Hang Ups star Karl Theobald talks about growing up in Lowestoft
PUBLISHED: 16:33 17 August 2018 | UPDATED: 16:34 17 August 2018
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Born in Great Yarmouth and raised in Lowestoft, actor Karl Theobald’s career began when he was cast in an east coast production of West Side Story at school - after he’d been a Grifter-riding member of The Midnight Raiders gang, of course.
If you listen closely, you can just hear it in the accent (well I can, but I am tuned to this kind of thing): currently playing Pete in Channel 4’s brilliant comedy series Hang Ups, Karl Theobald started his acting career in Lowestoft - almost by accident.
Karl, who was born in Great Yarmouth and lived in Lowestoft until he was 17-years-old and attended Denes High School, wasn’t a huge fan of any of his lessons but found himself drawn to drama, possibly due to the fact that it offered him an excuse to take time away from other lessons.
“First I did computer studies and the computers broke so I was moved from that,” he said, “then I did woodwork, and I wasn’t allowed near the tools, then I did cookery, and I remember putting eight teaspoons of black treacle in the cake so it didn’t work out and then they decided to put me into drama.
“At my school you could get three weeks off if you did the summer play, It was West Side Story and I played the old guy that owned the bar. I don’t even think he was a character. I think they just shoved me on stage.
“I was quite a distracted, impatient child. My mind was not really in the job. I didn’t want to be at school. But I enjoyed drama. I could be creative in a way that was not so dry and academic. And you got those three weeks off.”
He studied leisure and theatre, then applied to Drama Centre London where he met Russell Brand and the pair formed a duo, touring with their comedy act, Theobald and Brand on Ice. He’s also good friends with Norfolk’s other funny Karl (funny ha-ha, not funny peculiar), Karl Minns: the latter remembers watching Theobald in the Alan Partridge film Alpha Papa and it being “quite emotional for me...we used to sit in my bedsit together and watch Coogan in The Day Today back in 1994.”
Karl has appeared on small and large screen numerous times in roles which include Get Him to the Greek with Brand on film and on TV, Dr Martin Dear alongside Stephen Mangan in Green Wing and in a Karl Minns pilot show, Moonmonkeys.
He was Oliver Leek in Primeval, bumbling head of infrastructure Graham Hitchens in Twenty Twelve, David Henley in Skins, the landlord in Plebs and he’s also in a band, Grifter Kid and the Midnight Raiders, a name which reflects his ‘gang’ days on the east coast.
“I had a grifter bike so I was called grifter kid in school and I was in this gang called The Midnight Raiders,” he laughed.
In Hang Ups, Karl is called on to improvise his role as best friend of Dr Richard Pitt (Mangan), a web therapist who has a host of issues of his own.
“I like being thrown in the deep end,” he said, “it’s the kind of creative process that I suppose certain actors don’t really like, but I’ve done stand up so I’ve been in that process before – where you’re on the spot and trying to deal with people saying horrible things to you.
“I’m Stephen’s next door neighbour and best friend of 20 years. But I think one of those best friends where there’s a sort of co-dependent relationship which I guess is a bit strained. Stephen’s character finds me a bit irritating and difficult but I imagine he relies on the fact that I’m more of a loser than he is. That gives his character a sense of purpose. I think that they’ve managed to stay friends even though I put his life at risk 20 years previous.”
Karl added: “I quite liked Pete’s optimistic mania from somebody who’s a complete wreck. I find that sort of troubled-low-status-but-feeling-they-have-importance quite attractive for comedy. I genuinely get those slightly kind of wonky parts. There’s a side in all of us that’s a bit brow beaten.”
Filming the online video calls was “sometimes a bit of a logistical nightmare”.
Karl added: “It was like a type of technical farce I suppose. A game of Jenga. It’s an odd way of working but enjoyable because of it. You’re always looking for new ways of doing things. With the improvisation, you felt so free. You didn’t have to worry too much about continuity which always seems to get in the way of creative freedom. Obviously the editing process is probably a nightmare. That’s another creative aspect of it.
“There was a little bit of corpsing. Not too much. I’m pretty good. I can take it as far as I need to go if the other person isn’t corpsing. But as soon as the other person goes it will set me off.”
Is he recognised when away from set? Sometimes: “f I’m at a petrol station, late at night, it will be Plebs. If I’m in Regents Park it will be 2012. If I’m in a nightclub it’ll be Green Wing. No, I made those last two up, but the petrol station is right.”
*Hang Ups is Wednesday nights on Channel 4.