There’s a fine tradition of comedians playing exaggerated versions of themselves in sitcoms - from Seinfeld to The Sarah Silverman Program and Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. But now a genre more associated with New York City and Los Angeles has found a home in the Yorkshire countryside thanks to Lucy Beaumont and Jon Richardson.
The couple play themselves in the extremely funny Meet the Richardsons, which is set in their Hebden Bridge home and is returning to screens this week for the start of an extended second series.
The mockumentary set-up offers what they say is a fairly lightly fictionalised window into the world of the comedians’ marriage and time with their young daughter Elsie and gives viewers a glimpse into their work lives, with appearances from their celebrity friends like Russell Howard and Johnny Vegas.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post over Zoom from their home with Elsie happily playing on an iPad in the background, the couple admit the lines behind reality and fiction are quite blurred.
Lucy, who co-writes the show with Car Share’s Tim Reid, says incidents in real life are used as a starting point for much of what eventually appears on screen.
“I keep a note of everything that happens to us, all the conversations we have and the arguments,” she explains.
Jon adds deadpan: “That is also for your lawyers though.”
The concept of the show was suggested by producer Lee Hupfield after the couple appeared on Channel 4 show Married to a Celebrity (which was originally titled The Whinge List).
The couple say it took some time for them to be convinced the idea would work.
“Jon said he didn’t know if there is enough about our relationship that would keep a series going,” Lucy explains. “As we started to talk about our lives, Tim said ‘You know everything you are describing doesn’t happen to everybody else?’
“We are not living a normal life and he made us realise it could work.”
Jon adds that he was keen the show would be universal enough to engage viewers.
“I was worried initially it would be too reliant on celebrity cameos. It had to be relatable. The jokes had to come from the relationship and living with other people and family. It became clear that was going to be the case. There are guest stars but they are people that we do know.”
Lucy adds there is a tension between what works on screen and what real life requires.
“What makes good comedy characters is they don’t change but in real life to have a successful marriage, you need to be learning things. But I quite like the idea [in the show] that we are not going to.”
The nine-part second series, which is being shown on Dave on Thursday nights in the coming weeks, follows a six-episode run for the first series last year and a two-part Christmas special.
Another meta-part of the show’s storyline relates to Lucy’s attempt to make a BBC sitcom with Tim Reid called Wet Cloth, Dry Cloth based on her real-life time working as a cleaner at Hull University.
In the first episode of the new series, she finds out that another actress is to be cast in the role of ‘Lucy from Hull’ despite her specifically writing the role for herself.
While Beaumont diplomatically does not want to go in whether that particular situation has any roots in reality, she says she enjoyed the opportunity to take aim at some of the frustrations that come from writing comedy for television.
“It is my way to vent,” she says. “I loved we could go into things like meetings with all white, middle-class, privately-educated people from London telling me that I need to add more diversity into my script. You just think, you need to add more diversity to your boardroom.”
The plot of the first episode also sees Richardson begin an attempt to get out of being in the sitcom - in which he is pencilled in to play Alan, a character Lucy has written for him “who can’t leave the house without a packet of wet wipes, probably still wets the bed, asexual” - partly because he is already sick of having the character’s catchphrase, ‘Save it for Bingo’, shouted at him on the streets of Hebden Bridge.
The town and the surrounding countryside of the Calder Valley are central to the programme and the couple say the show has gone down well locally. Lucy says they love living in Hebden Bridge and were touched recently to find out that people at a local garage had kept the location of their house quiet from a customer who was asking where they lived.
“It is quite a small community and people have got to know us a family and say, ‘You are just Jon and Lucy to us’,” she says. “They are quite protective.”
Even in a light-hearted mockumentary, the impact of the Covid pandemic cannot be avoided and the series opens with a reminder that Richardson raised the possibility of a global pandemic on a 2019 episode of his panel show Ultimate Worrier.
In the segment of that programme, he discussed how it was listed by the World Health Organization as among its top ten threats to the globe and was also top of the UK Government’s risk register.
“The repeat gets shown now and again and people message me on Twitter about it,” he says today. “It just underlines that so many of our problems are not surprises.”
Covid-19 also forced the postponement of Richardson’s latest stand-up tour in 2020, with the gigs across the country now pencilled in for this autumn.
But he says even those rescheduled dates are in question given the obvious challenges of properly road-testing the material with smaller audiences before launching into a full tour and whether that would then take work opportunities away from other acts.
“With the tour at the moment I have to say it doesn’t look likely for the end of this year,” he says.
“There is a pressure I do take seriously - people are still making bookings because they need something to look forward to. I know theatre workers and front-of-house staff haven’t worked for a year - an entire industry has been shut down for a year. I feel a pressure to help theatres get back on their feet. There are so many complicated issues around how we do get back to normality.”
While major questions marks remain about the return of live comedy, one member of the family who has particularly enjoyed being on camera for the television series is their three-year-old daughter Elsie.
Lucy says: “It all she knows - when she is able to go to people’s houses again, she will be saying ‘Where is your film crew?’”
Leeds United’s supporting role in show
Jon Richardson’s deep love of Leeds United is frequently referenced throughout the show - with him wearing a club shirt in some scenes and having a sticker of manager Marcelo Bielsa on his laptop.
He says he is looking forward to being able to get back to Elland Road once grounds are opened to crowds again, particularly with the team doing so well again under their inspirational and enigmatic Argentinian manager.
Leeds were promoted to the Premier League after the pandemic struck and have not played in front of a home crowd since.
“There was a real moment of worry thinking if Bielsa leaves, we will never have seen him in the Premier League,” says Richardson.
The new series of Meet The Richardsons will air on Dave from Thursday, April 8
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