Enter: Patrick McPherson and Zac Peel. These University College Londoners are the comedic stars of Camels – an independent, innovative series of sketch shows that has grown from a should-see amongst their mates to a must-see for everyone. Having first performed in late 2016, above a pub not far from class, they now play a sell-out set at The Tabernacle – a stage walked by the likes of Frankie Boyle.
The venue is a Grade II-listed church; it’s made of red brick and terracotta, it has towers (yes, multiple) and spires (same as the tower situation: there’s more than one). It’s big. The 280-strong audience is mostly made up of students, plus a few older heads – you assume they must be friends and parents. But, like McPherson and Peel point out, they don’t have this many friends – and they definitely don’t have this many parents. All are excited as the boys walk on in camel-beige and, notably, barefoot. Camels have feet but, apparently, they don’t wear shoes.
The sketches demonstrate range: sometimes relatable, sometimes surreal – sometimes both. The boys perform clever routines that work the interface between what we all know (e.g. what an estate agent or customer service assistant is like on the phone) and what we don’t (what happens when they put us on hold). They are slick and tactful, timing jokes like comedians but playing scenes like dramatic actors. But, most importantly, they do not fall into the trap of postmodernist irony. It’s tempting for comedians, especially student comedians performing with family and friends in the audience, they are consummate professionals; their sketches are written to entertain you and everyone you know. The night is an epic event; one-off and unrecorded, you feel lucky to be there.
Camels IV is the first show produced by their joint-run venture: Beige Company Productions. However, foreseeably, it’s the last in the series. Thankfully, in a short Q&A, McPherson and Peel tell us it’s not the last you’ll see from them. Camels may have ended but Beige Productions has just gotten started.
Where are you guys from?
Zac: I’m from the Midlands – Peterborough.
Patrick: I’m, originally, from Australia – the West Coast. Until we moved, after the war…
Aren’t you from Crawley?
P: I’m now from Crawley, yes.
How did you meet, when did you meet, how old were you?
Z: This is genuinely true: we met the first or second day of school and you had to do different sports… so we met doing fencing. That is genuinely true. I thought Patrick, he was about as tall then as he is now and I was five foot nothing…
P: He was intimidated is what he’s trying to say.
Z: I was intimidated but I also thought he was the biggest prick I’d ever met.
P: I was awful ‘til the age of about 17, then I got progressively okay. I remember that meeting specifically. It took us about 3 or 4 years after then to relay the foundation of hate.
Your comedy isn’t lewd, you don’t really swear even. You don’t make crude jokes, and you’re not very personal either. A lot of comedy is awkward-stories-from-the-comedians’-personal-lives. Your sketches are more objective than that. It’s almost like a script that anyone could perform, it’s open to the biggest audience…
Z: The thing that’s nice about our script is that I feel like anyone could perform it.
P: I don’t think we find it that funny. I think, genuinely, not a lot of the process has changed between Zac and me sitting in a pub, over a pint, and laughing about “what would it be like, if…” to the actual performance. Zac and I wouldn’t be making the jokes that we do if we didn’t find those jokes funny. I think that’s what the strength of some of our shows has been. I hope people see that these are just two friends, who work well and find each other funny. [They are not] trying to be lewd, or have a twisted sense of humour. I think: welcome your audience into your show, and your writing process, is the best way to do it.
So, the Beige Production Company – that’s you two. But are there other people involved? You guys have only ever done Camels shows.
P: This is the first Camels show produced by us, Beige Company Productions…
P: Incorporated. Technically we are directors of the company and we produce ourselves. It’s the narcissism! But we are also on the lookout for other people who need material produced, who need a platform.
What’s ‘Dirty Work’?
P: Zac, and my brother and I wrote this TV pilot and we had a very good friend of ours, this director Connor Doyle, who directed it. And Zac produced it and we filmed it in the Christmas holidays and it’s in production at the moment.
Could you tell us a bit about it? Is it just going to be the one pilot?
P: It’s a half-an-hour mockumentary, like The Office. The pitch is: imagine The Office meets The Sopranos. It’s about twin brothers who clean up after dead bodies for the local Mafia and then, y’know, hijinks ensue. We’ll see how development goes – obviously the idea is to produce more episodes. The first one was a lot of fun to do.