Kiell Smith -Bynoe is doing his thing…
Consistently funny, he delivers memorable moments of laughter using the admirable range of talents at his disposal. From witty responses to unspoken gestures, he has an onscreen appeal that is gaining momentum day on day to the point of becoming a household regular in BBC’s Ghosts.
His latest project, Red Flag, is a thoroughly wild and entertaining array of comedy sketches that still feel oh so relatable to modern life. Kiell is not alone, delivering Red Flag to us alongside an ensemble cast of some of the best comedic actors on the scene, this is well worth paying attention to, like the man himself.
We caught up with Kiell for a chat.
Please introduce yourself…
I’m Kiell Smith-Bynoe, actor and writer. I’m 33, I’m from East Ham and I like profiteroles.
Describe your current life situation in a word or a sentence…
Desperately in need of a holiday.
My best friend went to St Bonaventure’s, like most of us in East London coming up, we have to develop comedy and comebacks as a way of life or get folded. How much of your foundational comedy is from school days and what are some of the other sources?
In St. Bons you had to be one of three things to be “cool“; A good footballer, a good fighter or a good MC. I had never had a fight in my life, and couldn’t control a football to save my life so I started MC’ing… (for my life?). I used to clash other MCs in the playground and my style of clashing was to end with punchlines and I guess that was my intro to writing comedy. I was also influenced by my uncles who grew up in East London and would cuss people out with such obscure references that you couldn’t hold a straight face even if you were offended.
Your brand of comedy has a very British identity, from String v Spitta to Red Flag, what is it about our perspective as modern Brits that creates such good material? Do the ever-changing archetypes help or hinder this?
I love the British theme of “I’m just here for a laugh”, I think that it is ever-present in me and occasionally bleeds into some of my characters. String V Spitta (Soho Theatre) and Red Flag both being my creations allow me to showcase all sides of me and I guess I “wrote what I know“. There are a few shows which embody exactly my kind of humour and people I recognise in my real life, Phone Shop and Sliced are good examples of this and I hope there continues to be more.
Tell us about Red Flag and your various roles both in front and behind the camera.
Red Flag was my opportunity to really push what I find funny so that was my main aim in front and behind the camera. The easiest part of the whole process was casting because I just knew who would be the right people for the job so I got them. It was a no-brainer, there were no auditions or even reads. We got some of the funniest people I know in a room to rehearse then 3 days later we filmed it.
Is the Exec Producer role what you imagined it to be?
It sounds good, doesn’t it? In reality, it’s just you getting sent pictures of a table and you have to choose if it’s big enough to fit all the props you want on it. It was important to Kayode [Ewumi] and I to have this role as we wanted to be across everything and I’d say it went pretty smoothly. It helps that some of these sketches had been in our heads for 5 years so we knew exactly what we wanted.
Are there different demands and expectations made of you as a black comic as opposed to a black producer, either by yourself or others? Has the perception of you changed?
I don’t know about the expectations but I really wanted to subvert stereotypes in this show, this is why the first sketch is up first. I think that cold open gives people the idea that it’s going to be one thing and then it’s something completely different. The show is so varied that starting out with the Mandem in tracksuits on sofas felt perfect to me. I think there may be expectations for me to tackle certain subjects going on in the world or to be topical but we made a strong decision that this show would be meaningless. The aim was only to make people laugh.
How has this experience added to your arsenal as a comedian?
I may be wrong but I think there’s an added level of impressiveness (especially overseas) when you have your own show, it’s something I’ve always wanted to achieve so really glad that I’ve now started that process. I think writing to make yourself funny is one thing but having the ability to change a line onset if it isn’t working is a blessing. Creating an environment where people can suggest a funnier way for me to do something was really important to me and made the show better.
What does satisfaction look like to Kiell the producer and how is that different to Kiell the comedian?
I think they are the same. I think my plan for this show all those years ago when it was just an idea until now has been the same; make something funny. Satisfaction looks like people laughing, preferably a big laugh with the head tilted back.
Red Flag stands out as a contemporary yet almost surreal look at how people interact with each other with a hilarious pointing out of the social awkwardness, what is the most socially awkward thing about you or that you have done?
I very rarely, if ever, feel awkward myself. I will always find something to say no matter what. I recently met someone at an awards show that had accepted an award on behalf of someone else and I started asking them about projects they had done not realising it wasn’t the actual person. Somehow I even managed to talk my way out of that.
Red Flag showcases some extremely funny and well-worked performances, was there a lot of improv involved during shooting or did you have a defined plan of where the funny would be coming from?
We certainly had a defined plan as some of the sketches had been in our (me and Kayode’s) minds for so long. That being said we really encouraged people to throw in whatever they thought would be funny, a few of those times we got to keep that in. I’d say the finished product is 80% as scripted. 20% Tom Stourton.
When it’s all said and done … What would you like the intro to your lifetime achievement award to say?
That’s a great question, I think ultimately I’d want people to like me for being generous. Whether that’s professionally or personally, in a scene or at dinner. After that a good actor, then something to do with Tequila.
Getting to Know You:
- A book you have in your collection? Delicacy by Katy Wix
- A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? I found an apple music playlist called ‘Luxury Rap‘ that is my current mood. Doing better than I used to, but I’m not done yet.
- A film/TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? RocknRolla. When I was at Uni my aerial didn’t work on the TV so I just watched DVDs. I think RocknRolla stayed in there for about 9 months. I reckon I know all the words.
- The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? Aeroplane Man – Jonzi D. I don’t think this was the first one I saw but definitely the most meaningful. I was so inspired by someone singing, dancing, rapping and acting and subconsciously I think it’s always stayed with me. Maybe I’ve got a one-man show in me.
- What has made you sad, mad, and glad this week?
SAD – Showcase Cinema Beckton closing down.
MAD – Getting hung up on by an automated service.
GLAD – All my friends coming to the screening of Red Flag and doing the big laugh, with their heads tilted back.
Red Flag is available on All4 and YouTube now!