An Evening of Eric and Ern bring the sunshine to this years @BathComedyFest
Jonty Stephens as Eric and Ian Ashpitel as Ernie capture the brilliance of Morecambe and Wise in their fantastic homage to Britains best loved comedy duo.
Ahead of their Bath Forum show, as part of this years Bath Comedy Festival, the pair chat to us about the inspiration behind the show, how they met and how the show has impacted on their lives.
What made you want to do a show that uses Morecambe and Wise as the inspiration?
Jonty (Eric): To be honest it all came about through other people seeing what we had from a five minute sketch and saying ‘you should do something with this’.
Ian (Ernie): It’s only when we sat down and talked about it that we decided that if we were going to do something, it had to be a play that looked at the relationship between Eric and Ern.
Jonty: It was a real voyage of discovery for both of us. I was a massive Morecambe and Wise fan and had seen and read just about everything they’d ever done or had been written about them.
Ian: Yes, it was Jonty’s brilliant impression of Eric and his knowledge of Morecambe and Wise that laid the foundation to everything that followed really.
How did you both meet and how did the pairing for this show happen?
Ian: We first met at Drama school in 1983 – I was a mature student…..
Jonty: And I was an immature student.
Ian: Despite Jonty being two years ahead of me and me being a lowly first year we became the best of friends and have remained so ever since.
Jonty: The pairing happened for that fi ve minute sketch which we performed at the host club for the Stage Golfing Society, of which we are both members. Some fool asked me to do Eric for the show and I said “yes, but I’ll need a Little Ern, I looked across the bar and there was Ian with his hair and short fat hairy legs”
Ian: Then six years later they asked us to do it again, but this time we wrote some material in the style of M and W and It went down so well we realised two things – People believed were good enough to portray them and that perhaps we could write something about them as well.
What can you tell us about your show An Evening With Eric and Ern?
Jonty: It’s a real celebration of the comedy of Morecambe and Wise. You’ll see some of their most loved sketches along with some you may not be so familiar with.
Ian: Plus some new material by us in the style of Eric & Ern. We also have the brilliant singer Becky Neale with us. We gently rib her as Eric and Ernie would….. plus a few surprises.
Jonty: It’s real family entertainment, with good old fashioned belly laughs at the silliness and brilliance of Eric and Ern – as it was with all the M and W shows. We love it when there are children in the audience laughing along with their Mums and Dads.
Ian: Of course they’re seeing this comedy for the fi rst time and love it as much as we did when we were kids. I’ve no idea why the parents are laughing ‘cos they have seen some of it before!
What makes Morecambe and Wise so special?
Jonty: I think the fact that they were so close, performing together from the age of 13. They honed their skills for over 20 years before they really made it big in their 40’s. That friendship and closeness gave them their unique talent.
Ian: It was also their relationship off and on stage which gave them their huge success. They were so funny together, they trusted each other. There’s a chemistry between them that you can’t fake. It has to be real, otherwise the audience can see if it isn’t.
What did their humour and comedy shows have that you think is missing in comedy these days?
Jonty: They were just so funny, the years together. The runnings gags, Ernie’s wig, Eric’s glasses. Their roots in variety with song and dance. The innocence of their comedy.
Ian: They had such broad appeal. Mums, Dads, Children and grandparents – three generations laughing at the same comedy. Written of course by the late great Eddie Braben. There is nothing like it on TV today – and I’m not sure there ever will be again.
How does it feel for you to be able to give people a taste of such amazing comedy from such great legends?
Jonty: It’s a huge honour to portray them and shine a light on their huge talent. We take it very seriously and feel a huge responsibility to represent M&W in the right way.
Ian: You know, going to the theatre its a two way street. The performer gives out all they can and sometimes it doesn’t come back. In this show we literally bask in the love and affection coming back from the audience. It’s amazing.
What do Eric and Ernie’s families think of your show and what impact has that had on you?
Jonty: We have been very lucky to have had amazing support from the Morecambe family and the estate of Ernie. We treasure our relationship with them. We always try and run everything buy them before we do anything as Eric and Ernie. It’s vitally important that the families are happy with what we are doing and how we are portraying the boys.
Ian: Yes, to have there ‘approval’ is paramount and it’s a question we are often asked and to be able to say we have that nod makes us feel more secure in what we are trying to do.
What type of audiences do you get for An Evening With Eric and Ern?
Jonty: What’s been great is that we obviously get the die hard Morecambe and Wise fans who we love because they get everything – and sometimes join in.
Ian: But also we are also getting young people who maybe didn’t know Eric and Ernie initially and are brought along by parents and find they are loving the comedy just a much. Then they go home and look them up and start watching them online at home.
What are you most looking forward to about taking this show on UK tour?
Ian: Sharing the genius and wonderful comedy of Eric and Ern up and down the country. Taking them to a world of sunshine and laughter…..
Jonty: Where there is no mention of Brexit and that other fella – Donald something or other.
Jonty: That’s the one
An Evening of Eric and Ern at The Forum, Bath on Thursday 4th April is part of the Bath Comedy Festival.