RETROSPECTIVE: The Wicked Pig saga – Chapter 2

The story so far: Dan and Richard have accidentally become the faces of Wicked Pig Pork snacks, and are now obliged to produce regular YouTube videos tackling comedy challenges. In their first video, they attempt to make a million pounds by painting faces on eggs. But as they await their second challenge, they are perturbed by the marketing agency in charge, who are showing worrying signs they might not know how to run a campaign properly. Richard takes up the story…

A package arrived by courier.

We eyed it suspiciously. It was a squarish box from the marketing agency, very unlike the slim brown envelope which the first challenge had arrived in. This box gave us an uneasy feeling.

We filmed ourselves opening the box, just as we had filmed ourselves opening the challenge envelope at the start of episode one. This was to be the start of episode two. But what we found inside… oh, I’m wincing just to write this…

Inside were luminous lycra dancing outfits.

Just to clarify, we had specifically asked the marketing agency to set us simple challenges. The kind that could be summed up in one line. Challenges that should not, in themselves, be comedic. Leave the comedy up to us, we’d said. We’ll make humour through our characterisation, and through the interactions and incidents that we get on camera. “Make a million pounds from a fiver” had been perfect. But this…

Inside the box was also a sheet of A4. I’ve long since lost this, so I’m sadly unable to quote directly, but the gist of it was this: we were instructed to audition the people of Canterbury in a Britain’s Got Talent style open auditions process, allegedly for roles in a blockbuster movie (heavily implied to be Harry Potter).

There are so many things wrong with this bafflingly contrived challenge that I don’t even know where to start.

Actually I do – it’s not a challenge. How would you win or lose it?

But also, it shifts the balance of power onto me and Dan, so that we become judges. Figures of authority. It requires us to lie to members of the public about the possibility of featuring in a movie that doesn’t exist. And presumably we were supposed to coerce the public into make fools of themselves at the auditions.

Compare this with how we had treated the public in episode one. For that first challenge, Dan and I were making fools of ourselves out on the high street, or the south bank, or at a music festival. We were the only objects of ridicule.

I found it impossible to even imagine myself and Dan as Simon Cowell type figures. Plus, the whole premise had a set-up but no pay-off. The blockbuster movie didn’t exist, so how was the episode supposed to end? What would happen after the auditions?

Put simply, this idea was useless.

And so we refused to do the challenge, and instead arranged an emergency Skype meeting. This meeting was in fact documented by Matt Wilson (who appears in Disparate Set Pieces) who sat behind Dan’s MacBook, filming our side of the conversation. Alas, this footage is tragically lost. But for a long time afterwards, Matt adorned his office wall at the University of Kent with a printed-out grid of still frames from this footage which showed my face metamorphose from calm to demonic fury in a matter of seconds.

It was during this fabled Skype meeting that one member of the marketing agency proposed the challenge of sending me and Dan into a library to see who could shout the loudest without getting thrown out.

For one thing, the answer to this “challenge” is obvious because Dan is the loudest man in Christendom, and for another, we are not fucking Dick and Dom.

Dan has since speculated that the person who said this might have been an intern. But that doesn’t let them off the hook. They were an adult, and a representative of the marketing agency. And from this point on, my opinion of the agency was irrevocably damaged.

As it happens I don’t think we ever managed to get the marketing agency to understand the type of challenges that we originally envisaged the Wicked Pig Challenges would involve. All of their suggestions were considerably wide of the mark. To give you an idea of what we were aiming for, go and watch Taskmaster, the comedy challenge show on Dave. I like that programme (which didn’t exist back in 2010 so couldn’t be used as a reference) and every time I watch it I think “these are the kinds of challenges we wanted the Wicked Pig agency to set us!”

After some debate, an agreement was finally reached regarding the second challenge: Dan and I were to attempt to become celebrities. It wasn’t quite what we were after, but… right, fine, whatever. Our enthusiasm was dented, and we had lost faith in the agency’s handling of the campaign, but at least we had a starting point.

Frustratingly, the agency weren’t actually able to introduce us to any celebrities. Not even minor ones. Which you’d think, being a marketing agency, would be a piece of cake for them. Especially in this modern world where we have an excess of celebrities. Frankly, throw a stone into a crowd in London and you’re bound to hit someone who has a claim to fame. Instead they arranged for us to visit the offices of New Magazine in London, to see whether the editor could determine our celebrity status. It was all starting to look a bit flat, and so Dan and I realised we needed to do something we’d been resisting: add some fictional scenes. In direct contrast to the first film, we called on a couple of friends to adopt roles. Alaric was to play a photographer, and Holli a model (which she was, alongside her acting; but I’m sure she won’t mind me admitting she wasn’t exactly a household name).

Episode 2, as it was originally released, was not to our satisfaction. The agency and the client required a long list of trims and edits. They also botched an amateurish title card on the beginning, meaning the episode didn’t start until about 12 seconds in, thereby ensuring viewers would surely get bored and wander off elsewhere. Anyway…

We present (at last!) our preferred edit of episode 2…

Notably, this episode contains one of the most excruciating experiences of my life, when I filmed Dan bursting into the foyer of the Apollo theatre attempting to meet Zoe Wanamaker and David Suchet. There I was, cringing behind the viewfinder, desperately trying to pretend I was watching from the safety of home. God, I’d be such a crap paparazzo.

In case you’re wondering why Zoe Wanamaker doesn’t make an appearance, it’s because she escaped via another entrance to avoid us and our a camera. Or so the angry doorman told us – although this may have been a lie to make us go away.

Anyway, the eagle-eyed among you will have noticed an entire scene which was originally cut: the beer garden interview (The Dolphin, seeing as you asked) with Florence Tennent of the Kentish Gazette at 6.14.

This is one of my favourite bits of the film, so I was extremely resistant to let it go, but the marketing agency put their foot down. They were bizarrely sensitive about us discussing the briefing notes on camera. These briefing notes were designed to instruct us on how to discuss The Wicked Pig Challenges with journalists.

Perhaps surprisingly, I still have the notes from the Skype meeting with the agency where we debated the necessity of removing this scene. Here are some of the points we put forward, but which fell on deaf ears:

– What did the agency expect to happen when they sent 2 comedians the instruction not to be sarcastic? Didn’t they anticipate this?
– The comedy in the scene comes from Richard’s inability to not be sarcastic. If we remove the dialogue about briefing notes, the scene becomes us meeting a journalist, and isn’t as funny.
– All comedy involves inverting, knocking, satirising and mocking authority. Within the films, we refer to the marketing agency as “Wicked Pig HQ” and set them up as dictatorial figures of authority. We therefore HAVE TO knock them. The agency should not take this personally.
– Our comedy is largely derived from character, and these edits unnecessarily diminish Richard’s characterisation by censoring his sarcastic temperament. To diminish Richard’s characterisation not only makes the film less funny, it also fails to capitalise on the personal elements which our involvement contributes to these films i.e. our individual characterisation and comedic sensibilities.

Alas, we lost this battle, and the sequence was cut. But there were other smaller trims here and there, some of which seem bizarre. For example, they took issue with my rant about books that starts at 4.50. So this was cut down. But I prefer the full version (which we have reinstated) where I rudely talk over Dan about the Dalek Cleaver.

Because there is a blend of fiction and reality in this film, perhaps I should point out that the moment of confusion which results from what Holli says at 4.24 is in fact completely real. It might seem like it’s done for the cameras, but actually Dan and I really do mishear, and it’s not until several seconds after Holli bleats that I even twig that she said “sheep.”

Incidentally, you might be wondering what kind of timescale this whole palaver unfolded over…

We received the ominous parcel on the 20th July. The challenge was renegotiated, filmed, and submitted within a few weeks. But the back and forth about re-edits dragged on and on. My notes protesting the edits are dated 26th August. And the marketing agency and client weren’t happy to sign it off until well into September.

So Episode 2 wasn’t actually released on YouTube until 24th September.

Which brings us to the other important thing to know about this whole marketing strategy, which is that the pacing totally destroyed any momentum it might once have had.

Where exactly did this leave us? Well, we’d originally agreed to provide a minimum of 4 videos. So theoretically we were now at the midway point. But episode 2 had been an unhappy experience, and so we needed to regroup and think about how we could approach episode 3 in a way that felt fresh.

Casting an eye back over e-mails from 2010, two quotes leap out at me at this point. The first is from the marketing agency in relation to the demands placed on us regarding production/editing:

“We’re confident the exposure will help you get lots more commissions and exposure for the future and make all the late nights worth it.”

And the second gives you a flavour of the direction they were hoping to take the campaign in:

“We’re meeting Zoo magazine again for lunch on Friday and are trying to get them on board to do something big around the challenges in the coming weeks, so we’ll keep you posted on that.”

Join us next time to see how we hobbled on towards episode 3…

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  1. If you look very closely at 09:50-52, there is a small Hig cameo…!

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