A lot of comedy is people acting stupidly. And, for years, this has caused a certain amount of internal conflict among critics. Because critics are in the business of being (or at least seeming) smart, they tend to have an inherent aversion to stupidity. The often low-brow nature of comedy has long cast the genre as a lesser art form. Usually, when critics do like a work of comedy, it is the kind of thing that can be coded as “smart,” either because it is focused on a particular social issue or includes some sharp political satire. But this is slowly changing. And one hilarious example of that change is Stath Lets Flats, the British sitcom about a family-owned leasing agency filled with the dumbest people. Created by and starring Jamie Demetriou, the series won three BAFTAs this past summer, beating out Fleabag, Catastrophe, and Derry Girls for Best Scripted Comedy. Soon after, the show’s two seasons premiered in the U.S. on HBO Max. Vulture TV critic Kathryn VanArendonk wrote of the show, “Stath Lets Flats Will Scratch That Office Itch Like Nothing Else.”
On Vulture’s Good One podcast, Demetriou talks about the origins of Stath, his very funny and talented sister Natasia Demetriou, and how his childhood influenced the creation of the show. You can read some excerpts from the transcript or listen to the full episode below. Tune in to Good One every Tuesday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.
On the Origin of Stath
I think the origin was just the voice. Before I got the commission, I had been doing live stuff for four or five years. In that time, I’d tried to just work out what voices I can do that have whole lives behind them and aren’t just sketch characters. Growing up, meeting loads of Greek people and sort of living in a community full of mixed Euro-English accents, and being around a lot of thick people — including myself — feeling stupid. This one felt like I’d know what the character would say in any given scenario. And I’d do it under various banners — like a guy who owns a kebab shop, a schoolboy, a guy on the phone.
Then I got offered these three online shorts off the back of writing some sketches on spec for a sketch show on Channel 4. We felt like a letting agency was a great backdrop for this kind of five-minute short, because the whole short was effectively going to be me showing someone around the property. We felt like it was a really funny job, because ultimately the thing that’s going to stop you from renting or taking a property is the guy in there smashing stuff and accidentally pointing out bad things. Like, they’re better off waiting outside. The number of properties that I’ve tried to rent (and I’ve really liked!), but I’ve been like, Ugh, I’m gonna have to hang out with this guy for as long as I’m living there or contact him if I need anything, so I’m out of the picture. We thought that was quite funny. Kind of an oxymoron, I suppose.
On Stath’s Favorite Movie
I actually do know the answer to that question, and it’s Sweeney Todd. And I think it’s because it’s one of 20 films he’s seen. I think he probably sees himself as someone who’s obsessed with films, but he’s accidentally just watched the same ones over and over again. He comes from one of those households where there are like four movies on the shelf and they’re like his movies. And it’s like, Those are the ones that I watch, because I have them.
I’ve always said that I don’t necessarily feel stereotypically Greek. Growing up, I didn’t relate so much to the Greek side of my family. I love them, but I definitely felt different. I mean, my mum’s English, so that’s probably a big part of it. And we didn’t really interact a huge amount with them, as much as I would have liked. But I’ve always felt like one of the two big pillars of Greekness in me is that I remember being broody really young. I see a kinship in that with other Greek guys my age that I find so funny. Like hearing a guy who is simultaneously planning a kind of robbery, in some instances, being like, “I tell you what, when my daughter’s born, the way in which I’m going to love her will transcend any love I’ve felt in my life.” I was like, I really can’t think of many shows where that’s been the case. It felt like such an easy goal to be like, Oh, that’s how to make him likable. Make him be really excited about that, and fill him with love, for that.
There is a duality with Stath, which is that he probably wishes he was an English gentleman deep down — but he is simultaneously really proud of being Greek. I don’t think he knows what either of those identities mean. I think, growing up, I struggled a lot with that not knowing. I could see that there was loads of funny Euro stuff; like I’d go to Cyprus and you’d watch a sitcom and it would just be like a guy falling over a thousand times in half an hour. I remember seeing a prank show over there that was just canned laughter without pause — just canned laughter from beginning to end. This was the prank: There’s a guy walking down the street holding three big boxes, struggling to carry them, and, like, [impersonates weird corny music] playing over the top. You’ve got the laughter going, and they’re catching people’s eyes as they pass him. But they’re nonplused, like they don’t care. They don’t care that he’s doing it. It was just so lacking in quality. I remember watching a sitcom where instead of windows in the studio, they had glossy posters of windows.
So I was very aware of all that stuff and found it really funny. But then I sort of struggled with this idea of like, But how am I connected to that, if I find it so funny? I think, as I’ve grown up, I just love it. I love that it’s so throwaway, and I love that it’s like I don’t give a shit about this TV program. I want to go and have some delicious dinner and talk to my family.
On His Sister, Natasia Demetriou, Being His Biggest Comedy Influence
I often felt like my favorite comedian was living in our house growing up — like there’s a great gig going on down the hallway. Oh, man. She was a teenager, and I was three years younger than her. I wanted so much for her to just make me laugh all the time. My favorite game would be to take my class photo from school and get her to do impressions of how all the people in the photo sounded to her, just from looking at them. I think [through] that things like that, I developed a real love of working out in what way everybody is stupid. She’s also really good at taking the piss out of herself and calling herself out. That’s the biggest competition with us: Who can call themself out doing the dumbest kind of thing? Who can be the most confident in their own stupidity? And I think, inevitably, yes: It must be led by her.
On His Childhood Being Too Stupid to Be Believable
Talking about these characters not being able to cope in the real world, I think that my dad kind of laid the foundation for me, believing that they could. The material that came out of him growing up, 99.9 percent of it is stuff that would get cut in note stages because they wanted the show to feel like it could exist in this universe. It was always, always, always the true stories that got cut quickest because they just felt unfathomable.
I remember him, growing up, being on the phone to his bank and going, “Excuse me, every time I put my card in the machine to get the cash out, it doesn’t come out.” And they’d be like, “Did you press your PIN code?” And he’d be like, “Yeah, I press the numbers, yeah yeah yeah.” And they’d be like, “Okay, do you know what your PIN code is?” And he went, “Yes, the numbers.” And they were like, “Which numbers?” And he was like, “Whichever ones I press!” He thought that it was just like: Put the card in, have a bit of fun with the numbers, and the cash will come back. Things like this would happen constantly. The amount of times I would see something insane happening in the street, and I’d get closer to it, and it would turn out to be my dad … Like a guy walking down the street, holding a tree, and I’d be like, Oh my god, there’s a guy over there holding a tree. Oh my God, he’s the reason I’m alive.
More From This Series
- Are Bachelorette Parties at Comedy Shows Actually … Good?
- Do We Really Need Documentaries About ‘Women in Comedy’?
- Margaret Cho Is Proud of All Her Children