Tell us about your background as a writer - have you always written for the screen or is Kabaddases your first foray into scriptwriting?
I'm a novelist foremost. I wrote a book called Coconut Unlimited, which was shortlisted for a few awards. I've done years of performance poetry and live literature where I've performed and read short stories, mostly funny stuff. Kabadasses is my first proper foray into scriptwriting. I always write prose visually so it made sense to try and make something visual. I'm predominantly known as a novelist. That's my comfort zone so this feels a lot more scary as it's a road never travelled.
What is Kabadasses inspired by?
My friend Laura and I made a short film based on one of my poems once and we were looking for an idea for something else. She suggested a mockumentary about a Kkabaddi star. I couldn't quite nail the idea but after speaking to my friend Riz Ahmed, we came up with this ridiculous idea about a bunch of losers putting together a Kkabaddi team. My book was basically losers forming a rap band. This one is losers forming a sports team. We wanted it to be like Dodgeball and Cool Runnings and The Karate Kid, full of weird magical mysticism, ridiculousness and triumph over adversity.
Tell us about the show
The show is about Bobby, a dreamer who decides to put together a Kkabaddi team. Except the only people he can find are a hooligan (his mate Vin), a hippy into yoga, an asthmatic (useless when playing Kkabaddi) and a morbidly obese guy. He hires a trainer, The Marauding Moustache, who is that classic 'disgraced former genius' guy. He's the funniest one. He steals every show. So the lab follows them putting the team together. Ideally, we want to tell more stories about them joining a league and being the only 'white team' and all the adversity they find. The show is about fitting in, about integration, and about friendship, all through the eye of Kkabaddi.
Describe your main characters
See above, I guess! Bobby's your archetypal dreamer, into everything, wants to do everything, be everyone's best mate, a bit deluded, a bit rubbish. Vin's a hooligan, quick to anger, quickly tempered and desperate to play sport as it's all he's got in his life. The Marauding Moustache, their trainer, is a soiled, arrogant, smug, deluded, mental old Kkabaddi player.
How did you find your cast - would we recognise them from anywhere?
Shazad Latif has been on Spooks, and was mostly hired as the only one who'd look attractive in Kkabaddi speedos. He's very sweet-looking. You can imagine him as a dreamer. Jack Doolan has been in Cemetery Junction and is perfect as Vin, the easily-angered working class wanker hooligan who brings rage to the team. I was lucky to get TV gold in Dale Meeks, who was in Byker Grove for ages and Kulvinder Ghir from Goodness Gracious Me. One of my favourite stand-ups and a mate of mine, Josie Long is in it too and she's so blinkin' funny, I wish she was in more stuff. Tony Jayawardena steals the show as the Marauding Moustache. He's brilliantly wild. He's such a nice normal guy in real life. This role allows him to go over the top of over the top.
How did you team up with Objective Productions and Channel 4?
I stupidly and drunkenly sent the script one night to Shane Allen [Channel 4's Head of Comedy]. A friend had temped at Channel 4 and 'procured' his email address. I forgot I'd done that and three months later, I got an email from him saying he loved the world, the script needed work but he wanted it. So I went in, they paired me with Anil Gupta, who is such a legend, who whipped it - and me - into shape. Anil constantly reminded me that being a novelist meant nothing. I'd missed out a lot of steps getting here so I needed to be whipped into shape. I worked closely with Anil, and Channel 4 found us a home at Objective Productions, which was amazing for me, being such a Peep Show fan. One day I went in for a meeting, and [Peep Show writers] Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong were hanging out eating sushi. They said hello and pretended to be interested in my show and I was a little starstruck, to be honest.
Who are your comedy heroes?
A lot of American sitcoms like Seinfeld and Arrested Development. I love Parks and Recreation, and Community at the moment, though I'm not entirely sure how I could have possibly seen them. Comedians Aziz Ansari and Donald Glover are great young comedians who are able to be funny and truthful about the time we live in and true to their nerdist routes. In the UK, my heroes are Sam and Jesse, Chris Morris, stand ups like Stewart Lee, Richard Herring, Robin Ince, Adam and Joe, and Josie Long too. I love mixing comedy with filmic references and archetypes, like sports films like Major League. Peep Show and Garth Marenghi are probably two of my favourite sitcoms of all time. Oh, and Spaced. Oh, and Anil Gupta& : kind of a legend& , kind of my mentor& and kind of instrumental in Kabadasses.
Who - or what - is the future of comedy?
In terms of people, Joe Lycett. I've seen him a few times at things, and he's so disgustingly funny, it's brilliant. He mixes the ooh-err missus charm of Kenneth Williams, the gentleness and warmth of Lorraine Kelly and the megaLOLZ of everyone's favourite stand-up. And Comedy Lab. Obviously.