How We Met: Mel Giedroyc And Sue Perkins - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

How We Met: Mel Giedroyc And Sue Perkins

Mel Giedroyc (left) and Sue Perkins are the duo who present Channel 4's Late Lunch. Mel, 30, is from Surrey. She studied modern languages at Cambridge. A fan of Wimbledon FC, she lives alone in West London. Sue, 29, also studied at Cambridge, graduating in 1990 with a degree in English Literature. After failing to forge a career as an advertising copywriter, she formed a comedy team with Mel. They made their debut with The Naked Lunch, after which they took their show Planet Pussycat to the Edinburgh ...

SUE PERKINS: Mel likes to think of herself as a Svengali figure. She witnessed my abortive birth into comedy, and hung around like an impresario, trying to be a big fish in the tiny Cambridge pond in 1988. There is a vague memory of someone in Day-Glo clothes, bleach-blonde hair and fake tan, which in retrospect must have been Mel. I don't know anyone else who would go around looking like that.

I remember meeting her properly three weeks later, on her birthday, in a club. Club is too posh a title - in a pit with wall-to-wall smoked glass and cork tiles on the ceiling, a smell of dead rodents. She was totally off her face: flecks of vomit around her mouth, doing really bad early house dancing, flailing arms knocking everyone over. She called me Barbara, Sheila, Debbie, didn't have a clue who I was.

That kick-started a series of evenings when I would go out and watch Mel get drunk. You would be able to work out where Mel was by following her stomach contents, the piles of puke. She would fall asleep while everyone around her cleared up. She doesn't really drink now, she's lost the tolerance. We hung out a lot, donkeyed around.

It was only after we left university that I realised I wasn't going to have a responsible job. When I was young I wanted to be an ophthalmic surgeon, then a teacher or a great writer. I wanted to be the female Dostoyevsky until I realised that I wasn't very talented. In the midst of the failure of my writing career, Mel wrote me a formal letter, which I've still got: "Dear Sue, I have been thinking" - this was after she'd been rejected by every drama school - "would you like to come and form a double act with me? Love Melanie."

So we started writing dreadful puns. I've still got them all, I'm really anal like that. This was New Year 1992, and then we started doing Radio 4's Weekending. You used to get pounds 8 for one line, so I would write these enormous great diatribes. I wrote a three-parter once, absolutely terrible, but they put it on and we got about pounds 150. I don't think any money I earned subsequently ever felt as good. At the time that was huge.

We stuck it out. There were times when it was really difficult to know where your rent cheque was coming from. In the end I said, "I'm going to have to teach, do something normal, get a regular wage." We had been educated, and it seemed pointless just pissing our life away. It's very hard to know when it's time to stop dreaming.

But in the end we carried on. We instinctively make sure that we don't get down at the same time. Recently Mel was down, saying she had to get out, saying she couldn't stand the people, the drugs, the bullshit. And then it was me saying it was all awful, but we try to buoy each other up.

What I most like about her is also what drives me to distraction: her unquenchable friendliness. She has the capacity at 4am to be utterly lovely. I try, but have a wave of woollies and tiredness. I will always look bad next to Mel. She's a very kind and generous person.

We're very compatible, and understand what upsets each other, and compensate for it. It's like a marriage actually, except obviously without that stuff - although the tabloids seem to think that goes on as well. We have an instinctive sense of when the other is bored, or being patronised or ignored. We're very sensitive to the balance of the act, and know the sacrifices we've made - Mel having to play up to being the ditzy one, when she's actually an incredibly erudite, intelligent person. Whereas with me, I have to be harsher, more ironic and sardonic, than I normally am; I do have a genuinely optimistic and calm side. You have to play up to those characteristics, because otherwise it's bland.

She's got terrible bowel problems, that annoys me. Her bowels are so vocal and mobile. Her feet frighten me - when she takes off her shoes I can't bear to look, they're so wide they're like the devil's feet. And I can tell when she's being insincere: "great", she'll say, with this hollowness underneath. I wish I could do that, put on that mask.

We have had one argument, when I was supposed to have tea with her parents three years ago. She pulled a face, and the implication of me being stupid set me off. We're not really inclined to argue. But I am more critical than she is. I'm a perfectionist, and in television everything has to be done with such speed, and it's botched. I hate that.

I wouldn't do this job unless we were mates. It didn't start as a calculated move to bring two women together to fill a gap in the market. The friendship is more important than work; I couldn't go on tour and not talk to someone.

MEL GIEDROYC: I remember meeting Sue. I think she thinks that we didn't actually speak then, but I remember saying something to her. Maybe she just ignored me, she probably did. Basically, it was 1988, the second summer of love. I had just come back from a studenty beach holiday, and I was wearing some fairly lame rave gear. Tragically, a bandana and a whistle were involved.

It was a gig, one of those comedy evenings called a "smoker". They were usually predominantly male, and that night there was a dreadful guy who came up on stage to do a gag about confusing Pyrex with Durex, all about going out with this hot dish. There was a slightly tumbleweed atmosphere in that cellar - beer, carpets, smoke.

Suddenly out of nowhere came this mad, six-stone pixie figure. She leapt on to the stage, and it was Perks. She looked like an alarmed rooster, her hair a cockscomb. She had three fags on the go, and obviously had no material. She just grabbed the mike and did this ramble for 15 minutes, and brought the house down. I went up to her and said something very cheesey like, "Hello Sue, welcome to the bosom of comedy." She was very skinny, so I spent the next three years buying food for her.

We got on extremely well. We did some very lame gigs performing sketches with two guys, and Sue would compere. But because she was a year younger than me we never knew each other well until after college. We both got very shit degrees, and I failed to get into every drama school, so I gave her a ring and said, "Do you want to write stuff for Weekending?"

We started writing there once a week. You'd go into a room with 40 other people, just for the warmth and free BBC coffee. The rest, as they say, is mediocrity.

There is never a dull moment. She's fantastic company. Over the last 10 years, we've probably averaged 12 hours a day in each other's company. We're very good mates as well as working together. We live about a 20- minute bus ride apart. It's probably just as well we don't live together, because we would never get anything done. It would all disintegrate into total chaos. It takes a lot to boot us up the arse.

Sue is the most unfailingly kind person. She's like Don Corleone with her friends, which I must say can at times be trying: she will always get the truth out of you, you can't hide anything. She's incredibly loyal to her mates. She would drop anything - except a date with Jon Snow - for her friends.

And she's bloody hilarious. The crippling puns, the ludicrous humour. We have quite different personalities in some ways, but there's a lot we have in common: we come from close families and have similar principles. We agree work isn't the be-all and end-all. We wouldn't work together if we weren't friends, what would be the point?

Usually, we might meet up at one o'clock, and talk for three hours, absolute ramble and rubbish, and then probably do about half an hour's work. I have a different way of going about things: Perks will say exactly what's on her mind, everything is out there. I'm a little more seven veils-ish, I don't give a lot away. Maybe I'm more reserved, until I have half a shandy inside me.

She does do this annoying thing with her nails. There's this clicky noise, then chewing, analysing it, then back to picking. That really bugs me. And I do sometimes have to wait for her. I'm actually very anal - even though she's the Virgo and I'm the Gemini, I always know where everything is. With Perks, trying to leave a room takes half an hour:

We've only ever had one slight altercation. She was late for something, and when I'm pissed off I get really over- jolly. I said, "Lovely to see you," turned away and pulled a face. She caught the end of it and we rowed. I couldn't hack it if we normally argued. It's the nature of what we do: we need to be able to rely on each other. It comes across if there's a nasty edge between people.

We spend weekends together, go on holiday together. We have a lot of mates in common. Sue's a very good cook, so she'll cook or we'll go and see a film. I would like to think I still go out clubbing, but I'm 30 now, so my clubbing days might be behind me.

We'll be in touch in 50 years' time. I like to see us as washed-up old hams in a home for the terminally ham, talking about the old days. I'll probably have an orange wig, and Sue will be pushing me around in a bathchair. I can't imagine life without her, we'll always be mates. Cut to five years' time ...

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