Humphrey Ker on Welcome to Wrexham: ‘People accuse us of destroying football – it’s absurd’

At Wrexham AFC, British writer and actor Humphrey Ker has become the affable man on the ground for Hollywood owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. Ahead of the third series of Disney+ show ‘Welcome to Wrexham’, he tells Jessie Thompson that his future with the football project is uncertain

Monday 29 April 2024 17:00 BST
Humphrey Ker: ‘I’m enjoying leading this strange double life but it has taken a toll on me’
Humphrey Ker: ‘I’m enjoying leading this strange double life but it has taken a toll on me’ (Supplied)

Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds weren’t at The Racecourse Ground to see Wrexham go up to League One this month. They can thank classic British understatement for that. The team’s second promotion in a row depended not just on them beating already relegated Forest Green, but a number of other results going their way. Humphrey Ker – writer, comedian, actor, the club’s executive director and fan favourite on Disney+ docuseries Welcome to Wrexham – wanted to manage expectations. “There had been talk of them coming and I said, well… we just don’t know, we might win, but other teams might also win – why don’t you just come for the last game of the season? We know where we’ll be by then,” he explains. And it wouldn’t be British to get too excited. “That’s my whole vibe, because people like to get excited about things and I’m like” – Ker’s voice turns firm – “‘No. I don’t think so.’”

Actually, the club’s Hollywood owners have been more absent this season than they’d like. After the industry paralysis caused by the writer’s strike, the Deadpool star and It’s Always Sunny creator are both extremely busy filming for their day jobs. But Ker, 41, has remained the steady, affable presence – Rob and Ryan’s trusty man on the ground. Bearded, very tall, and wearing a blue shirt, today he emanates a faint air of exhaustion as he stirs his tea, admitting that he went to bed at 9.30pm on the day of Wrexham’s promotion. “The reality of the situation, away from the documentary, away from the mythos of it all, is that it is stressful and hard and difficult. So there was a slight sense of…” – he physically crumples – “oh God, OK, we did it.”

It’s fine to call what’s happened at Wrexham a fairytale, Ker thinks, but he bristles at describing them as underdogs. “By getting promoted, we are back into a degree of underdoggery,” he suggests. “But I really did think, as we went into the season, to call us underdogs was a bit disingenuous. We’ve transitioned out of that phrase.” Case in point: every team this season had their biggest crowd when Wrexham came to play. “People have been turning out in droves to support us, but also to boo us and try and beat us.” Because, of course, some are critical of the project. “There was a big target on our heads – lots of people have been very nice and calm about it, but lots of people take umbrage, effectively jealous of what’s going on. So they accuse us of destroying football – which I think is absurd. I’m actually quite sensitive to the idea of that, I don’t want us ever to become a force that’s bad for football.”

Either way, Wrexham are now many people’s second favourite team, thanks to the combination of that “fairytale” story and the Disney+ show. Throughout the series, an unashamedly romantic look at how a local football club can transform the way a community feels about itself, Ker has been our warm, cheerful guide, explaining the curiosities of the English football league to international viewers and acting as the go-between for the owners and the club. The show is, among many things, a fish out of water story: just as one wondered what two American stars were doing buying a Welsh football team, it was surreal to see posh, Eton-educated Ker addressing a bemused squad of players (who, in an early episode, erupted into giggles when he left the room). But, away from the cameras, in the background, Ker has a very real, very consuming job working for Wrexham; throughout our interview, his phone pings with emails about the club. “End of year accounts,” he says, picking it up and inspecting the screen.

And further, further back in the background is Ker’s career as a writer and actor. In 2011, he won the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Newcomer for his show Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher! and has written comedies for Radio 4 with his sketch troupe The Penny Dreadfuls. After moving to LA in 2013, he now writes for Apple TV’s Mythic Quest, an offbeat workplace comedy set at a gaming company, starring McElhenney. The game in the show is based on World of Warcraft. Before Ker was on board it became clear that no one knew much about it, so Megan Ganz – co-creator of Mythic Quest, writer on It’s Always Sunny, and Ker’s wife – said, “I know one big loser who’s played loads of Warcraft.” Ker arrived as a “technical consultant” and ended up staying on the writing team. Which is where he introduced McElhenny to football.

These days, Ker is known, more than anything, as “Wrexham’s Humphrey Ker” – but for how much longer? His double life doesn’t just mean a double career, but a double residence. He’s based in LA but spends months at a time in Wrexham, and is often alone or travelling. “I miss my wife and dog so much. Like crazy,” he says. He and Ganz snatch FaceTime calls on lunch breaks and on the way to work, but are apart for long stretches. “I don’t know that my involvement with Wrexham will last forever, so I need something to keep me going once that’s gone,” he says. “I’m enjoying leading this strange double life but it has taken a toll on me.”

And yet. A football fanatic and lifelong Liverpool fan, Ker always seems like he’s having such a nice time. So his admission – and general downbeat demeanour today – wrongfoots me. He doesn’t want to be at Wrexham forever? “Yeah. I think so. It’s wonderful. And it’s given me some of the best moments of my life. But it’s also very difficult and stressful at times. And” – Ker sighs (he has sighed a few times) – “frustrating and infuriating, and I’ll have these instances where I’m on the other side of the globe from the woman and the dog I love most in the world, and I’ll have had a dispiriting exchange where I’ve just been left like, ‘Why are you doing this? Why aren’t you just at home?’”

Ker with Wrexham owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney
Ker with Wrexham owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney (PA)

Perhaps being “Wrexham’s Humphrey Ker” also gets in the way of acting opportunities? A much-enjoyed clip of Ker filming a self-tape for a Star Wars series was a reminder, in series one, that he is also a jobbing actor (he didn’t get the part – but when Paul Rudd visited The Racecourse, he said he was robbed). “I will say, I thought it would perhaps open more doors than it has done,” he admits. Although his profile has risen, Wrexham takes up so much time that he worries his agents get frustrated at his unavailability. Sometimes he has to turn down great auditions “because I’ve got to drive to Chesterfield and back tomorrow”.

But he couldn’t deny the brilliant, surreal things that have happened as a result of being at Wrexham. A random city nestled between the mountains and valleys of north Wales has attracted royalty – both the Hollywood type and the real one. King Charles and Prince William have both visited The Racecourse – the latter pouring a pint at Wrexham’s drinking hole, The Turf – as have Hugh Jackman and Will Ferrell.

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So, what next for Wrexham – can their inexorable rise be sustained? “I think promotion again would be a real push,” Ker says. “Our objective is get up and stay up, stabilise and build a good platform, go again.” He suspects that a third consecutive promotion would be “too fast” for the club, whose progress would outpace their current facilities and infrastructure. “It wouldn’t actually be that good for the club as a whole, because we’d just be going so quickly.” His hope, then, is for “something nice and comfortable. Upper mid-table, please. Tenth. I’d be very happy with that.” Likewise, the timeline for getting even further, and into the Premier League, is “as quickly as possible, whilst being mindful of those challenges”. 

Prince William meets Humphrey Ker during a visit to The Turf public house at Wrexham
Prince William meets Humphrey Ker during a visit to The Turf public house at Wrexham (PA)

It leaves me wondering: will that still make good TV? Does Ker think viewers expect a crowning moment at the end of every series? A scrappy season might, he suggests, actually make for better telly. “A mid-table finish would create so many interesting stories. Like, how do we contend with going from perennial winners to ‘oh, it’s a bit more of a struggle’? Inevitably there will be a push from some of the fanbase to get rid of [manager] Phil Parkinson next season, because if we struggle in our first 10 games, it’ll be like ‘get rid of him!’ That will be a whole new story that we’ve not seen yet.”

It’s an intriguing thought, as Welcome to Wrexham’s critics accuse the show of being too much like an edgeless, glossy advert. I wonder how they would navigate a big scandal, like recent allegations of sexual misconduct levelled at F1 boss Christian Horner. Netflix has said the fallout will feature in the new series of Drive to Survive.  “I’d be interested to see, because if I were to level any criticism at the documentary, it’s not by any means warts and all,” says Ker. A different version of the show might, perhaps, be more “gritty, in depth”, more revealing of behind-the-scenes tensions.

If I were to level any criticism at the documentary, it’s not by any means warts and all

Ker, of course, was never meant to be doing this. Originally, he didn’t plan to work in comedy, either – he wanted to join the military. As a kid he watched war films and read history books, “and just thought the coolest thing you could do in the whole word was to be in the British army and be a paragon of military virtue. Fit! Dynamic! Aggressive! Resourceful! All those things.” That dream soured when he realised he didn’t want to shoot people. He went right off it when Blair joined Bush in invading Iraq in 2003. He ended up writing his debut, prize-winning Edinburgh show about his grandfather’s military prowess, the success of which saw him tapped up for panel shows (head to YouTube and you’ll find vintage clips of him on 8 Out of 10 Cats and Have I Got News for You).

Looking for something different, he headed to LA, having landed an American agent after his Edinburgh success. While there, he was cast in a pilot “that turned out to be very bad”, but one of his castmates, Mark Proksch, set him up with his friend: Ganz. “After a complicated start, where I went back to the UK and got back together with someone, which was a big mistake, we ended up getting married a year and a bit later.” Now they work together on Mythic Quest and would like to keep collaborating. “I think there’s a very enjoyable, profitable future for us working as a team.”

Ker has written an episode of Mythic Quest for the upcoming fourth season, a show you might call a sleeper hit, like lots of gems lurking on bulging streaming platforms. In previous interviews, I’ve sensed Ker’s mild disappointment at it flying under the radar. “To be honest it’s more sort of… the very unattractive and churlish thing of being like,” – here he affects a lofty voice – “‘I think our show’s better than Ted Lasso, but everybody loves Ted Lasso!’ It’s a sickness that everybody who works in television has.” He’s more bemused about American Auto, a show he starred in and loved, which hardly anyone knew about and was cancelled after two seasons. “It just came and went.”

At Wrexham, at least, he’s earned one of the best football clichés: he’s been a great servant to the club. If a post-Wrexham future beckons, it’ll be interesting to see what Ker does with it. Later this year, he’ll star in BBC sitcom Daddy Issues with Aimee Lou Wood and David Morrissey, and he’s writing a “very silly comedy show” with fellow Penny Dreadful member David Reed, called Sherlock Holmes and the 12 Days of Christmas. With classic British understatement, he adds that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber are writing the music for it – the first time the legendary musical theatre duo have written songs together since 1987. Allow me some classic British understatement: that might be quite good.

The third series of ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ starts on Disney+ on 3 May in the UK

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