Dice Interview on ‘Who’s Laughing Now?’

We’ve had a nice long interview with the Simon Harper from Midlands-centric comedy site Who’s Laughing Now?

You can see it……………… HERE.

The interview was mainly prompted by our upcoming Popcorn Comedy show on the 7th October at the Birmingham Comedy Festival featuring Tim Key! More about that later.


– For the uninitiated, what’s the premise of Popcorn Comedy? What have been your highlights of the shows you’ve put on so far?

Ian – Popcorn Comedy mixes top stand up acts with the best comedy videos. We hand pick two live acts and put together a load of hilarious videos made by some very talented writers, performers and directors. As for highlights so far, I’d have to say Rob Rouse doing 45 minutes of his Edinburgh show after climbing a ladder to fix the projector is up there and giving Adil Ray (of Mr Khan/Bellamy’s People fame) his first live stand up show was a good experience. For the videos, there have been too many good ones to pick from.

– Popcorn started out in London. How did you get involved in doing a Birmingham version?

Ian – It started when Jon Petrie, who founded the night with Holly Walsh, asked us if he could show some of our Dice Productions animations. We went down to see them screened and discovered that it was an amazing night. It just felt so much more creative and exciting than a normal comedy club. Soon after that we met up with Jon at the Edinburgh Fringe and he asked if we’d be up for doing a Birmingham night. This was a no-brainer as there wasn’t anything like it in the city already and it’s something we’d love to have locally.

– Who would be your dream acts to put on?

Ian – We’ve seen a couple of dream acts at the London Popcorn nights including David Cross, Robert Popper, and Adam Buxton, but we’d love to host them ourselves. If they did more stand up I’d love to have Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer at Popcorn. They were a big influence on us.

– What’s your take on Birmingham’s live comedy scene? How do you think Popcorn fits into that or offers something different?

Ian – Weirdly I’ve never fully engaged with Birmingham’s comedy scene. I think part of that is due to the fact that a lot of the more alternative acts do shows at places like the Hare & Hounds where I rarely went before I moved over that way. The other comedy nights on offer are either the Glee Club or Highlight, which while good in their own way, just isn’t our style.

Popcorn is a different type of night. We pick acts that probably wouldn’t do Birmingham shows usually, in fact a lot of our acts had never gigged in the city before. It’s also got more of a club feel to it, in that it’s quite intimate. I’d like to think that people that come to Popcorn have a sense of ownership over it and buy in to the idea that we can try new things.

– The next Popcorn night is during Birmingham Comedy Festival 2010. What can we expect?

Ian – First of all, Tim Key. I’m really looking forward to seeing him as he’s a very funny man. He won the Edinburgh Comedy Award last year, so he’s a big name too. As usual we’ll have a great selection of videos, there are some corking new ones about, and we’ve also got Will Andrews who is so multitalented it’s ridiculous. Aside from that, there’ll be some free popcorn, some good tunes, drinks, and laughs a-plenty.

– What were the first stand-up gigs you went to? Is there anyone you haven’t seen that you really wish you had? Who are your favourite performers?

Ian – I think we were late comers to live stand up. We’ve seen more now since running our own night, but before that it was limited to the odd gig and a couple of trips to Edinburgh. We’re huge fans of TV comedy though and maybe that’s why the video element of Popcorn appeals to us so much. My favourite performers at the moment are some of the up-and-coming lot. Nick Mohammed is brilliant and Doc Brown is always a joy to watch. He does amazing comedy rap songs in an entirely non-cheesy way.

Louis – I did see Ken Dodd and Mark Lamarr when I was young. Not on the same billing… Yeah, we don’t really have an early grounding in attending gigs. I would have loved to have seen Tommy Cooper. I think this year’s big discovery at the Edinburgh Fringe is Bo Burnham.

– Who are some of your own favourite animators and comedy film-makers putting stuff on the internet?

Ian – We’re good friends with the very talented lads at Rocket Sausage who make brilliant sketches. I’m also a fan of Cardinal Burns who we’ve had live at Popcorn before. Scott Gairdner is a very funny US-based guy and we also like the work of Little Albert and Worm Hotel.

Louis – Definitely. I’ve always got time for Poykpac, Swatric Payze, Harry Partiridge and Bird Box Studios too.

– Onto Dice Productions. How did you meet? Where did the idea of Dice Productions come from?

Ian – Louis and I met at school where we found a shared interest in drawing very silly pictures. We then met Tom when I moved schools and we started writing sketches and creating characters. Once Louis started doing animation at Edinburgh Dice Productions became a bit more formalised and we started producing films and writing as a group with the aim of eventually making stuff for TV.

– Where does your inspiration tend to come from? Are there certain themes or ideas which are particularly fertile or ripe for revisiting?

Ian – Inspiration could be from anything. A funny-looking man in the street, a silly voice, a social situation, anything really. A lot of my ideas come from the absurdity of modern TV, so that’s a theme that appears in our writing. We also have a thing about the outsider in society. That’s a big theme. Much of the stuff we’ve done so far has featured a character who operates out of the norm, and is often pretty odd as a result.

– How closely do the three of you work collaboratively on things and how much do you work on your own? Do you all have defined roles within DP (two writers, one animator?)?

Ian – We sometimes work quite closely together, in the writing particularly, but often it’s a case of doing what’s required to get something made. We’ve all done bits of directing, acting, writing, editing and doing some of the production roles. It’s good to use a lot of different skills. Broadly speaking, it’s two writers and an animator though.

– What were your formative influences in terms of animation and visual humour? My own first experiences of that, for example, would be comics and cartoons from the likes of Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera and Cosgrove Hall.

Louis – Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, Laurel and Hardy, The Young Ones, Rowan Atkinson, Only Fools and Horses, and Porridge are some of my earliest memories let alone influences. Later on Ren and Stimpy and Terry Gilliam’s animations really set things off. I mention a lot of live action stuff, but they’re worth studying than most animation.

– How have those influences or favourites changed since childhood, and how have they shaped what you do now?

Louis – I love those influences even more

– You’ve recently been working on a film called Man in a Cat. How did that come about? What can you tell us about it?

Ian – Louis came up with the original idea about a man living inside a cat he was sixteen. After sifting through old ideas, we developed it into a story for his final uni project. We uploaded the trailer made from that version of the film to YouTube and it’s now got over a million views, so it was something we wanted to develop. Since then the story has changed a fair bit and we applied for the Digishorts scheme to get it made as a ten minute animated short. We had to go through a few stages of pitching against around 150 applicants and luckily we were commissioned by Screen WM and UK Film Council. As for the story, you’ll have to wait until it’s released. We don’t want to spoil it!

– You managed to get a very good cast, including the always brilliant Kevin Eldon. What was it like to work with him?

Ian – It was incredible. Kevin is an amazing actor and we were big fans of his, so it was incredibly exciting to have him performing in something of ours. It was a bit surreal to record though as at various points in the day we had him in a shower cubicle and in a cat’s stomach essentially made of upturned sofas to get the sound right. He took it all in his stride though! We also worked with Josie Long on the same day, and she was amazing too. We’re really happy with the voices we’ve got for the film.

– Can you briefly take us through the process you went through in making it? What did you learn? Are you working on ideas for future films?

Ian – The process is quite laborious because it’s a traditional hand-drawn animation. The first thing to happen is to write the story and develop the characters. Then you write a script and go through several drafts until you’ve nailed it and the producers are happy. Then the animating can start. First you do a rough version of the whole film called an animatic, then you can start doing all of the drawings. Somewhere in that period you record the voices so you can animate to them, and once the animation is done you colour it, get the sound design and score composed and hope it all comes together. All in all the process takes about six months, but could take much longer.

Louis – Technically this film has been in development for 3 years.

– What plans do you have for screening/releasing/distributing Man in a Cat?

Ian – We’re planning to do screenings in Birmingham and London to celebrate finishing it, and after that it’s going to do the festival circuit. I’d like to see it go as far as it can, so any opportunities to screen it will be welcomed. It’s funny that we won’t be able to put it online straight away, considering that that’s where it began.

– What are your comedy influences and favourites?

Ian – We were big Vic and Bob fans when we were younger. Personally, I love Spaced and League of Gentlemen, but for me Peep Show is the best comedy series of the last decade. Monty Python is an influence, and I know Louis was inspired by Terry Gilliam initially.

Louis – Yep, Terry Gilliam’s animation actually changed my life – it’s the reason I started drawing jokes. Vic Reeves’, Sun Boiled Onions did a lot of bending on my sense of humour too. Also, I grew up around markets and pubs. Those bizarre drunken stories, people, and places have definitely had an effect.

– What kind of work do you see Dice Productions doing in the future? Where would you like to be?

Ian – We’d like to have our stuff on TV in the near future. Be that writing on and contributing sketches to other shows or doing some animation, it’s always been our aim. We’ve got a couple of sitcom/comedy series ideas that are being written at the moment, so getting those made is also something we’re chasing. We’d love to do a sketch show with a mix of animation and live action too.

– Who would you like to collaborate with on future films, given the opportunity?

Ian – There are so many good people out there, but we’re big fans of Robert Popper’s work (he did Look Around You etc) so he’d be an obvious choice. I’d like to work with Kevin Eldon again as he’s a comedy legend and having seen him at work I now know why he’s so highly regarded. There are also a load of great up-and-coming folk making stuff for themselves at the moment that we’d love to have the chance to work with on some big projects too.

– What’s your view on the web’s usefulness as a springboard for aspiring comedians/animators/film-makers etc?

Ian – It’s almost essential. It’s not only a place where you can show your work to the whole world, but it’s great for experimenting and developing your own personal style without the fear of needing to conform to comedy trends or the whims of a producer.

Louis – You can then take any of that success to a producer and actually have some creative authority.

– What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Ian – It’s either to keep it short, get to your point quickly, and grab the audience’s attention, or to always write or make what you find funny and not just what you assume other people will find funny. Personal style and originality is really important.

– Who or what from your life has been most influential in shaping where you find yourself today?

Ian – Probably the other guys in Dice. Without the group and the shared desire to achieve our aims it’d be easy to stop doing it.

Louis – Aw. Having self-employeed parents who surrounded me in artsy stuff probably did the most damage. But without Dice power I probably would have gone to live in the woods a long time ago.

– What was the point where you realised that this was what you wanted to do as a job?

Louis – At about 5 years old I imagined in the future I’d have a little shop in Hodge Hill where I’d sell pictures of stuff like clowns, probably for parties, maybe with a sideline in balloons. Also I was informed in a careers class that I’d either be a tree surgeon or an entertainer. I’m pretty much all of that combined. I don’t think I was ever not going to do this for a living.

– When you were a child what would have been your dream job? What do you think your younger self would make of what you do now?

Louis – He would have asked where the balloons were and feel sorry that the astronaut/Ghostbuster thing didn’t take off.

Ian – Yeah, Ghostbuster was my number one choice. My favourite was Egon because I seemed to like science back then, also the reason Donatello was my favourite Turtle. My younger self would probably ask me why I wasn’t fighting crime/ghosts yet.

– What’s the most enjoyable thing about what you do? Is there anything you don’t enjoy?

Louis – Making yourself and other people laugh has to be the best feeling. Laughing solves everything, temporarily. Coming up with the initial ideas is the most instantly gratifying part. But it loses it’s edge by the 29th re-draft. 20 hour days sweating in front of a computer picking apart frames tends to make you think you’re a complete idiot too.

Ian – Seeing the end product is brilliant too. A big joint effort sort of hatches and you forget that you actually made it.

– Is there anyone you’d consider to be your role model?

Ian – Role model is a difficult thing to define. I take inspiration from lots of people, but I don’t think there’s any one person that I’d want to emulate.

– What’s been the high point so far?

Louis – Getting to direct Kevin Eldon and Josie Long has to be pretty good doesn’t it?

Ian – Yeah. Getting that commission in the first place was really exciting. I also enjoyed it when one of our films was screened in London and people like Edgar Wright, David Walliams and Peter Serafinowicz were there. That was pretty cool.

– Is there anything you regret or wish you’d done differently?

Louis – I don’t think we’re old enough to truly regret not doing anything and I don’t think we’ve actively done anything too bad… yet. In terms of a comedy career, things would be a lot easier if we had moved to London, but we love Birmingham, it’s our inspiration and we would have had to make a lot of sacrifices.

– What are you working on at the moment?

Louis – Man In A Cat is still trundling along. And we’re working on more live action sketches.

– What’s in store for the future?

Louis – After the film is done it’s back to making a lot more short and sweet sketches and taking advantage of the attention we’ve been getting over the past year. Who knows what Man In A Cat’s travels around the world will bring, but hopefully you’ll be seeing some Dicey goings on in the not too far future.

Ian – Hover cars.


Louis – Just realised I didn’t finish answering the influences question, which made me look a bit like the “I like turtles” kid. In fact I prefer the quote “I like turtles”.