TBB had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the next generation rising talents, Andrew Prince Boateng.
Earlier this year, Andrew won the Best Test Card Pilot at the Edinburgh Film and TV Festival’s New Voice Awards for his comedy Those Good Fellas. The sketch show is a British coming-of-age story about the journey of five young Black men and their exploration of everything from love and heartbreak to ludicrous house parties. It will be one of the first of its kind to showcase this walk of life in a unique lens without the commonly seen focus on gang culture – described by Andrew himself as ‘The Inbetweeners meets The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’.
In this candid discussion, he spoke in-depth about; his passion to bring Black stories to the forefront, the real-life experiences that have inspired his work to date, and the pressures of being the funny one in the family ...
We are joined by the charismatic young king, never to be seen without an impeccable trim, Andrew Prince Boateng! Congratulations on the New Voice Award. Could you tell us a bit about the project that led to you receiving this recognition and what it felt like to be told that you had won?
Thank you. I put forward a show called Those Good Fellas which is about three Black young guys living life. It’s almost like a mash-up of The Fresh Prince [of Bel Air] meets The Inbetweeners. It’s about young guys just living life and doing what young guys do. Initially, I was nervous about putting it forward. It’s an authentic display of how young Black men within the inner-city and around the UK at large, carry out their lives. I didn’t think it would be perceived well, but, I put it forward and it got shortlisted. When they were announcing the winner, I was with my partner; I didn’t think that they called my name, it wasn’t until she shook me that I finally got up and went to receive the award. It was a surreal moment.
The project isn’t out yet, but when I read the synopsis the first thing I thought was this is what The Inbetweeners would look like in ‘our world’. I remember being on the back of the bus, messing around during lunch breaks with my friends and I’m glad that we’ll get to see our lives through your work …
I appreciate that and I completely agree. A lot of times we see people from different ethnicities behaving in certain ways and we place a 2D-mindset on them, not realising that we are multi-layered and complex people. There was a show that I watched where a Black man jumped over a chicken shop [counter] and started beating up the guy behind it and I asked myself, why? First, why in the chicken shop? Then, why has he jumped over the counter? Then I saw that it was written by some white men and I wasn’t surprised. It’s really about giving weight and validity to who we are, whether it’s a drama or comedy, and being able to see 3-dimensional characters. When shows are written by Black people, for Black people and Black talent are the leads you begin to see certain nuances. My favourite film of all time is, Antwone Fisher (2002). Written by a Black man, directed by a Black man. You see motivation behind why Antwone does what he does.
With both of us being Black men, your project has a personal connection to our lives. I believe that when you draw from real life experience to create your work, you get a perspective that can’t be copied or replicated. How much of Those Good Fellas is autobiographical?
I grew up in Lewisham, South London, but my dad was a pastor who travelled quite a lot in between Manchester and London, so a lot of my experiences with my Black friends came from those moments and when we were in white spaces. The series will show this and progress from there. Following on from this I went to sixth form and again my friends and I would have to navigate those spaces and still remain ourselves. We were able to maintain our integrity and our character, whilst being bullied and racially assaulted. It’s about how close-knit we became through it all. In that respect, it’s quite accurate.
Your project is a comedy that is very authentic to experience. As you know we live in an age where ‘cancel culture’ is rampant. Did you ever feel like you needed to filter some of the content?
I think cancel culture is quite a big thing and I understand cancel culture from a viewpoint of being insensitive to other people’s views, their background and saying things that are clearly derogatory, clearly racial and clearly trying to aggravate a certain group of people. But some people cancel others over opinion. Society has become so polarised now, that if someone disagrees with a large group of people, you’re demonised. I grew up in a predominantly white area, with white people. There was an incident where my twin brother and I were leaving school and a group of White men with baseball bats [were] looking to beat us up.The police had to come to the school to escort us and take us home. By me displaying that on TV, I’m sure a group of white people in Bury, Greater Manchester, would say ‘he’s cancelled’ for portraying us in a negative light. To that I say, you can cancel me all that you want, that’s what I experienced. Some situations were really unfortunate, some helped me grow stronger, some I had to seek therapy for. In the midst of all of that I remained true to myself.
Good Fellas is a comedy, so someone has to let you know that you’re funny for you to know you’re funny… when did you realise that you had a gift for making people laugh?
I have a twin brother, Samuel and we’re almost like Yin and Yang. Samuel is quite business-like. He was on The Apprentice, he’s a very serious guy, whereas I was the emotional cry baby. When we started to meet in the middle where he started to balance me out and I started to kind of project some of my jokes onto him and I realised he was laughing. Making Samuel laugh is not an easy thing. He’ll look at you dead in the eye with a look on his face that says “what are you doing?” So making him laugh made me realise I can do this! So I became the family clown. Through that experience I started understanding how to make people laugh based on where they are in their lives, just understanding people’s sensibilities.
When I thought of you and your brothers, I immediately thought, funny family… The Wayans Bros. Are all of you funny, or is all the pressure on you?
Yeah it’s all on me, Samuel’s not funny. To be fair, my little brother Michael is starting to become a bit of a comedian. He’s always had a weird sort of photographic memory. He sees something he retains it and remembers it. From around the age of 4 he would watch commercials and films and remember them from beginning to end after only watching it once. I began to realise that he had ‘comedy chops’ in him so I took him under my wing and started to train him up.
This has been a wild and unpredictable year. Did you have a timeline for this project and has that been derailed, or would you say that it has given you time to explore your ideas more and make changes?
When I finished the project it was very much The Fresh Prince meets The Inbetweeners and then we actually start to change it – right now we’re working with a certain company and we’re looking to get it onscreen. I began to realise that the project was a reflection of my sensibilities and how I told jokes at that period of time. Since then, we have actually pivoted and decided to change direction. We’re going to fast forward the story 10 years telling the story of where they are as grown men with families. The best way to describe it now is almost like Desperate Housewives meets The Inbetweeners.
So it’s gone from those Good Fellas to those Good Uncles yeah? (You’re going to have to pay me if you want to change the name …)
That was hard you know! They’ve definitely gone on to uncle status. It’s definitely changed In terms of how this year has affected me, surprisingly it hasn’t. It has actually brought a lot of work for me because these are the times when storytellers are needed. Even then, I always have to be sympathetic to the fact that a lot of people have struggled this year as well.
So much time has elapsed since you were the age of the characters in your show. Whilst you were living through it, were you conscious that you were living through a sketch show in the making, or was it something that you became aware of in hindsight?
The idea first came to me in 2015 when I finished watching a movie produced by Pharrell Williams called Dope; it was a lightbulb moment. The process of getting it turned into a pilot took many years and all my savings. I knew that I was going about doing things all wrong because I was making a pilot, rather than getting it optioned by a production company or getting it commissioned. There were so many obstacles. Doors seemed to close on me because the show I was pitching didn’t have people from council estates, didn’t have any form of drug or gang violence, and didn’t conform to typical stereotypes. Over those convening years my sensibilities changed in regards to how I was telling the story, but I maintained that original essence. It pivoted a bit in 2020, but it’s still it’s about five middle-class Black guys trying to navigate a very white space in a comedy setting.
You stuck with this idea through all of this pain, you’re gaining now, but at what cost?
There were losses. I remember the first meeting where I spoke to a commissioner. It was on the 7th of January 2016. I presented the script, he read it and the first thing he said was “can you make your characters more urban?” I was taken aback when he said it, it didn’t quite sink in. I shook my head and said “pardon?” and he said, “yeah, you know this character Alex, maybe we could give him more of a gangster vibe. Maybe he could have a brother from a gangster background, and then we could add a bit of knife and gun crime”. I was waiting for him to say that he was joking, but he was being serious. That was the moment for me when I realised it was going to be a massive uphill struggle.
Another commissioner tried to suggest that my characters should be white and that’s when I thought hold on a minute, why does he feel like this story could only progress if these guys were white? There were a lot of rejections and a lot of weird comments. I think it’s always about knowing how to take criticism, which I’m good at, but also understanding what story it is you’re trying to tell. I will make changes that make sense but not at the expense of the story. There were a lot of times where I could have given up, but I realised that the story was too precious to do that. There were losses from a financial standpoint also. I actually got a second pilot filmed, but it was after that I realised my savings had really taken a hit and I needed to stop. There were a lot of times when I felt like this.
It’s like you were ahead of the curve with your idea as in the last year there has been a strong resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement and the push to support Black enterprise. Through all of the tragedy, did you start to think your idea might work now more than it would have previously?
Interest in the shows that I had written shot up immediately after George Floyd was unfortunately murdered and that was frustrating for me. It shouldn’t have taken a Black man’s death for you to realise that Black lives matter. I was in a weird space. I entered the Red Planet prize a UK-wide writers competition and submitted a story called Cry Wolf. About a Black man who was accused of a rape that he didn’t commit. When I wrote it last year and sent it off no one cared about the show. This year all of the responses I’ve been getting have been along the lines of “I want a piece of this, it’s amazing… it’s the best thing that’s happened since sliced bread!” It’s been disgusting that someone had to be murdered for us to be taken seriously. I hope it isn’t a trend. Our lives matter. We have substance. We have something to say.
I’m a personal believer that “you can’t cancel the best show on TV”. As long as we keep delivering and keep on bringing our value, this door that we’ve built for ourselves can never be closed. Especially with people like yourself and other creatives planting the seeds of inspiration for those that will follow you.
Getting To Know You …
- What is a must have book in your collection? – The Bible. In my hardest of times, that book has seen me through everything.
- What is a film or TV show that you watch whenever it is on or watch repeatedly? – Antwone Fisher. Whenever I’m low or just need some inspiration or just need to see a Black life that feels 3 dimensional, that’s the film I go straight to. I just sit there and just eat my Häagen-Dazs caramel-salted ice cream and watch it.
- What is a stage production that had a memorable impact on you? – Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. The reason it had an impact on me is because it’s about persistence. I’ve never seen a theatre production about a woman who has persisted as much as she did. It’s about persistency and consistency; eventually, doors will open, they will open, just keep pushing.
- What has made you sad, mad, and glad this week? – The answer to all three questions is my mum’s health. There was an incident where doctors didn’t take her health seriously and they made a massive mistake. It made me so glad that she’s alive and I’m grateful for her life. It made me sad that people tried to use her as a guinea pig in an operation where they could have just consulted specialists and this made me glad that I have a mum. A lot of people don’t have mums and I just felt really grateful for her life and what she’s instilled in me supporting me over the course of my life.
For entry forms and further information on the New Voice Awards 2021 find out more here.
Categories include – Best Debut Presenter, Best Debut Writer, Best Debut Director, Best Broadcaster for New Talent, Best Production Company for New Talent, Best Agency for New Talent, All3Media New Script Award, Test Card Award, Future Presenter Award.
The entry deadline for all categories is Monday 25th January 2021 (or Friday 18th December 2020 for Early Bird rates).