KingLoaf: So Lee, tell us a bit about Celebrity Bedlam and what it is?
Lee Kern: Celebrity Bedlam is a six part prank show on celebs. It consists of huge, immersive stunts that embroil celebrities in a world of lunacy and seeing what happens. This is not your normal prank show and the level of ambition is there right from the start. In episode one I convince some celebs that not only do I make human clones – but that I’ve cloned them – and that they’re going to meet their own clones. What follows is ridiculous – and that’s just the beginning of the series. We convince celebs that a rare tribe have been evacuated from their homeland and are now living in a children’s zoo in Cheshunt; we put on a catwalk show during London Fashion Week in which celebs wear clothes they mistakenly believe are made from actual human leather in order to show off how green they are; we have them believing they’re giving a Q + A to the United Nations about their favourite colours – and we have them meeting a goat they believe can cure people of piles. It’s ridiculous what we’ve pulled off and what we’re getting on the telly. The stuff we’ve done is bold, audacious and absolutely stupid.
KingLoaf: What was your favourite prank that you pulled on a celebrity in this series and why?
Lee Kern: Maria Fowler from the The Only Way Is Essex watching me getting colonic irrigation. This turned into a scene that I can only describe as Frank Spencer – but with s***. It’s hands down one of the funniest things I’ve ever been a part of and I’m pretty sure one of the most ridiculous things to be shown on TV for a long while. One of the most stupid stunts of the series that defies belief really – is that we convinced a celeb that I was a dog – and have them stroke me whilst I lick their hand and they discuss adopting me with a kennel owner. I literally just had some fur stuck to my face. It’s insane. Over the course of the six weeks we don’t tire. Every episode has new stunts – all building up to an increasingly insane conclusion.
KingLoaf: How easy was it to convince celebrities to do what you asked?
Lee Kern: Different celebs and different stunts required a different level of effort. Anyone who thinks convincing people they’ve been cloned – celeb or otherwise – is somehow shooting fish in a barrel – needs their head examined. On other occasions – the ease with which you could get someone to believe Captain Scott took a robot called Tony to the South Pole and that they played cards and had snowball fights was slightly scary.
KingLoaf: From watching the series you achieve something which most people wouldn’t be able to and that’s keeping a straight face. How do you manage to do that?
Lee Kern: Because the prospect of failing and having to go back to living in a bedsit, eating hotdogs boiled in a kettle and living like a tramp is a good motivator to succeed. Breaking into laughter and ruining a shoot that costs thousands of pounds and your career is counterproductive to happiness. That said I did break into a smile a few times. Fortunately the celeb was too distracted by seeing a bat with human testicles – or in the case of Wagner from X-Factor – being captivated by a “tribeswoman” living in a children’s zoo.
KingLoaf: You seem very interested in the idea of “celebrity” and “celebrity culture.” Where do you think this stems from?
Lee Kern: It isn’t by choice. I wish there were national debates on who’s a better poet: Wordsworth, Whitman or Ginsberg. I wish the front pages were full of discussion about the origins of man and civilisation rather than who’s had what done to their breasts, which cast member of a reality show has vomited WKD down their top or which celeb fell asleep in a kebab. But these are the times we live in and I’m forced to engage. Hopefully we’ll arrive soon at a new era where people are bored by this and we can start to take an interest in things that actually enhance society.
KingLoaf: Do you think anyone could ever get away with pulling a prank on you?
Lee Kern: Of course. We are all susceptible to delusion, manipulation and reality as it’s presented to us. That said I would like to think I’d be able to spot a six foot man dressed as a dog and be able to say, “That’s not a dog – that’s a man with hair and a rubber nose stuck to his face sitting in urine in a dog kennel” – or to not believe that I’d been chosen by the United Nations to answer questions on my favourite colour and whether you need a show reel to become famous. I’d like to think they were busy dealing with the Israeli Palestinian dispute rather than how many times a week I play tennis.
KingLoaf: Some of the most hilarious pranks range from the absurd to downright ridiculous. Is it you that comes up with the ideas and do you think it is an explosion of your imagination?
Lee Kern: The bulk of what you see comes from me: the conceits of each stunt and the funnies that might occur within them. However, the schedule was so ridiculous that there wasn’t really time to write – let alone rehearse anything – so it would become a case of turning up on the day and simply winging it. Duping celebs would become a weird improv session with a person who doesn’t know they’re in an improv session. And that was great. They would hand you these absolute gems that you would just ad lib with. Most of the shows moments came from these unscripted, spontaneous interactions as you tried to coax a celeb towards a pre-planned set piece. And when they fell into those traps – well that was just gold.
KingLoaf: Did you ever feel guilty for pranking anyone?
Lee Kern: No. These are all adult human people with human brains. They aren’t children. What’s important to note is that at all times the celebs are given a choice. They have a choice whether or not to believe and go along with the lunacy being presented to them. I build a playground and go to the celeb, you fancy playing on this swing? Wanna go on this slide? And they choose to do it. What’s great about the show is the character of the celeb comes across and some of them come out of it looking brilliant. Mostly though, the stuff we do is so silly that it’s difficult to feel an injustice has been done. At the same time, if you believe that the global scientific community has chosen you – a minor British TV celebrity – as the first human being to be cloned – then you need to have a word with yourself.
KingLoaf: There is a strong history on British TV of prank shows. What has been your favourite and what have you taken inspiration from for this show?
Lee Kern: My main influences were in terms of commitment to performance. I don’t really see myself as a performer. Everyone close to me knows I hate performing. I think it’s traumatic, nerve-wracking and you must be mentally ill to enjoy it. But if I was going to do it I didn’t want to hold back – so I looked at performers who I see as giving 100% commitment as touchstones in order to push myself. So Marc Wooton is someone who I think is a genius. There is an exhilarating vehemence to his performances in My New Best Friend, Shirley Ghostman and La La Land. Then there is Paul Kaye who invented Denis Pennis and Strutter with Paul Garner. Another ferocious performer. Then of course there’s Sasha Baron Cohen who manages to combine intelligence with joyful stupidity – three people there who clearly have funny bones and who should be given free rein to do whatever the hell they want.
KingLoaf: Why do you think audiences love watching people be made fools of?
Lee Kern: I think “fools” is the wrong word to use. Half the buzz as a viewer is wondering whether WE could fall for such stunts. The truth is – in the right circumstances we all could. So rather than showing anyone up to be “foolish” I would say it flags the inherent gullibility and fallibility of human beings. I guess watching celebs do these ridiculous things is a sigh of relief saying: “There but for the grace of God go I”.
KingLoaf: Do you think it is a particularly British thing?
Lee Kern: I don’t know enough about international TV to know whether this type of show is a particularly British thing. My instincts tell me that an audience getting a buzz from knowing something a duped protagonist doesn’t is a universal thing.
Celebrity Bedlam, starts on E4 on Wednesday 1 August 2012 at 10pm.