Totally Trented is a bizarre prank show with no reveal, a sublimely ridiculous hidden camera show were the cameras aren’t well hidden, the magic tricks don’t work and most people just look confused. It’s a glorious display of idiocy, banal “pranks” performed with a ludicrous earnestness. And I mean all these things as a compliment. It’s utterly silly and wonderful, the sort of thing that makes you abruptly snort coffee all over your computer screen of a morning.
The web series is produced by Turtle Canyon Comedy – a production company, co-founded by Stuart Laws, that also produces the adorably odd Sweet Home Ketteringa with James Acaster and The Helm & Taylor Show starring BBC3 sweetheart Nick Helm and personal favourite of this blog Paul F Taylor.
Star of Totally Trented, David Trent, also performs stand up, and he’s pretty darn good at that too. Bold, loud and frantically sincere, Trent uses a projector screen to create an incredibly niche style of observational comedy, deconstructing the dark corners of the internet. Accessible, and yet unapologetically off the wall, his performance is a photoshopped, youtube clip ridden ball of rock and roll energy. If you like to measure things through tangible nonsense like awards, he was nominated for Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards in 2012. He talked to us about observational comedy, being deliberately repulsive and anti-social behaviour…
How would you describe what you do?
I tell jokes.
Would you consider what you do to be observational?
Yes, of course it is. The whole idea of [using the projector] is that you don’t have to spend half an hour setting stuff up. You can talk about really specific things that people have done without having to describe them. So for example, the thing were I use Future, the rapper, I’d never be able to do that in normal stand up [without the projector as an aid]. But it is just generally observational comedy. I used to use more of the formulas – “this is like this, and this is like this”. I don’t think I do that as much as I did. All comedy is observational – what people call observational comedy is using Jerry Seinfield’s voice – and that’s all it is, it’s just a voice. If you read Stewart Lee’s book, that’s all observational comedy, it just uses different language. Some people can be bothered to write a set in their own voice and their own language, and some people just say things like “I really love it when this happens”, when they don’t mean that. It’s just the method of precision you use when trying to articulate to the audience. [The projector] allows me to articulate things without having to explain them.
Do you have a character when you’re on stage? How is he different from you?
That is me – people don’t like watching telly with me because I’ll do that [commentating along] – and it’s not very funny in real life! Most people are delighted with it for five minutes, and after about an hour of it they’re like, “Stop now, we’re never going to watch telly with you or go to the cinema with you or walk anywhere with you again.” So it is me, but very much unleashed. It’s an exaggeration, just like everyone says. It’s louder, it’s shout-ier. I’m trying to work on that because I think it can be a bit grating, just in one note. I’m allowed to be as angry as I like – but I find that quite reductive, because when you read that a comedian’s angry, you think “that’s the last thing I want in comedy, I want him to be funny”. Often new material just comes out angry and not funny, and it’s really important to be funny.
Let’s talk a bit about Totally Trented. How did you get involved with Turtle Canyon?
I wanted to use a green screen. So I rang Stu [Stuart Laws], and asked him lots of technical questions until he said to me, do you just want to use our green screen? I said I couldn’t afford to pay for it, and he said make something for our channel. We were texting each other about the idea of stealing James Acaster’s drum kit and putting it in a charity shop window – Stu would walk past and James would be getting increasingly annoyed, and I would come running out of the back playing Purple Haze and we’d shout “You’ve Been Trented!” at him. So when he said he wanted me to make something I said, let’s do that. Also, I’d just seen that David Blane Christmas special where he sticks a needle through his arm, and does that thing with spitting loads and loads of water – and I thought that was just physically repulsive and really really stupid. I thought, I’d like to do something like that. Every single magic trick that I do on that show involves me eating something and showing people my mouth – Blane does a lot of that and I think it’s the funniest thing ever.
Has anyone on Totally Trented ever reacted badly to the “prank”?
I got accosted by one guy in Series 1, Episode 1. He was just a bit on edge, I think he grabbed me by the arm and starting yelling at the runner for about half an hour about how he was a professional and how he’d been working at Pinewood for a long time. He didn’t like it, but he told us to keep on. We’ve never had anyone really that violent… the problem with it is that there’s no reveal – people can’t understand what’s just gone on. With Candid Camera or Dom Joly, they can have a little bit of a laugh, [with Totally Trented] there’s no reveal. They’ll never watch it online – you’ve just acted like a wally in front of all these people. So people get upset. There was one where I threw a bottle of water on the floor, and it turned red – through my magic. One time I did it in front of three old ladies and they all got really furious – outraged that I’d thrown a bottle on the floor – even though I had a crew of people around to pick it up afterwards. “You can’t throw that on the floor, pick it up!” It was the littering they hated. People don’t like anti-social behaviour.
We caught this interview with David Trent after his gig at Trapdoor Comedy – a Manchester gang of comedy nights that we can highly recommend for new alternative vibes and strong line ups. Their next night is Andrew O’Neill at Joshua Brooks on Fri 1st May, followed by Silky supported by Katie Mulgrew and Tony Basnett at The Griffin, Stockport on Wed 13th May. All tickets and further information can be found here: www.trapdoorcomedy.com
As for Trent himself, catch him and his massive bag of projector equipment on Sun 24th May at The Wardrobe, Leeds in a double bill with the wondrous Gein’s Family Giftshop. Tickets and information here.
Featured image credit: Idil Sukan / Draw HQ
With thanks to Turtle Canyon Media.