“My focus is exclusively on making something that feels funny”
Jamie Demetriou says that when he was young, he was a rubbish actor. In his teens, he auditioned for “every drama school” two years in a row and never got a single callback. “I thought it was what I wanted to do, because I didn’t really know what options there were,” he tells NME.
With Demetriou now the award-winning creator, writer and star of an internationally acclaimed sitcom, it is hard to believe that those who turned him down don’t feel foolish for letting him slip through their grasp.
But it would be disingenuous to say that Stath Lets Flats, Demetriou’s baby, was ever an obvious hit. The Channel 4 show about an idiotic lettings agent, which Demetriou first began working on in 2013, is a phenomenon that floats around in a category almost entirely of its own. With a few exceptions, its characters speak in a gorgeously strange type of English, full of deliciously deranged expressions (“Be soft as you come through the door”) and utter gibberish (“I’d rather take red metal”). Lord of the gibberish is Stath.
Now 33, Demetriou embodies Stath – a Greek-Cypriot lettings agent who works for his father’s London family business, Michael and Eagle Lettings – with a virtuosic, Gervaisian authenticity. In fact, so pervasive was The Office‘s influence on Demetriou that he didn’t appreciate the tally of similarities until the end of the first season.
The world through Stath’s eyes is a confusing, chaotic one, and things are always going wrong for him. This is principally because he is exceptionally thick (his attempt to shoo a pigeon out of a flat sees him destroy three televisions; he sets fire to a garden). Many of the people around him also seem to have been hit on the head with something heavy: his sister Sophie, played by real-life sister Natasia, essentially exists in a dream land; as does their father Vasos (Christos Stergioglou) and Sophie’s friend, Katia (Ellie White).
Though the episodes pursue plots in a comparable way to other sitcoms, the humour feels more sketch-like and more concerned with prioritising the comedy than the story. The stakes never feel particularly high because the characters’ priorities are so at odds with the real world. “My focus is exclusively on making something that feels funny,” says Demetriou. “That’s all it is, the whole time.” At the end of season two, however, Demetriou wrote in a bombshell: Stath learned that the baby his colleague Carole was carrying was in fact his.
So, does season three, which begins tonight (October 26), see this slapstick character become something approaching a normal person? It may, Demetriou says. The main character having a baby immediately asks any audience members who have had children to compare their experience with his – suddenly Stath may evoke empathy as well as laughter, and feel a little more three-dimensional. “But,” says Demetriou, “I think as a character it’s important that he stays thick.”
Stath’s perception of imminent fatherhood is as warped as everything else, thinks his creator: “I think that he envisions that the delight at being a dad is going to be fairly consistent; he imagines he’s going to punch his fist in the air and never take it down.” But soon the gravity of someone as stupid as him becoming a dad will become apparent to him.
The writing for season three was tricky, says Demetriou – not just because of COVID. It was also difficult to explore this new layer of the protagonist because the new character, the baby, is incapable of contributing any dialogue, and also because Stath’s level of incompetence can’t remain consistent if he wants the baby to stay alive for longer than four days. Season three, it would therefore seem, is likely to see something that traditional sitcoms used to eschew but modern sitcoms embrace with open arms: character evolution. Stath at the end of season three is unlikely to be the Stath we met at the start of season one.
Demetriou seems to have known that he wanted to perform since he was a boy. Between the age of six and 20 he was a member of the north London theatre company Chickenshed. He and Natasia have shared a comic shorthand for so long that casting her in Stath Lets Flats was a no-brainer. If he ever needs to explain how a line should be delivered, he can tell Natasia it should sound like a specific cousin of theirs, for example, and she will immediately understand.
Knowing he was interested in acting, Demetriou auditioned for the aforementioned drama schools. It was a world in which he felt like an outsider. He didn’t know any plays, but was expected to recite a contemporary and a classical monologue each time. It took him a while to realise that he wasn’t invested in that type of performance. When he auditioned for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama he had prepared his two monologues, but he didn’t realise that Guildhall wanted two contemporary, not one. He left the building, assuming he was a lost cause. Then he turned back. He made up a playwright who had the name of a friend of his, and auditioned with a story that friend had told him about a mate who had hidden something up his nose that had been hidden up his bum. In retrospect, perhaps it’s not a shock that he was unsuccessful.
When Demetriou went to study at Bristol, however, he dove headlong into comedy, taking a student sketch show to the Edinburgh Fringe. He realised that he loved it, though live performance still terrifies him. “I know that I need to do it,” he says. “I think it’s important for me to face that demon as often as possible.” Natasia, who had just finished university, visited him with her sketch group Oyster Eyes and fell in comedy love with Ellie White, whom Demetriou knew at Bristol. Demetriou realised that he had been accidentally immersed in the world of comedy all his life, and that it was an area he didn’t have to pretend to love. If you are passionate about your career, he says, it’s a “rocky road”, but he believes that it feels easier not forcing yourself to be enthusiastic about something.
Demetriou then began to find his comedy voice and it became apparent that, above all else, he excelled in creating his own characters as Steve Coogan had before him (like Coogan, his prowess has led numerous casting directors to invite him to perform in other films opposite actors like Johnny Depp, Will Ferrell and Tiffany Haddish). What has become particularly apparent is that Demetriou has the ability to write phenomenally funny dialogue – a “senseless” style he now struggles to escape.
He thinks that the Stath Lets Flats dialogue is arguably the most naturalistic quality of the show. “Most of the characters are on the defensive,” he says, “and as a result are in a perpetual state of trying to disprove something about themselves, and therefore never focusing on the conversation at hand.”
We may see these characters and their bizarre expressions for even more action still: though Demetriou is increasingly busy with other projects across the pond, he doesn’t discount a fourth season of Stath Lets Flats.
“I just take it a series at a time,” he says, sounding legitimately overwhelmed. Can we assume that all of the characters don’t die at the end of season three, then? “Most of them do,” he says. “You’ll have to guess who survives.”
Stath Lets Flats season three begins on Channel 4 today (October 26) at 10:15pm, and all episodes will be available on All 4.