One of the most prominent and recognisable faces on the television comedy circuit, writer and comedian Joe Wilkinson broke into the comedy world via a series of successful open mic slots in pubs and clubs throughout the country which put him on the road to fame. Entering the circuit at the same time as fellow peers Diane Morgan and Alistair Green, Joe honed the character of an eccentric, downtrodden oaf which would ultimately win him a whole fraternity of fans. Winning the prestigious Hackney Empire New Act of the Year Award in 2006 presumingly is an important accolade for any budding comedian with ambitions of entertainment success. Yet for Joe Wilkinson, he wasn’t phased by critical acclaim and instead was determined to further his comedy journey from jobbing comic to comedy phenomenon.
Press play, below, to listen to the full interview
or watch the unedited zoom call, on youtube, here
In 2010 Joe secured his first television comedy role when he was cast as Dan in BBC Three’s romantic sitcom Him & Her. Being surrounded by a gallery of acting talent including Russell Tovey, Sarah Solemani, Camille Coduri and Ricky Champ, it would have been easy for Joe to feel somewhat out of his depth. Yet as soon as he was welcomed into the warm and loving atmosphere of the stellar cast, Joe immediately realised that he was in the company of new friends and this had a positive effect on the quality of his performance. This was an invaluable experience for Joe and offered him a grounding in the discipline which he inevitably would return to in the years to come.
Beyond acting, Joe was now one of the most exciting live acts in British comedy and in 2012 joined a host of comedians on a special debut episode of 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown to coincide with Channel Four’s 30th anniversary. Originally merely intended as a one off special, the show struck a chord with the public and a series was imminent. As Rachel Riley’s irreverent and unpredictable assistant, Joe was given free reign to create his own brand of madcap comedy and it seemed that nothing was off limits. Panel shows are historically created to adhere to the thirty minute structure which is a principle which has been held since the inception of television. Yet forward thinking Channel Four took the gamble to extend it to a full hour slot which gave the show the space to breathe which meant that all participants could each have their own spot. Being on such a generous show is a blessing for any comedian and there’s never any competition amongst the comedians. This is perhaps the secret to the show’s longevity and at the time of the interview, Joe was preparing to reunite with the regulars to record the 2021 series which will hopefully air this autumn on Channel Four.
However, when the team does eventually reunite, there shall be an obvious missing piece of the jigsaw in the guise of the late Sean Lock who tragically lost his battle with cancer in August of this year. As one of Joe’s biggest influences within the comedy world, he always idolised the work of the much missed comedian and it was a real dream come true when he found himself performing alongside him in 8 Out of 10 Cats. From the way in which Joe lovingly reflects upon his memories and experiences of Lock, it’s obvious that the comedian was a special individual both on and off stage. It’s clear that Sean may be gone but his legacy will live on both through his defining routines and the comic minds who he helped nurture which Joe Wilkinson remains proud to be among. There is no doubt that 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown shall continue to flourish with Jimmy Carr, Jon Richardson and co, yet Sean Lock shall forever leave a surreal, irreverent void in the show which will never be filled. Gone but not forgotten.
The success of his comedy character put him on the radar of many writers and producers and in 2019 secured a part in Ricky Gervais’s Netflix sitcom Afterlife. Cast as the postman of the main character Tony (played by Gervais) and aptly named Pat, Initially Joe’s character was merely created for one episode. Yet observing the chemistry between he and Gervais, it was obvious that there was scope to explore this dysfunctional relationship even further. This resulted in some incredibly touching moments between the two characters which added to the gravity of the show. The popularity of Netflix and alternative online streaming services is an exciting prospect for Joe who remains passionate about creating content and believes that Afterlife was an important step in the development of online comedy.
Contributing to others’ vehicles had transformed Joe Wilkinson from jobbing comedian to a household name but as a writer, he was craving the opportunity to flex his creative muscles. Such an opportunity arose in 2019 when he wrote and starred in the family sitcom The Cockfeilds appearing alongside comedy legend Bobby Ball, Sue Johnston, Nigel Havers and Sarah Parish. During the filming process, Joe was frequently compelled by moments of realisation where a voice inside his head said “That’s Bobby Ball!”. Having grown up watching Cannot and Ball, it was incredible that now the eighties comedy icon was now performing scripts which Joe had penned. Something which the comedian shall forever cherish.
When filming the third episode of Cockfields, nobody ever assumed that this would be the last time they would see the great Bobby Ball. Yet on the 28th October 2020 the nation woke to the sad death of the comedy legend which was a shock to the whole comedy fraternity, especially his fellow Cockfields cast members who were looking forward to reuniting for the second series of the Gold sitcom. There probably aren’t many better ways to remember the comedy titan than by continuing the series which he became so invested in and as co writer alongside his writing partner David Earl, Joe felt a responsibility to get this right. To do this, actor and comedy heavyweight Gregor Fisher was recruited to deliver the impossible task of embodying the role of Bobby Ball’s Ray. The new series is expected to premiere on Gold this autumn.
Having so many projects in the pipeline, Wilkinson would be excused from taking on more creative vehicles but he has recently added podcaster to his growing CV as every morning David Earl and he offer up gentle rants and rambles in their podcast Chatabix. This rustic and free flowing slice of daily surrealism is the perfect start to the day for any comedy fan and seems so effortless to both of them. Naturalism is key to Joe’s act and whatever he does is made to look so easy and it’s remarkable that he remains so humble about his vast achievements. It was an absolute pleasure to interview the human jackinabox who is Joe Wilkinson and for one of Britain’s most exciting talents, it’s exciting to see where his comedy journey will take him next.