There are two types of British comedy: the extremely good and the impossibly bad. Shows in that second category: Mrs Brown's Boys; everything starring Keith Lemon; anything else that only got made because an evil bet between two commissioning editors went horribly wrong. Shows in the first category: The Office; Peep Show; Nighty Night. Programmes that don't rely on men in wigs telling shit jokes, but tease laughs out of moments we all recognise from our own terrible lives.
One of few recent British TV shows to hit that mark is BBC Three's People Just Do Nothing. A mockumentary set in the tower blocks of Brentford, west London, the programme follows the founders, friends and family of Kurupt FM. "The biggest and baddest pirate radio station in the land," according to one of its DJs, Kurupt – on a very good day – broadcasts garage and drum 'n' bass to an audience of "over 100 listeners".
MC Grindah, the station's self-proclaimed "head honcho", truly believes he is the world's greatest MC, and would be a nightmare to be friends with. DJ Beats is his best friend. The remaining Kurupt clan includes Beats' girlfriend, Roche; Grindah's long-suffering partner, Michelle; Steves, the "wiggy mess" who sleeps on the studio floor; and Chabuddy G, a tragic but bizarrely optimistic entrepreneur.
You don't need to know anything about garage to get it; the humour is in the hopelessness. Most of the principal characters are completely deluded in some way – Chabuddy, who believes his wife loves him, when she clearly does not. Or Grindah, who claims to reign over all MCs from a pirate station that only broadcasts five miles into London. You laugh at their failures, but it's a weird kind of schadenfreude because every character is so endearing you want them to succeed, not relentlessly embarrass themselves in front of a TV crew.
A little explainer for you
Outside the show, Kurupt FM is not a failure. Grindah, Beats, Steves, Chabuddy and two others – Decoy and Fantasy – regularly headline clubs and festivals in character all over Europe. Their 1Xtra show was the genesis of the Great Craig David Renaissance of 2015. The actors grew up DJing and MCing on real pirate radio, so unlike other comedies lampooning young people in tracksuits it all seems completely authentic, until you listen to the lyrics and spot Chabuddy vaping on the side of the stage.
"It's been mad," says Allan Mustafa, who plays Grindah. "We all wanted to be musicians when we were younger. So now, in a way, it's like we're living out what we didn't get to do, playing all these festivals. We get two sick jobs: we get to film and we get to fuck around on stage and be headliners. It's weird and mental."
I'm on set in Peckham with Mustafa, Steve Stamp (Steves) and Asim Chaudhry (Chabuddy G), who all created, write and perform the show with Hugo Chegwin (Beats). "Me and Hugo grew up together, and I met this lot through him," says Stamp. Chegwin went to college with Chaudhry and was introduced to Mustafa through a mutual friend he'd been producing beats for. "I rapped at the time, but we never really ended up making music," says Mustafa. "We just watched The Office a lot and smoked weed."
During the Myspace era, Steves and Beats had a fake garage crew called Blazin' Unit, "an embarrassingly shit version of what we do now", and Grindah MCd on a real pirate station called Kurupt FM. But it wasn't until Chegwin and Mustafa watched Tower Block Dreams, a 2004 BBC documentary series, that anything semi-aspirational began to happen. One episode followed pirate radio boss "Killer", who is essentially MC Grindah, but also an extremely real person. Everything he says – "If a girl is not an MC or a DJ, yeah, why is she in the studio?" – could come from some alternate episode of People Just Do Nothing.
Chegwin and Mustafa had already created various characters and filmed each other performing them on their phones, and the guys they'd seen in the documentary just gave them more material. "The Steves character came out of those guys you see fucked on pills who are going up to people, saying, 'Yes bruv,' and hugging them. So we told Steve about that," says Mustafa. "And then we told him about these other characters me and Hugo had been doing. He was like, 'We should do something with it.'"
Chaudhry had a decent camera so started shooting their skits, which evolved into a few heavily-improvised episodes. Those made their way onto YouTube, where they caught the eye of Jon Petrie, a producer at Roughcut TV, the company started by The Office producer Ash Atalla. "It wasn't fully-formed, but the more you watched it, the more you could see there was proper detail to the characters," says Petrie during a break in filming. "I had no idea about garage, really, but I just loved them as comic creations."
The People Just Do Nothing creators were all heavily influenced by The Office, and you can tell – there are plenty of Brentian grimaces to camera and characters trailing off awkwardly at the end of misjudged sentences. So when Petrie messaged Chaudhry on YouTube to tell him he worked for Ash Atalla and liked the show, Chaudhry thought it was someone taking the piss. But it wasn't. Roughcut offered their support and, a few weeks later, called Kurupt in to tell them that BBC Three had commissioned a pilot. That episode became the most shared programme on iPlayer the month it aired. A first series was commissioned, and then a second, and now we're on set for the third, in Chabuddy's latest business venture: The Champagne Steam Room Kitchen and Bar.
Within that time, the UK got back into garage. The Wavey Garms generation started wearing the Reebok, AirMax and Polo Sport that'd been around when they were sitting their Key Stage 3s, the old names started get top billing at clubs again and "RIP Groove", "21 Seconds" and "A Little Bit of Luck" all went back to being go-to floor-fillers.
"Without sounding like a nutcase, it's almost like it's meant to be," says Mustafa. "We came up with these characters who were a joke because they were stuck in the past – in the garage era – and they're still dressing like that and trying to make it big on this little tinpot radio station. And now everyone's dressing up like them, wearing Moschino, loving garage and shit. It's the only reason we get to do the live gigs, otherwise we'd just be these freaks off the TV."
In fairness, the live gigs are also pretty good. Grindah's as strong an MC as any – his garage voice is just the right side of bumper-car announcer – and him, Beats and the rest of Kurupt can easily sell out venues like KOKO, or dial in special guests like Newham Generals, Stormzy and Big Narstie. "And because we're in character, we can sort of get away with whatever," says Stamp. "Like my shit mixing; it's because I'm Steves, not because I'm a shit DJ."
"I'm not involved too much in the music side of it," says Chaudhry. "I just vape on stage and squint. But it's a kind of art, the live show. It's like, Grindah is a sick MC – he's got a sick flow and delivery – but his content is ridiculous. It's an art form to do something really bad, well."
Turns out the People Just Do Nothing cast are so good at doing bad stuff well that BAFTA wanted to award them for it. "We found out on set [that we were nominated for Best Scripted Comedy], and we were just terrorising everyone all day, like, 'Yeah, I'm actually BAFTA-nominated,'" says Mustafa. "'I'm just going for a BAFTA-nominated piss.'" Stamp interrupts: "Sorry, mate – you just touched a BAFTA-nominated shoulder."
Peter Kay's Car Share won it in the end. But the good news is that there's already been a fourth People Just Do Nothing season commissioned, before the third has even aired, and the BBC is making a lot of noise about the show on its new online-only BBC Three service. There were a few minor teething problems when Kurupt first started working with the BBC – "When it starts off as your baby, it's your baby; but you gotta understand that when everyone gets involved, it's everyone's baby," says Chaudhry – but everything smoothed over quickly.
"It's 70/30 percent improvised now," says Mustafa about the writing process for season three.
"When you've been doing a character for six years, you can just snap into it – you know how they'd react in any situation," says Chaudhry. "These characters are quite personal; I constantly get inspiration from my dad because he's like a real Chabuddy G, just not as ridiculous. He recently opened up a burrito restaurant and it's fucking amazing."
I ask Chaudhry how he keeps his wardrobe so on point. "If you walk around Hounslow, you'll know where I get my clothes from. You know, like, African guys when they go to weddings, they wear these really loud shirts but look slick? A lot of Asian guys do that as well, but get it wrong. They'll be wearing, like, tracksuit bottoms with pointy shoes."
I leave Chaudhry and the others so he can have his prop moustache re-fastened, and ask Petrie what he thinks is next for Kurupt. "They're all very ambitious and talented, and they'll go on to make other hit comedies – I have no doubt about that," he says. "But this has definitely got life in it still – and I'm sure they'd love to do more in the future. Maybe even a film."
The first episode of People Just Do Nothing Series 3 is available on BBC Three from 10AM on Wednesday the 17th of August.
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