At 41 Years Young, Richard Ayoade is On His Way
On either side of the camera, this British comedian is utterly unique.
Richard Ayoade: That’s Richard I-you-ah-day. Most people may know him from his role as Maurice Moss in the hit BBC show The IT Crowd, or, as it is known around the Fandor water cooler, “that show that’s like The Big Bang Theory but…you know…actually funny.” The IT Crowd might be one of the funniest sitcoms ever, owing in no small part to Ayoade’s portrayal of Moss, a technologically savvy but socially incompetent (though totally charming) IT guy. But Ayoade’s resume is longer than this one show, and if you were to stop your exploration of his work there, you would be missing out on a litany of amazingly funny and unique roles—and not just in front of the camera. Ayoade has directed for the small and the big screen—and even some music videos!
The first time I had the privilege of seeing Ayoade, it was in a little British show called Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. If you’ve never heard of it do yourself a favor and watch it. I’ll wait—No I won’t, this is an article! I can’t wait; this isn’t happening in real time! Anyway, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was not Ayoade’s first role, but it was certainly his announcement to the comedy world that he had arrived. The show is a meta-mockumentary sitcom, revolving around a fake show from the 1970s, called Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. The show, proper, “reruns” these “lost episodes” of B-television, intercut with interviews from the cast, and hosted by the eponymous character, Garth Marenghi (played by the criminally under-cast Matthew Holness), a Stephen King-esque horror writer—if King was all The Tommyknockers and no The Shining. Ayoade plays Marenghi’s co-star and literary agent, Dean Lerner. What’s great about this performance is that on a “show” full of big personalities (Matt Berry also shines), Ayoade brings the same level of awkwardness he came to be known for in The IT Crowd, but mixed with a certain coolness that the others lack. He also directed every episode, and so it is unsurprising that, like the show itself, Ayoade is a strange brew of charm and ridiculousness, wrapped in a straightjacket of intense un-self-awareness. It’s one of the great shames of television that a second series was never commissioned.
Next came one of the classics of modern British television, The Mighty Boosh. And again, if you’ve never seen an episode of this surreal comedy treasure, do yourself a favor and hunt it down. Here, Ayoade takes on the smaller role of the Shaman Saboo, and though he plays second chair to Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt (both equally brilliant in the best iteration of The Odd Couple ever), every episode in which he appears is enlivened by his presence and comedic timing.
That timing is a skill often overlooked in comedians who specialize in “awkward comedy.” It takes real skill to nail the worst moment to break into dance (à la Ricky Gervais), or to have the lack of wherewithal to record a dating profile intro while secluded in the bathroom of your mother’s house, as seen in the clip below.
For Ayoade, those skills also translate to both writing and directing. Besides directing music videos for The Arctic Monkeys and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Ayoade has directed two feature length movies: Submarine (2010) and The Double (2013). Submarine is the story of Oliver, who, as a fifteen-year-old, is preoccupied with his school crush, Jordana, and trying to get his ever-quarrelling parents to reconcile. It’s a small movie that feels a bit too precious at times (and a little too derivative of Noah Baumbach or Wes Anderson) but it’s also a genuinely charming coming-of-age story.
In The Double, Ayoade doubles down on that aesthetic, but adds a touch of Lynch-ian surrealism with a satirical slant. Following two characters (both played by Jesse Eisenberg), who are not quite twins and not quite clones, The Double is an almost experimental descent into madness about the ways we get can get lost in society. Whether taken as a dark comedy or a metaphorical drama, Ayoade's film brings to mind some of Terry Gilliam's early work, like Brazil.
It’s still too early in Ayoade’s career to know exactly where he’s going or if he’s more drawn to acting or directing, but he certainly has the talent to do both. As a comedic actor, he’s one of the best on either side of the Atlantic. But his first two feature films feel more like a promise of things to come rather than a director at the height of their powers. While both films are successful, they feel like minor successes that hint at a larger potential.But regardless of which direction he heads toward, we here at the Fandor offices eagerly await anything and everything he does, whether it’s a small role on a television show or the helming of a major feature film.