Alex Lowe is one of the most recognisable faces on British television. His credits have ranged from early outings in Grange Hill to memorable turns in comedies like Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights and House of Fools. As a huge fan of British comedy and television, I can’t count the number of times that he’s made appearances in influential favourites of mine. For Lowe, credits don’t end with his ubiquitous televisual roles either. In many ways, they’re merely a beginning.
Lowe is an eclectic talent, who seems able to turn his skills to a wide variety of mediums. He’s written for the stage and screen on numerous occasions, whilst also bolstering his theatre work by performing in such plays as Fatal Attraction. With an impressive career on an array of different radio shows too, sailing the media waves is a second nature for him. That said, he’s a deeply humble man, apparently disinterested by many of the trappings of the entertainment industry.
Some of Lowe’s greatest success has come with his character, Barry from Watford. First dreamed up as a kind of prank, aimed at radio host Iain Lee, Barry has taken on a life of his own. Boasting a rabid fan-base of dedicated listeners, his podcast with Dan Renton Skinner (in his Angelos Epithemiou persona, and a previous guest on our own show) is one of the funniest around. With the act having evolved into a regular live event, Lowe’s talent for improvisational comedy is perfectly focused through Barry.
As we drew our second season of podcasts to a close, I was fortunate enough to record a conversation with Lowe as a bonus episode before our finale. He’s someone of remarkable depth, who was more than happy to discuss his career with us, as well as some more philosophical and speculative topics. While I was only able to speak to him for around twenty minutes, I found he packed just as much insight and intrigue into our talk as previous episodes three times its length.
Having watched Lowe’s work since a very young age, it was an intimidating prospect to speak to him personally. Yet, within seconds it was clear that his down-to-earth personality is as engaging as his alter-ego’s. While we did concentrate on his career, you can always count on Secret Cave to steer things towards the internet and the ways it can develop creativity. In this area, Lowe had some fascinating, and at one point quite saddening, thoughts to offer on the subject. Here’s the recording of our conversation in full, as a bonus episode to SCP2:
See below for selected transcripts, and all relevant links.
On The Angelos & Barry Show podcast:
My favourite thing is doing the podcasts, ’cause we just get together and have a good laugh. I mean, we honestly don’t prepare anything. There are times I think, “God, that is just pathetic”. When I say to Dan, “What do you think they’re making of this?” he says, “Who cares?”; quite rightly! But it is funny! It makes me laugh, and if it makes me laugh that must be something ’cause I don’t laugh at that many things!
We never really decide how they know each other; we just made up stuff on the spur of the moment, but it’s kinda nice that they’re just old mates. I mean, we also like the fact that they never argue. There’s never really a difference of opinion; they just agree with each other! There’s something quite nice about that. It’s all quite friendly isn’t it? It’s never really nasty. We’re pretty indecent about some people, but it’s all with a childlike enthusiasm. I don’t think it’s ever really nasty. I hope no-one’s offended by it! If Kim Jong-Un wants to take offence, I’m sure he will but, if he’s listening, we only mean it in a friendly way.
On performing The Angelos & Barry Show on-stage:
It’s still got the anarchic, free-reign, train-of-thought stuff going on, but we kinda thought we have to couch it into some narrative arc, however pathetic that is. You’ll remember what happens at the end of it; it does have some sort of beginning and end!
If you’re going ’round, and you want an audience to turn up, I think you’ve got to have something that’s crafted properly. At the start we had a vision of, “Oh y’know, we’ll go ’round and we’ll just improvise”. We suddenly realised that sitting there on your own and musing… People like that but, in a live performance, it looks sort of exclusive; it excludes people if the two of you are just sitting there doing a head-to-head. It’s slightly alienating for an audience. So, we soon realised you have to open it out. It’s a really steep learning curve, for both of us.
On touring with Dan Renton Skinner:
It’s so lovely to be in a double act, ’cause it’s so bloody lonely! I always hated getting in the car and putting on my Barry stuff, [or] in a disabled toilet above a pub, with a lot of comedians eyeing you suspiciously. It’s just great to be with someone and rely on each other. The sickening nerves, doing stand-up on my own… I would feel sick all day doing it, then feel sick driving to the gig. Nine times out of ten it went really well, but it’s just great if there’s two of you; particularly if the other one’s really funny!
On meeting Dan Renton Skinner:
We sort of knew about each other, I suppose from just being actors. Then, I remember we both did a drama together called Would Like to Meet. He was in that and I was in that, playing a small part as a waiter. Then, I was doing my show at the 100 Club in the West End, and I asked Dan, “Would you like to do Angelos?”. Then, I got a show on Fubar Radio, which is an internet radio station. I was hosting a show and I thought, “Oh my god, it’s just me talking as Barry for three hours. I’m gonna need somebody to bounce off”. I suddenly thought, Dan would be the perfect foil.
We just sat there improvising this nonsense for hours, and it worked so well that, when we left Fubar (they owed us three-thousand pounds and weren’t prepared to pay it), we thought, “Let’s just do our own thing”. We stared doing the podcast, and it was great fun. It started rocketing up the iTunes charts, and then we did a few live gigs, which were like live recordings of the podcast. Actually we’ve neglected the podcasts, because we’ve been writing a sitcom together and we’ve both been busy doing other things, but we’re back on the podcasts now and, hopefully, people will come and see the tour!
On impersonating Andy Murray for Absolute Radio:
It’s just a take on Andy Murray being quite sullen despite his huge success; what should be quite an effervescent sort of person is very dour. Then, Judy comes along and she’s a sort of drunken, old lady. Occasionally, I’ll admit, I get people who get in touch with me and think it’s racist, or some such thing, but it’s not meant to be. I think it’s such a ludicrous cartoon character, and the reason I think Judy’s funny is that she’s so obviously not like that. She’s a very refined, intelligent and articulate woman and it’s just funny to play it like that. Also, Judy Murray doesn’t mind us doing that on the show. She chimes in, and she’s phoned up doing impressions and stuff!
On Cheap Cheap Cheap, Lowe’s upcoming show with Noel Edmonds:
I’ve got this thing coming out with Noel Edmonds, in August. It’s called Cheap Cheap Cheap, and it’s on Channel 4. It’s in the Deal or No Deal slot; thirty one-hour episodes, five days a week for six weeks. It’s like a quiz show, set in a shop, and Barry runs the shop; he’s, sort of, the store manager. It’s got some other great comedy actors in it, who are shop assistants and what-have-you, and there’s some kitschy, surprise guests from the 80’s. So, I’m really hoping that that does something and, y’know, it would be great if that had some spin-off for me and Dan, our tour and our future life together. When I say “our future life together”, I mean in a comedy sense… We’re not planning to get married!
On life as a freelance creative:
Really, I’m very lucky because there’s all sorts of things I do and, hopefully, I’m not a Jack of all trades, master of none. I sometimes think I am but, it’s so nice; if one thing isn’t happening, I think, “Well, I’ve got this other thing going on…”. I’ve got, like, four card ranges in the shops; greeting cards. That keeps the wolf from the door. That’s really great, and it’s kind of thrilling to go into WHSmith, John Lewis, Scribbler and what-have-you, and you see your card there.
To anyone who is thinking about having a freelance career, it is quite scary and daunting if you’ve got a family. I spend a lot of time waking up in the middle of the night, worrying about money. By the same token, it’s really great when you’re busy. It’s inspiring, and you feel creative. When you’re not busy then it’s Hellish. The problem is with that is, far from spending the day watching Loose Women or whatever it is, I think the opposite happens. There’s never a time when I relax.
On the opportunities of the internet and creative freedom:
It’s kinda scary times isn’t it? I’m very nervous about where everything is heading. Where I live, in North West London, Kodak had a massive factory. They employed tons and tons of people. Growing up, I always knew kids whose parents worked for Kodak. I met someone the other day, who’s like 53, and he’s lost his job. He’s absolutely on the floor, and he’s had depression, been to counselling and all sorts. So I think, “You know what? That was supposed to be a nice, secure job for life. I don’t know what is secure now. So, you might as well try and do your thing…”
There’s no real replacement for people’s imagination. If it’s all on a plate, it’s a bit tedious. It’s like uncharted territory, where those giant icebergs of independent telly, BBC and big film companies are gradually sinking under the white-hot heat of the internet. Look at us now, on Skype; that wasn’t available a few years ago. I think that the power brokers, in their little fiefdoms, are looking around thinking, “Oh my god. Audiences are shrinking. Everyone can do their own thing,” which, in a way, is quite a good thing. I do stuff, you don’t earn very much, but I suppose there are more opportunities to earn a little amount of money rather than just one or two opportunities to earn slightly bigger amounts of money.
Tickets to the Angelos & Barry Show on-stage are available through Live Nation here! You can follow Alex on Twitter, along with his alter-ego Barry from Watford. For the conversation in full, make sure to click over to our YouTube. We can also be found at Twitter and Facebook for updates on all future podcasts and interviews!