Long lenses, frenzied speculation and breached security barricades; over the phone from his Balearic hotel room, Simon Bird is vividly describing the sort of media coverage that’s normally more associated with mega-budget Hollywood productions than a big-screen version of an E4 show. But the level of attention on the Mallorcan set of The Inbetweeners film is a decent snapshot of just how huge that show, and Bird, has become.
“It’s been crazy,” he laughs. “Things have just gone to the next level.” The sitcom is fast becoming just one string in a bulging comedy bow. Bird also plays Adam in the pleasingly daft new sitcom Friday Night Dinner, and he’s co-written a historical comedy pilot for Channel 4. Not bad for a 26-year-old who fans insist on calling a “briefcase w*nker”...
The Inbetweeners is an award-winning series, but are you fearful of a backlash following the film?
I don’t think there’s anyone more aware of the fact that the idea of The Inbetweeners doing a British feature film might receive a critical beating [laughs]. It’s like the Kevin & Perry factor. Everyone involved in the film is aware of that and we’re doing all we can to make sure no self-respecting critic could write a bad thing about it. It definitely feels more cinematic and hopefully works as a standalone movie.
Have you had any interaction with real holidaymakers during filming?
We filmed some in Malia, Crete, last May and I think it just proved to us that we had to come back in winter because it was basically impossible to get anything done.
People yelling catchphrases and offering to buy you drinks...
Yeah, exactly. “Briefcase w*nker” is the big one they yell at me. We have a certain level of security with the film, so when there’s a scene being shot, the road will be closed off. But we were overrun in Malia; there were just more people than we could deal with. It was carnage. One moment that stuck out was when a guy was literally being held down by two men as somebody was driving a quad bike over his leg. I mean, surely that’s crossed the line from larks into criminal activity?
Have you had any odd fan requests?
Well, the most unexpected one was a guy who asked me to sign his penis. I drew the line there. Not literally. I get some weird fan mail as well. One guy asked me to sign his horse book and, honestly, to this day I still have no idea what that means. That was the totality of the letter, there was no attached horse book as far as I could see.
You play a similar character in Friday Night Dinner, too. Are you specifically carving out a geeky niche for yourself?
Well, it hasn’t really been a deliberate thing. It’s just an accident. There are definitely similarities between my character in Friday Night Dinner and The Inbetweeners, but hopefully they’re a bit different. Adam is a little more relaxed, and more comfortable in his own skin. It’s natural in acting to take on characters that are in some way an extension of yourself.
So what have you done recently that’s reminded you of Will?
We had a Sunday off a couple of weeks ago, and because we’re in Mallorca, we decided we should get out of Magaluf and explore the island. Well, I say ‘we’ decided that, ‘I’ decided that. There was a moment at about 10:30am when I’d corralled everybody out of bed, and it was raining outside, and I was standing there with my little map and guidebook trying to get them excited about the prospect of seeing medieval churches that I just thought, “Oh no. I’m Will McKenzie.”
Did you ever have any real-life embarrassing moments as a teenager?
I was sick inside my teacher’s car on the way to a school trip once. Me and my friends had got drunk before going to see this play. My drama teacher picked us up and I just puked all over his car. That was a little bit of a low point.
So, what are your obsessions when you’re not working?
Prime Minister’s Questions. Me and Joe [Thomas, who plays Simon in The Inbetweeners] used to live together and we used to watch that every week. Then after that, there was a basketball court at the end of our road so me, Joe and Jonny [Sweet, fellow comedian] used to go and meet these guys, who were like the Chinese equivalent of us, and have games of basketball against them. I don’t think we ever beat them. We were terrible [laughs].
What can you tell us about the show you’re writing based on service-dodging men in the First World War?
Well, it’s called Chickens and we’ve got a pilot. Jonny, Joe and I have worked together for several years now. We used to do sketch shows, so writing a sitcom was a natural progression. We quite like to have people behaving in a realistic way in quite surreal situations, so that’s what it is. We’re trying to bring a modern sense of humour to an historical topic.
There’s a lot of physical comedy in your shows. Have you ever been injured or had anything go wrong?
The closest I’ve come to an injury is very pathetic. I get really bad motion sickness, so when we had to go on a roller coaster more than once in Series 1 that was enough for me. I was lying out on the floor of Thorpe Park and they had to call the nurse. That was pretty embarrassing.
Friday Night Dinner. Fridays at 10pm on Channel 4. Catch up on 4oD here - www.channel4.com/fridaynightdinner #FridayNightDinner
Main image: Rex