Oh my crump! The cast of Stath Lets Flats on making their cult cringe comedy hit

Jamie Demetriou’s estate agent sitcom is starting to change how we speak. Ellie Harrison talks to Demetriou and stars Katy Wix, Kiell Smith-Bynoe, Al Roberts and Ellie White about the return of the show with the let’s-make-every-line-funny philosophy

Monday 25 October 2021 07:05
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<p>‘Stath Lets Flats’ cast, from left: Kiell Smith-Bynoe, Al Roberts, Jimmy Roussounis, Christos Stergioglou, Ellie White, Jamie Demetriou, Katy Wix, Natasia Demetriou</p>

‘Stath Lets Flats’ cast, from left: Kiell Smith-Bynoe, Al Roberts, Jimmy Roussounis, Christos Stergioglou, Ellie White, Jamie Demetriou, Katy Wix, Natasia Demetriou

Jamie has created such a unique language,” says Ellie White, one of the stars of Jamie Demetriou’s hit sitcom Stath Lets Flats. “You want to be able to speak like his characters and have their weird language rolling off your tongue.” Weird is the word. Have you ever heard someone exclaim “oh my crump!”? Or tell you that they just witnessed a pregnant woman “do a grey sick in a posh drawer”? Kiell Smith-Bynoe, who plays disenchanted lettings agent Dean, says, “It’s like every sentence in the show has never been said before.”

“When I first saw Jamie perform, I was like, ‘What part of your brain has that come from?’” recalls White, who plays volatile postwoman Katia. “But still, everyone was laughing. No one in the audience could have come up with that specific combination of words, so it’s surprising and joyful to find that funny.”

The Channel 4 sitcom, now entering its third series, follows Stath (Demetriou), a Greek-Cypriot lettings agent in north London. He is an imbecile who is terrible at his job, but his abstract take on English expressions and his childlike innocence and enthusiasm make him lovable, and have garnered him a cult following. My sister’s boyfriend, for example, peppers every conversation with at least one Stathism. “Crumbs, man,” he’ll mutter, as he drops a spoon on the floor.

But it isn’t just Gen Z that Demetriou has won over. Last year, the 33-year-old took home three Baftas for the show, one of which was for Best Scripted Comedy, beating off competition from much better-known series Fleabag (in which he starred as “Bus Rodent”), Catastrophe and Derry Girls. Despite the fans and the accolades, Demetriou finds it hard to accept praise. When I ask him why Stath has struck such a chord with viewers, who never simply watch the show passively but incorporate its language into their own lives, he says, “If I were to even answer this question, I’d be accepting that people do love the show, which is quite difficult for me, in a weird way.”

Demetriou has poured his heart and soul – and many years of his life – into Stath. The first version of the character was broadcast as one of three five-minute shorts he made for Channel 4’s Comedy Blaps in 2013. After five years of development, the first series of Stath Lets Flats aired in 2018. Now, it’s going into its third. The last time we saw Stath, at the end of season two, he was living in his car and incessantly snogging his new girlfriend Katia. Carole (Katy Wix) was pregnant with his child and Julian (Dustin Demri-Burns), who’d taken over the family business, had fallen off a balcony and died. When we reunite with the employees of Michael & Eagle Lettings, they have just realised Julian frittered away all the business’s money and, having been evicted, they are working out of Stath’s father’s house. “Stath’s so overwhelmed with delight that he’s going to be a dad that he hasn’t really noticed things are in dire straits,” says Demetriou. “Each series tracks Stath’s attempt at growth and his failure at it. This is an extension of that.”

Demetriou says he struggled with this series. He has a big ensemble cast but only 23 and a half minutes in each episode to try to do them all justice. “I’m now in a position where I have eight, 10 characters I know and adore even more than I did in series one,” he says. Which character is his favourite to dream up lines for? “I enjoy writing for them all equally, but I think because she backs herself more than any other character, Carole is the most fun to write,” he says. “I can write with no restraints. The joke with so many of them is that they’re filtering themselves… Carole, though, is completely free to just let whatever dogs*** fall out of her mouth that’s there at any given time. That’s quite a freeing experience. She’s actually the only character who gets frequent monologues because she talks fast. And the references are just so easy. She’s the most inspired by reality TV.”

Wix, who plays Carole, says her character’s blind spot is that “she has a really high opinion of herself but doesn’t realise she’s a bit of an idiot. She thinks she’s really mad and incredible but she’s actually boring and predictable. I’ve really grown to like her, in this series particularly.” How would Wix describe Carole to an alien? “I’d ask if they’d seen The Apprentice and if they hadn’t, I would end the conversation.”

Stath Lets Flats is akin to Alan Partridge and The Office in that, often, the backbone of the comedy is the micro-expressions of the actors and their precise delivery of the lines, rather than simply the lines themselves. Demetriou says that “99.9 per cent of the dialogue is written in a broken way”, with ellipses and misspellings and emphasis all included in the script. “The joke I have in mind is the way something is said, versus what is said,” he explains. The visuals are important, too. For example, there’s a scene in episode one of the new series where Stath and his long-suffering, timid-as-a-mouse best friend Al run up the street, their hands lightly placed on their ties. “That’s the whole joke,” he says. “The hands on the ties. Nothing more. It’s the things that seem the most off-the-cuff that are the most likely to be scripted, because that’s the show’s lifeblood, those weird little details.”

Carole, played by Katy Wix, is inspired by characters seen on ‘The Apprentice’

Al Roberts, who plays Al (the character was written with him in mind), adds that he puts so much effort and concentration into keeping a straight face on set that it’s “only two months later that you look back and think, ‘Was I really in that situation and taking it deathly seriously?’ In that scene, with me and Jamie running down the street, it was like we were Olympic athletes getting ready to do a race. Like, ‘Come on! We’ve got this’.”

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While Demetriou is certainly meticulous, he’s very receptive to the cast’s ideas, too. “He trusts us to know what’s funny about our characters,” says Wix, “and because we all have the same sense of humour in this show, it feels safe to improvise. No one ever does a massive clanger that makes people go, ‘Er, why are they saying that?’ There’s a sense in the air of what’s needed – a psychic understanding. Also, for all the years I’ve been doing comedy, so often in meetings the producers over-worry about making things accessible to the point where it feels like you’re spoon-feeding the audience. But Stath trusts its audience to get the weirdness, and it’s not afraid to experiment.”

“It’s also rooted in reality,” she continues. “People really do have conversations about what drinks they like or what chips they’re going to have. It’s the joy of the banal. Real dialogue is really absurd and Stath is a celebration of that.”

Roberts adds that the language-play becomes “addictive” on set. “You just want that hit of weirdness,” he says. “Even the supposedly normal characters, you analyse their lines and it’s still slightly off.”

It used to be the case that Demetriou would get approached in the street by people asking to see his teeth after he played a man with giant, spoof dentures in Fleabag, but now he gets lots of Stath fans coming over, too. “I like the show as much as the last person who complimented it did,” he says. “So if someone’s got something nice to say, and it seems like they mean it, that’s a lovely thing for me. The only ones I don’t enjoy are when someone has the selfie camera pointing at the two of us before they’ve even said hello. That’s odd. I’m just thinking, ‘What do you get out of looking at that photo later?’”

Jamie Demetriou’s Stath has an abstract take on English expressions

White, meanwhile, had a sort-of encounter with a fan on Holloway Road earlier this month. “This bloke with a pit bull just walked past me and, really quietly, went, ‘F***ing love Stath,’” she says. “He said it as he passed. He didn’t stop me. I loved that. I respected that a lot.” Wix adds that Stath is the show she is “most happy to be spotted for, because I feel like if you like Stath, we’re going to get on.” She laughs. “I’m really judgmental about what people watch me in.”

“The people that come up to me about Stath usually don’t know what it’s called,” says Smith-Bynoe. “One guy a couple of weeks ago asked if I was from Steve Leaves. That sounds like such a s*** show. A man who goes to places and says, ‘Ah, this isn’t for me.’”

What separates Stath Lets Flats from many other modern comedies is its unapologetic silliness. Unlike its Bafta competitors Fleabag, Catastrophe and Derry Girls, it doesn’t veer into drama or get too bogged down in plot. “I’m often confronted with people being like, ‘Ahhh, drama is killing comedy,’” says Demetriou. “It’s not, it’s a different genre. What kills comedy is an absence of hard comedy commissions, traditional let’s-make-every-line-funny comedy commissions. There’s a million ways to do comedy, and even in those three shows you just mentioned, I think they’re defined by their high quality vs their genre. When it comes to a show like Stath, I’m not writing it with any intention other than my natural instinct as a writer to try to make it as funny as possible all the time.”

“What it does really well is cover quite serious things in nonsense,” adds Smith-Bynoe. “Like the idea of Stath having to move out in the second series. Stath doesn’t have anywhere to stay and he’s sleeping in the tenants’ houses... when you really think about it, it’s quite sad. People love this show because it’s got such heart but is covered in silly nonsense that makes you laugh.”

So far, the show has covered the death of a colleague, fatherhood, homelessness. What could be next? Could Stath, oh my gilly goodness, confront Covid or Brexit or the climate crisis? Demetriou isn’t actually sure yet whether there’ll be another series. “I think it’s a conversation that needs to be had,” he says. “The honest answer is I do not know.” He’s been quite sleep-deprived finishing off series three, so the only thing he is certain of is that, if there is another season, “I want to write it with my eyes closed under a very thick duvet”.

‘Stath Lets Flats’ returns to Channel 4 at 10.15pm on 26 October and all episodes will be available on All 4

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