The 2020 Comic Relief crossover between Fleabag and Normal People. That time Danny DeVito rocked up on Friends as a stripper. Nike x Kanye West “Red October” Air Yeezy trainers, available at the hilarious price of £12,000.
Now, bidding to join the rarefied ranks of those iconic collaborations, comes The Curse. The Channel 4 sitcom about an ill-fated gold bullion robbery merges the writing and acting talents of the teams behind BBC Three hits Murder in Successville and People Just Do Nothing. Between them, they have 10 hit series, two Baftas, one big-screen romp, one abortive American remake, a six-night UK tour (on now) and knocking on for a million-odd Instagram followers.
Luckily, this Eighties London-set crime caper isn’t a case of two plus two equals, er, one, wherein the action falls between stools and the “jokes” just fall flat. Instead, The Curse is daft wig-wearing funny, less Ocean’s 11 than “Puddle’s 4”, with the knockabout action relocated from the Las Vegas strip to an East End industrial estate. There is, too, a darker dramatic undercurrent, not to mention a smarter-than-usual Eighties soundtrack (Talking Heads, The Cure, The Jam).
The Kurupt FM gang’s all here (well, bar Asim Chaudhry, otherwise detained on Netflix’s Neil Gaiman adaptation, The Sandman). Allan “Seapa” Mustafa plays a skint cafe owner, Hugo Chegwin is a sharp-dressed, dim-witted, would-be gangster and Steve Stamp is a pleather jacket-wearing insecurity guard. He’s the heist’s inside man, while muscle is provided by their “ugly ape” pal from the pub, portrayed by Tom Davis, co-creator of Murder in Successville and more recently known for BBC One’s King Gary. His creative partner James De Frond directs The Curse.
“We met Tom about five years ago,” begins Mustafa. The last sighting of the People Just Do Nothing writer/actor, 36, as hapless MC Grindah was as he led the Kurupt crew on 2021’s big-screen adventure Big In Japan, an endpoint (for now) for characters who began on homemade YouTube videos in 2010 and ended up with a Las Vegas transplant (with other actors) that never got past pilot stage. “It was at some stupid telly event where we didn’t know anyone,” he continues. “But we started chatting, and Tom’s got a similar background to us: untrained, come-from-nowhere vibe,” he continues of the former scaffolder. “So we got on straight away and had the same sense of humour.”
As Mustafa tells it, talking on a shared Zoom alongside Stamp, Davis and De Frond subsequently mentioned an idea for a sitcom about a robbery. “And at the same time, Hugo had an idea for a gold heist. I thought I should get them to [join forces].”
“That’s not right,” Chegwin, 36, deadpans when he calls in from the Croydon set of Sneakerhead, a workplace sitcom he’s filming for comedy channel Dave with grime artist-turned-actor Big Zuu. “I had a s*** idea about an ex-con in witness protection. And Seapa said: ‘Maybe we could chat to James and Tom about it.’ So we did, and they had an amazing idea, so it was like: ‘Yeah, forget my one.’ But they were like: ‘Maybe we could develop this together.’ That’s where it came from. I can’t take any credit for the idea.”
For Stamp, who did much of the heavy lifting on People Just Do Nothing scriptwriting, notably for the film, it was a relief to abdicate some of that responsibility. “It was great, to be honest!” beams the 37-year-old. “It was so much easier to just be in the meetings and riff, rather than having to focus on writing down the best bits and trying to figure out [a story].
“It was a completely different set-up for us, in the sense of it was James heading [it up]. He was like the dad, reining it in when it needs to be reined in, and taking all the notes while we’re all chatting.”
Even on a Zoom and separate phone call, the three-way People Just Do Nothing bants fly thick and fast. Davis, speaking via another Zoom, admits that corralling their Kurupt-ing personalities was like herding cats. “That energy those guys have and what they bring to a show, their bedlam, is one thing. But actually, what they demand from a show was inspiring, man.”
I’m speaking to Davis the morning after the launch party for The Curse, at which, he’s pleased to report, he kept up the sobriety he’s maintained after a particularly boozy spell during last summer’s European Football Championships. That lifestyle change is of a piece with the work progression he wanted to achieve with this new show.
“I wanted to push myself to do something more,” he says. “[As with] the alcohol, everything is about growth as a human being. It’s always about how can you grow both professionally and personally. Murder in Successville we did for three years, and James and I were like, ‘let’s move on’. And then you’re doing Gary, but there’s a ceiling that you reach with a character like that.”
For the 42-year-old, all 6ft7in of him, the challenge was also to make his character in The Curse, an ex-boxer, more than a lovable goon. “It’s always easy when you’re a big guy to make them thick, tough or a hard man with nothing to them. So it’s about growing an empathetic nature [for] that sort of character. But it’s almost been a crux [sic] to bear-type thing. You’re always going to be singled out.”