Another slice of Toast for Berry and Mathews
With a third TV series and a new book, failed actor Steven Toast is proving a big hit for his creators Matt Berry and Arthur Mathews
Matt Berry(left) and Arthur Mathews, writers of Toast on Toast. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Toast of London actor Matt Berry & writer Arthur Mathews in conversation about their book Toast on Toast. Photograph: Cathal Burke / VIPIRELAND.COM
Hamm on Toast . . . Toast on Bacon . . . Toast of London . . . Steven Toast is the comedy creation that keeps on giving – just help yourself to any bad bread pun that pops up. Co-writers Arthur Mathews and Matt Berry aren’t bothered, though. Mad Man star Jon Hamm, Berry’s favourite artist, Francis Bacon – everyone can help themselves to a piece of Toast as far as they’re concerned.
It’s getting dark in Dublin and the pair of comedy royals have come inside from the rainy street, where they have brooded for the photographer, to raise their spirits before visiting a bookshop to sign a lot of copies of their new book, Toast on Toast.
No, it wasn’t their idea to festoon the cover with the words “From Bafta award-wining Matt Berry and Arthur Mathews”. Look, says Mathews, searching for a sticker’s edge, “you can’t even scrape it off”.
It does bring a touch of Toast to the table, though. Berry won the “best actor in a comedy” Bafta this year for his depiction of middle-aged, Dickie Davies-haired actor Steven Toast in Toast of London. Mathews and Berry have also been nominated for writing it. They haven’t won, but that is very Steven Toast too. He is the acting world’s perpetual underachiever.
“You could just write ‘multi-award-winning’ on the cover,” says Berry, “but that could mean anything. It could mean a TV Quick award, so you have to write Bafta.”
He has a point. “Even though it is quite embarrassing, you do have to do that because there are so many awards now for so many things. You have to do it. Be specific.”
Being specific, co-writers Mathews and Berry are better at producing vintage comedy than their creation Steven Toast is at creating a drama. Mathews co-wrote Irish high-priestly masterpiece Father Ted and had a hand in The Fast Show, Brass Eye and Black Books. Berry played Douglas Reynholm in The IT Crowd and has appeared in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and The Mighty Boosh. Those are CVs that would even make TV Quick sit up and take notice.
Just in case you haven’t stumbled upon Steven Toast yet, Berry and Mathews come up with three words to sum him up: “Pompous, arrogant, deluded.” That will do nicely, gentlemen.
Toast straddles the worlds of the voiceover and high drama.
“I love the voiceover,” says Mathews. “At the beginning of the pilot episode, Toast just says the word ‘yes’ over and over again, and it is kind of funny to hear him asked to keep saying it in different ways,” says Mathews. Toast’s voiceover of a porn film in series two was particularly stimulating.
Actors can be dismissive or embarrassed by the voiceover, Mathews says. “They always prefer to see themselves as actors who do occasional voiceovers. It is lucrative work, but it’s not well-regarded.”
Not by Toast, it isn’t, but Berry is happy to lend his smooth baritone, which he notes is “probably my only resemblance to Steven”, to all comers. “I’ve always done it.”
This is no surprise. The man who went to a comprehensive in Bedfordshire can come over all rich and plummy when he wants. In the flesh, he is more a man of the people. He was, however, chosen to provide the voice for the closing ceremony of the 2014 Olympics.
Did he introduce The Spice Girls on top of that London cab? It turns out he didn’t, but “I introduced ELO’s dance to Mr Blue Sky”, he says.
How was it working with a superstar like Hamm? “I was under his spell,” says Berry. “I don’t know if Hamm is that keen on Toast, but Toast is quite keen on Hamm.”
We discuss #wakingthefeminists and how Toast might have looked at the lack of plays by women on the Abbey’s 1916 centenary programme.
“I’m with the feminists – obviously,” says Mathews. “It would be rather indelicate of me to take another stance, wouldn’t it?”
Like all unreconstructed men, Toast is “despicable in lots of ways,” says Mathews. “He’s kind of ignorant. He’s an idiot.” Toast is a “man stuck in his ways”, agrees Berry, although, as Mathews adds, he always gets his comeuppance.
Toast is gorgeously vain and beautifully self-absorbed.When the Guardian asked actor Toast to review Michael Fassbender’s recent cinematic sortie as Macbeth, Toast wrote: “What did I make of it? There will be accusations of sour grapes, but my honest opinion is that the film is utterly, UTTERLY dreadful. Fassbender, woefully miscast, was clearly given only one note by the director: ‘look serious’. Where was the lightness of touch, the sheer ‘silliness’ that makes Macbeth one of Shakespeare’s most memorable comic characters? He fails to get any laughs out of ‘Macca’ at all. Fassbender, from what I can make out, plays the part as an ‘Irish man’, which, I’m guessing, came about as a result of his inability do accents.”
Considering that Toast had only had time to watch the trailer, that wasn’t bad going.The back of Fassbender’s and Benedict Cumberbatch’s heads (or heads resembling theirs) appeared in the last series of Toast of London, but Hamm is front and centre this time. As is Pat Shortt, says Mathews, to play “a dodgy plastic surgeon, a sex-change specialist”.
“It is, of course, a stupid idea, as is the sexism, because of course Toast would be sexist. He’s a dinosaur, which doesn’t mean we are,” says Berry. And they aren’t. A comedy pair who give the late Yootha Joyce a day out in the sun, who namecheck former Blue Peter presenter Valerie Singleton and who create the “sexy, bored, unfulfilled” Mrs Purchase, played by Tracy-Ann Oberman, can wake the feminists any day.
Names are a big thing for Berry and Mathews, and their characters have names that – toast pun alert – earn their crust. Clem Fandango (“vacuous, twat, narcissistic”) is the trust-fund studio hipster you love to hate; Ray Purchase (“pitiful, deluded, pompous, loser”) is Toast’s dramatic and sexual nemesis; Toast’s agent, Jane Plough (pronounced like Brian Clough), is “incompetent, glamorous, outdated”.
“These are names that are just about believable, which makes them different from Monty Python names, which are crazy,” says Mathews.
Apart from Mathews himself, who lives in Rathgar in Dublin, Bono gives the show its Irish angle, appearing in the book as Paul Hewson in a poster Berry did of the fictitious Dublin play De Oglee Fecker.
But we can’t leave Mathews without prodding a Father Ted story out of him. He delights us with a tale of two of his uncles, both priests. His favourite uncle Fr Tom’s greatest moment occurred in a car park at Dublin Airport when he said a Mass in a hired car – chalice and all – for Mathews and his sister.
“My uncle was a parish priest in Birmingham,” he says, “and as he was coming home and I was leaving for London, the car park seemed like a good idea” for Mathews’s mother’s memorial Mass.
Fr Tom liked Father Ted. “He did like it, although we very rarely talked about it. I had another uncle who was a priest. He died in 1989. He would have hated it. He would have beaten me up. But he was a quite severe priest who stayed in Ireland,” says Mathews.
“That makes the whole series even better. You had jeopardy at all times,” says Berry with a laugh.
Toast on Toast is published by Canongate. Toast of London is on Channel 4 on Wednesdays at 10.30pm