Very Important People is a new celebrity impression show that not only mocks our beloved stars but also goes on to satirize a culture now bamboozled by trivia, gossip and regurgitated ideas. The show stars Morgana Robinson and Terry Mynott, and those under the VIP spotlight include: Perez Hilton, Natalie Cassidy, Fearne Cotton, Adele, Bear Grylls, Frankie Boyle, President Barack Obama, Russell Brand, Katy Price, Kerry Katona, Simon Cowell, Nick Grimshaw, Sophie Dahl, The Gallaghers, Noel Fielding, Danny Dyer, Amy Childs and many, many more.
Here, Morgana and Terry discuss how they perfect their impressions, their unusual routes to success, and working down a sewer.
Your new show, Very Important People, is a sort of modern take on an impressions show, isn’t it? What’s the idea?
Morgana: We’re taking the piss out of celebrity culture, basically, in a way that I think is appropriate for the time that we’re in, and how ridiculous celebrity has become. It’s such a massive façade, and this is just a warts-and-all look at it, basically. It’s definitely got a tone to it, a voice to it, a flavour. Can I use any other words to describe it?
Terry: No, I think you did well…
M: It’s not just “Hi, look at me, I’m being this person”. It’s got more of a voice to it than that.
Do you think that people wouldn’t be interested in the show if it was a regular impressions show?
M: I just think that’s quite boring. I think nuanced performances are much more interesting – if there’s another layer to it and another reason as to why you’re doing it, it makes for a more well-rounded show. And I think it’s about time there was a show like this. Celebrity has got so ridiculous. What are we watching on the telly, and why are we so obsessed with these people? It’s like a religion now.
Give me an idea of the people you’ll be doing in the show.
M: Oh my God, there’s 60 all in all. He does about 25, I do about 25.
Do you guys get input into the scripts?
M: Yeah, we do. That’s really important, I think. It’s sort of all born from our take on the celebrity, really. That’s what comes first. It’s really important to me that it works like that. The writers write for our impression.
T: it wasn’t cast iron writing. We went in, did that character, they would watch what we did, and then write according to how we were portraying that celebrity.
M: It’s really important to get the basics right first – we picked up on what we thought was funny about that character.
So they don’t come to you and say “Can you do Russell Brand?”
T: Sometimes. We shared them out, didn’t we? If there was one that I couldn’t do, you would have a go.
M: We passed them round. “Oh look, you can have Noel Fielding, I can’t do it.”
T: There was a lot of Peter Andre buck-passing!
How do you research the people you do? DO you watch loads and loads of footage?
T: We both do it quite differently. It works to your own cognitive memory, however you get stuff in.
M: We’re unbelievably different in the way that we approach it. I think our impersonations are also very different in style, which is weird. Terry’s a fucking machine with voices. I’d close my eyes and sit on his lap and say “David Attenborough, just tell me you love me.” I love it. I guess maybe I’m more visual, I pick up more on the physicality. But with Terry, if you close your eyes, you are right there. But what sort of things do you do? You put your voice over the top of footage of them…
T: Sometimes, if I can’t get it. But usually I just listen to a tiny bit. Like ‘hello’. Or ‘it’. [Laughs]. I can’t watch big chunks, because my brain can’t digest them.
M: Whereas I’ll pick a clip for a minute-and-a-half, and learn it like a song, and then change the words. But I have to work on my voice. He’s the voice guy.
So you go off and practise an impression, and then what? Do you come back and try it out on people?
T: You come back and look at the disappointed faces of producers as you go “I think I’ve really nailed it.” There’s the awful but after you’ve finished where they’ll go “Yeah, good mate,” and then you can just hear their buttocks shuffling uncomfortably as they break it to you that it sounds more like Arthur Scargill.
That must feel like quite a personal thing…
M: It’s heartbreaking.
T: You come up with a million excuses. I found that whole side of it the most difficult of all, learning new ones. I found it worse than getting all the lines. I did a week straight of listening to Jamie Oliver, and at the end of it, I wasn’t sure if I was any nearer or further away. You’ve got to trust your own brain. But then you go in and you try it out and see those disappointed faces…
M: Oh yeah, whatever, you didn’t get any of them.
T: I did!
M: How many?
T: Okay, I’m lying, every one was fucking brilliant. [Laughs] No, we did loads of stuff that didn’t make it.
Does it help if you like the person you’re doing?
M: Yeah, for me it really does. I really got into Helena Bonham Carter, because I really loved her.
T: It’s just more pleasurable when you first start the research. But I had more fun with Joe Swash and Professor Brian Cox in the end. And my impressions don’t really sound anything like them – they just become mental characters. I didn’t watch too much Joe Swash either, I just remembered him from EastEnders.
M: And then some of them are easier to get than others. Some of them are closer to your natural voice, and others are really at the limit of your vocal range.
Yeah, you sound a little bit like Fearne Cotton anyway, for example.
M (breaking into Fearne): Yeah, it’s just a little bit more blokeish. Harder consonants, a little bit more staccato, bit more North London maybe, but yeah, she’s very close to me. Whereas I’m never going to be able to get the voices just right for some of the boys, so you have to find other ways to get there.
In spite of that, you do a very good Russell Brand. Quite a few people on the series have worked with him, haven’t they? Does that add a degree of pressure for you?
M: No, they help me out, advising me on whether he’d say certain things. It came in really handy. It’s not nasty.
T: No. None of it is.
M: Apart from the odd thing.
T: Look at Jonathan Ross. I like Jonathan Ross, I like his radio shows, I’m a bit of a fan, and I did not want to offend him. But I don’t think we did, really, we were just really silly. It’s barbed, but then that only happens when you’re really successful.
M: Pulling the pigtails of the one you love.
Who is your favourite impression that the other one does?
M: My favourite for you has got to be David [Attenborough]. It’s just got to be David. I’m such a fan anyway. What am I like when we’re doing David? I‘ll just sit on his lap, kissing his face and the producers will just be like ‘STOP KISSING HIM!!!’ Go on, do your David.
T: [beaks into absolutely perfect Attenborough] Our planet is the only planet in our solar system that can…
M: I love you, David.
T: I saw your Danny Dyer this morning, I was really taken with that. But Russell, I think, might be my favourite.
M: Can you believe it? The blokes? The ones where I sat there, crying, going ‘Why are you making me do men?’
T: Russell was difficult for you, wasn’t he?
M: All men are hard. I can’t even walk like them, because my skeleton is out together differently. The physical side of it can be really draining.
This is probably a really boring question to ask people who do what you do, but did you always have this talent? Was it the kind of thing you did at school to amuse your mates.
T: (smirking) Yeah. (Laughs)
M: No. (Laughs) (They high-five each other).
Okay, that was the answer that question deserved. Are there any impressionists that you guys really rate.
T: I’m pretty much American bound there – Frank Caliendo’s probably the greatest impersonator in the world. Jay Pharoah from Saturday Night Live is also a really good up-and-coming guy. He’s just amazing. I liked Alistair McGowan in his day as well.
M: I like Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan. The Trip was awesome, I loved that. That was good. There’s not many women that are good at impressions. Ronnie Ancona was amazing. But I don’t see myself as an impressionist, so I’ve never really adored anyone in that field.
T: The thing is, you really get into this because you love the characters that you do. I do Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, because I love their films, not because I liked an impersonator.
You were both discovered by the agent John Noel in different circumstances, weren’t you? Terry, he found you on YouTube, didn’t he?
T: Yeah. In between looking at porn. “Who’s this idiot?”
You made a video of yourself doing a load of impressions, which got a fantastic reaction…
T: Yeah. And I had no idea who John was. He just burst into a meeting I was in and said “You’re good, I’ve seen your video, but perhaps you should do just one, and do it well.” And I thought “Who the fuck is that?” And then about a week later, he rang me up and said “Come in, let’s talk about representation.” So I had to Google him, ‘cos I thought “What is he going on about?”
M: I worked on reception at a restaurant, and he was a regular. So I just gave him my home-made DVD. I knew who he was – I worked in a very smart restaurant, and if you’re a receptionist you have to know who all your clients are. And also we were very friendly, I’d take him through and we’d have a little joke and a bit of banter on the way. I’d left art college with a sculpture degree, and I’d made my own really crap tape, and no-one would take me on because it was so shit. It was basically a camcorder of me sitting on a sofa with joke teeth and hats. Obviously anyone in their right mind wouldn’t take on anyone like that, but John Noel went “I’m fookin’ signing you,” and that was it. He loves raw talent, and he’s a bit eccentric, so that worked for us!
Morgana, you had your own show on Channel 4 last year. Do you think that experience has helped you see the celebrity bubble from the inside?
M: Not at all. I don’t think I’ve got many more celebrity friends since the show went out. We’re not really into that.
T: We’re just always down Homebase.
M: Yeah, picking our noses and eating it.
Terry, I read that you’ve had some odd jobs in the past. You used to work in London’s sewers, and you toured with Faithless.
T: Yeah. Not at the same time.
M: This is where we bring out some really awful footage of you in your pop career, and e all laugh and point at you.
T: Oh God, there is some really horrific footage. If ever there were too many people onstage who didn’t know what they were doing, that was us. It was a group called Kawala. I was the singer.
How did that go. Did you get a deal?
T: Yeah, we signed with Jive. We did the usual three songs. Three songs and out! And we did a very short stint with Faithless.
And what were you doing down the sewers?
T: Cleaning them out. I did it for about a year-and-a-half. It was my first job out of school. I tried a few other things, and I just got fired from everything. I sort of lowered my expectations. If you worked in the sewers you were either violently thick, or you were violent. I was violently thick. It was really tough. I’ve got a lot of respect for the guys doing that job. On the first week, all I did was go around cleaning gullies on the side of the road, they do that to lure you in. And as soon as you sign a contract, you’re being lowered into a vat of shit. You’d spend eight hours down there.
M: That’s terrible. Did you throw up and stuff?
T: You did at first, but then you got used to it. Let’s not turn the whole interview into poo stories, though.
Showbiz is quite a small world. Do you know any of the people who you’re lampooning?
M: I know Fearne Cotton, actually. I did her on the Morgana show, we only had a handful of celebrities that we did on that, but she was one of them). We’d already filmed the show, and then I made some new friends, and we had mutual friends, so then I ended up meeting her, which was really weird. I was really scared as to what she’d think, but she loved it, and her parents loved it, it was ace.
What are your ambitions for your career? Where do you want this show to take you?
T: Chessington World of Adventures.
M: I definitely would just want to get into doing character roles in movies. If I had a scene with Meryl Streep- actually scratch that, I wouldn’t want a scene with Meryl Streep, I think I’d shit myself.
T: You’d be a nightmare. They’d go ‘Action!’ and you’d throw up all over her.
M: Yeah, forget the Streepmeister. Playing some really dirty, weird, gritty characters that are funny but really sad, that would be nice. Sort of Cohen brothers but a bit weirder. What about you, Tel?
T: I think I’d just like to do Homes Under the Hammer. But jazz it up a bit. Where there’s a dead body in the house.
Very Important People is on Channel 4 later this month.