Interview with Joe Thomas - What's In A Name?

We had a chat with Joe Thomas (best known for playing Simon in E4's  hit comedy the Inbetweeners)  in the lead up to his appearance in What's In A Name? as the UK tour  of the show opens with us from Thursday 5 - Saturday 14 September.


You’re most known for your roles on television! What have been your favourite on-screen role to date?

I suppose maybe the thing I really wished could have done more of was a little thing I did on Sky 1 which was a show called Chickens with my two friends from university – its brave of me to admit this as my favourite as it didn’t get recommissioned and wasn’t very wasn’t very successful, but I loved that one, possibly because I co-wrote it! I really admire writing and I’d like to be better at it and I always choose my acting roles based on the quality of the writing. So I chose Fresh Meat off the back of being a big Peep Show fan, as I adore the writing, and of course the writing of Inbetweeners – that goes without saying. Being able to co-write Chickens was an incredibly intense and very fun process. So that I would say was my personal favourite… though probably not many viewers’ favourite!

How does stage work differ to screen work?

They’re very different crafts! When I first started doing television I’d done a lot of student sketch comedy where you did an hour and you were on stage the whole time and you’re performing to a room – I was going to say a big room, but frankly it wasn’t a big room at all – I was projecting all the way to the back of quite a small room! I think when I first started doing television I was still quite big in that way and hadn’t really worked out where the audience was with television.  Obviously the audience is the camera lens, that is your audience.  So that’s odd, imagining the reactions of someone who’s not there. Sometimes there are actually a lot of people I the room when you’re shooting TV but they’re your crew, not your audience, but I find myself wanting to perform to them instinctively to get a bit of a live response.

Television is weird because your audience isn’t there and a lot of it is done is done on face for the actor as you have no feedback whatsoever.  I think television is maddening for that reason because you finish and you’re like was that good?! Was that good?! Please someone tell me if that was good! That’s one of the main things I felt doping television – constantly going for god’s sake, was that a ten out of ten or a one out of ten?! Whereas with theatre it’s an obvious point but you have that luxury of instant feedback. 

With television you can get away with being almost unfeasibly lazy about learning your lines. You know they’re going to cut away and edit the scene so frankly you don’t really know more than one line in a row! Perhaps I’ve been working with rather unprofessional actors – nearly all the all the TV actors I’ve worked with have been people trying to work out how they can wing it, basically! But obviously the temptation is there to be very lazy and then just occasionally turn it on and be totally brilliant. That’s not the case with theatre, obviously! You are out there and you are exposed for the entire time, and again very obviously but you just can’t do it again. Well, you can the next night of course, but that’s a bit late for the people who were there! I suppose that I love both equally when they’re good and done well, I’ve had amazing experiences watching and performing in both.  It sounds dreadfully prideful and narcissistic but I just want to be a part of these great things!

Tell us about your character in What’s in a Name?

I play Vincent and he’s actually quite different to the stuff I normally do, he’s much more sort of garrulous, confident sort of person I typically tend to play.  It’s really fun to do something where I’m winding people up rather than always being the character being wound up!  He’s basically a bit of a wrecking ball! He just comes into this dinner party and tries to provoke the people around him. And I think like all these character who constantly tell jokes and constantly just want to be silly, there’s this sort of vulnerable core.  I’m conscious that this is one of the greatest clichés you could go for when talking about a character – I’m aware I’m not the first person to discover that human beings are vulnerable at heart! But with Vincent there is genuinely a vulnerable core to him that he is trying to protect with all these jokes and his quite irritating recourse to humour again and again and again.    His humour is a way of building a wall so that core is never reached and nobody gets near it. But on this particular evening so many things emerge about these characters that he can’t avoid participating in this bearing of souls.

How are you enjoying the rehearsal process so far?

I’m very much enjoying the rehearsals so far – the cast is lovely. I like having just having time to rehearse, in TV you don’t get that, you just turn up and wait for the camera to swivel to you when it’s your turn.  I’m loving being in a group and working everything out together.  By the end of the day you’ve made progress. You arrive not knowing where you are with a scene and then the shape of it emerges as the day goes on.  The amount of humour we’re finding in the script if just great. It’s a very funny script to begin with but we’re finding so much more beyond the text, all these wonderful little moments. There are all sorts of hidden status games and I think a dinner party is quite a rich social environment – that’s quite a pretentious way of talking about dinner party but they’re so inherently comic.  I just love the feeling of it all coming together and the show improving.

Without giving too much away, what can audiences look forward to about the show?

We’ve all been to those kind of dinner parties that just kind of go into meltdown and you find yourself going back over the course of the evening thinking how did we get onto that and how did it end up getting t so heated? If you’ve ever been in a situation like that where at the beginning it feels safe and run of the mill and then by the end it’s become this incredibly heated, personal emotional storm of people – quite literally in some cases – flinging things at each other, with things being revealed that have been buried, then you’ll love this play! It’s very, very funny we definitely feel like we’re working with a hidden gem of a script.

It’s about family and a little bit about class and culture but in a light sense.  It’s mainly about the way that we speak to each other sand the way that we often appear to be speaking about quite grand issues, such as politics and the news and hypotheticals, but what we’re really doing is having a proxy war about our own sense of who we are and our own, pride, ego and vulnerability.   Ultimately it is a play about family and the way in which things are buried. I find it very relatable and I’m sure that many other people will too.

The humour is based largely around the arguments spiralling off the back off one another. Very near the start of the play is the central argument about the naming of the baby, but from that other arguments start because of how people conduct themselves in said arguments.  When you first see the tittle and hear about the opening joke, you think it’s going to be a play about shared culpability and morality and obviously there’s a good play to be written about all of this stuff, but this play shows that often these things are discussed in quite a facile way, and really what gets people upset is all this other stuff going on in their own lives. In the end the joke itself seems quite childish in the shadow of everyone’s dirty laundry.

To wrap things up – have you ever performed in Guildford before?

This isn’t particularly glamorous but I once performed with Footlights at RGS in Guildford with Simon Bird, who was in Inbetweeners with me and used to go there. I’m excited to perform in an actual theatre upon this next visit to Guildford – I’m clearly moving up in the world!



Read our interviews with Joe's fellow cast members Alex Gamond and Bo Poraj (Miranda).


Tickets for What's In A Name? are on sale now! Click here to find out more about more and book your tickets for this hilariously funny 90 minutes.