into one show” and put it out and see if anyone likes it. So, I’ve done that for about 10 years almost now.  Having said that we had a five-year break! 

Are you working on the new series at the moment?

Yeah. We’ve written the new series. Richard’s going through his collection of sound effects and records and soundtracks and he’s digging out all the different noises. He sends them to me then I say what I think. They’re always pretty funny.  I always set him very difficult things to make.  I love sound effects. And that also comes from the Goons and Kenny Everett. Using sound in a really strange way, because you can do anything with sound. Anything is possible and you don’t need a big budget for it. I’ve always really loved playing with peculiar noises and combining things – like having a donkey in a helicopter! Things like that. The Goons did that brilliantly – they were probably the best at that.

The recent single with the Balcony Shirts is great. What’s the story with that? I read somewhere that the band was formed in a shop?

Yeah, sort of. I used to phone up Iain Lee a lot. He used to do a really funny show on Talk Radio for a few years and it was like a two-and-a-half-hour improvisational comedy show really. I think they’re online somewhere. Astonishing.  Anyway, he had callers phoning in all the time, so I started phoning in. I used to phone in and say stupid things and be ridiculous.

And there was another chap that was quite involved with that show called Scott Balcony. We ended up just chatting online. He’s got a t shirt shop in Uxbridge. When Iain Lee appeared on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here Scott made some T-shirts in support of Iain, so I went down and bought one and met him.

We got on very well and it turned out he was a musician and had been a songwriter for years and had bands for years. He had a studio in the back of his little shop and so we thought we’d try writing. We wrote this song about The Ipcress File. I think I’d just watched the film I thought I’d try and condense that into a three-minute song. You know like Don’t You Want Me Baby by The Human League is supposed to be a film plot (A Star is Born) condensed into three minutes? I tried to condense the feel of The Ipcress File into this three-minute lyric.

So we wrote it and I went to his T-shirt shop studio. I sang and he did all the instruments. We put it out and it got played on Gary Crowley and also on Steve Lamacq. That was amazing. I actually thanked Steve Lamacq personally.  He goes to a pub near me, and I saw him outside and I just went up to him and said, “thank you for playing my record”. So, we’re probably going to be doing another one soon.

Music and comedy are interlinked in my mind. Vic and Bob. Ivor Cutler. I was a big fan of the Bonzos as well. It was all linked in my head when I was growing up.

Looking forward to the new podcasts and music. Any other projects coming up?

I have actually done a short film called Splorry.   Seven minutes long. I’m really pleased with it. It’s going round festivals at the moment and then we’ll put it online in a couple of months.  

John Dredge on Twitter | John Dredge on Instagram 

 James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre.  His Twitter is @JamesCollingwo1

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