‘Phoebe Waller-Bridge just asked me to write her a play’: Big Boys creator Jack Rooke on going stratospheric
In a nondescript grey property in Watford, Jack Rooke informs me that the room he just left is “stocked with double-ended dildos”. It could be a jest, but considering that the comedian and television writer has previously transformed a sexual encounter into a daydream about a discounted meal at Tesco and written about someone defecating in their bed, it seems plausible that a prop room filled with sex toys is not out of the ordinary.
He is currently shooting the second season of his comedic show, Big Boys, which is based on his own experiences growing up. The show centers around Jack, who is gay, and his best friend Danny, who is straight. The blue shed where the characters live is an actual blue shed that the creator, Rooke, lived in after finishing university. Rooke is happy to have his hometown represented in the show and notes that sitcoms often do well outside of major cities, using The Office as an example.
The uninviting group may not immediately invoke creativity, but after spending some time with the ensemble, it becomes evident that they possess enough warmth and humor to create magic in any setting. Camille Coduri, who portrays Jack’s mother Peggy and acts as a mother figure to Danny, describes the cast as a close-knit family. She showers Pointing with affection and takes a break for a friendly chat during lunch. The bond between them is so genuine that Coduri even offered to let Llewellyn stay at her own son’s house during their visit to the LGBTQ+ festival Mighty Hoopla, where they introduced Kelly Rowland on stage. “He’s such a nerd, isn’t he?” she fondly remarks. “I have a lot of love for all of them.”
This charming group has captured the hearts of many fans and received Bafta nominations, as well as winning best sitcom at the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain awards. It is based on Rooke’s performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and his book “Cheer the Fuck Up,” and follows Jack’s journey of grieving his father, coming out to his mother, attending university, and forming an unexpected friendship with Danny, a typical “lads’ lad” who struggles with depression and being estranged from his family. In real life, Rooke’s best friend took his own life. However, in the first season finale, a heartfelt letter from Jack helps Danny come to terms with his struggles and decide to accept help and spend the summer with Jack’s family. Rooke explains, “I wrote Big Boys for those who have thought ‘I wish I had said that at the time.’ It’s me reflecting in hindsight.”
If this sounds heavy, that’s because at times it is – and how refreshing to see men’s mental health explored so freely. But for every weepy moment, there’s a raucous gag to make you spit out your tea (like the moment a student union rep confuses ISIS with ASOS). It’s also loaded with fun 00s pop culture references – a love letter to a time when Alison Hammond did Strictly, Holly and Phil ruled daytime TV and the “Live, Laugh, Love” sign was everywhere.
The second season continues immediately after the first one ended. Danny and Peggy have spent the entire summer smoking marijuana together, while Jack is determined to embrace his newfound identity as a gay man. Despite coming out, Jack is still struggling with his sex life and vents his frustrations after getting hit in the eye with a DJ’s penis in a bathroom. Danny, on the other hand, wants to be with his on-again, off-again love interest Corrine (played by Scottish Bafta-winner Izuka Hoyle), but also finds himself drawn to other sexual experiences now that he has regained his ability to get an erection. Unable to find a new place to live, they end up back in the small blue shed, preparing for another tumultuous year at university.
When I reunite with my friends a few weeks before the show premieres, there are no signs of nerves about our second album. “Phoebe Waller-Bridge and I have been exchanging texts,” says Rooke nonchalantly, followed by a laugh of disbelief. “She asked me to write a play for her.” Waller-Bridge is not the only famous supporter. Russell T Davies was so impressed that he reached out to Rooke and spoke with him over FaceTime to review his contract. “He’s incredibly kind and generous.” Richard Curtis also invited him to dinner to seek his help with a project, while Lisa McGee, the creator of Derry Girls, has become a mentor to him. Rebecca Lucy Taylor, the singer of Self Esteem, is also a great friend who gave him this advice: “You need to stop dismissing your success. You won an award!” But the ultimate personal hero? “When Kathy Burke tweeted about the show, I took the day off.”
Llewellyn previously experienced a taste of this type of success following his breakthrough role as James in Derry Girls. At the Baftas last year, he reached a new level of fame when he had to decide which table to sit at for his two nominated shows (he ultimately chose Derry Girls, who won, but joined the more well-known group for dessert). He admits, “Sometimes I forget that I am an actor,” in his modest manner. “When someone stares at me, I wonder ‘What are you looking at?’ It can be unsettling.” However, the ultimate moment of realization came when Big Boys was featured on the Gogglebox Pride special: “Seeing Rylan and H from Steps react to Jack’s coming out scene and how much it meant to them was truly beautiful.”
Llewellyn initially met Rooke through their mutual friend, Nicola Coughlan, after attending his comedy show. How did it feel when he later auditioned to play Rooke’s friend? According to Llewellyn, Rooke is a charismatic and lively person. Despite their shared curly hair, Llewellyn’s portrayal of Jack is a younger version who is still trying to find himself and gain confidence. There is a clear mutual admiration between the two, with Rooke acknowledging Llewellyn as the hardest working person due to his dyslexia, which requires more time with the scripts. Llewellyn admits that it can be challenging when there are last-minute script changes before filming, but the set is always a safe and supportive environment where everyone looks out for each other.
Pointing and Rooke first crossed paths as comedians on the comedy circuit about seven years ago, and they quickly hit it off while grabbing kebabs. Pointing recalls feeling a strong connection with Rooke, as if they had found a sense of home in each other. They wasted no time discussing the potential for Rooke’s series. Pointing admits that he has been approached by many other performers and writers with show ideas while under the influence, but Rooke saw something special in him and recognized him as the perfect “straight mate.”
Playing Danny has brought great success to Pointing’s career in the past two years. His character’s mix of dry humor and charming personality has even caused an interviewer to laugh for five minutes after a sarcastic comment about the lack of representation for straight men. Pointing recently starred in a BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s works and won hearts as a single father searching for love in Sky Comedy’s modern romantic comedy, Smothered. He and Llewellyn are at risk of being pigeonholed as kind and lovable guys. However, when asked if they would ever consider playing a villain, Pointing eagerly responds with a “yes!” He used to portray unpleasant characters in his comedy, but would feel guilty for ruining the audience’s evening. Llewellyn, on the other hand, would love to take on more mature roles and surprise people with his range as an actor. What he desires most, though, is to collaborate with McGee again on a heartfelt romantic comedy.
Besides these successes, the most significant impact on the boys has been the welcoming response from both the LGBTQ+ community and heterosexual men who have found something positive in the show. Rooke expresses that the most meaningful aspect is when someone shares, “My husband, who is a builder, loves Danny!” This serves as a defiance to those who rejected Big Boys because they questioned whether a gay man could have a straight best friend. Pointing notes that despite the increasing visibility of men’s mental health in advertisements and public spaces, many still struggle to articulate their feelings. Perhaps the show can aid in this aspect.
What about a third season? Everyone is excited, especially Rooke who confesses to being obsessed with the ratings. He aspires for a similar success as “Gavin and Stacey” and dreams of a wide audience. However, now that he has turned 30, he also admits to overusing this story. His new goal is to write characters based on the working-class women in his life. He has great admiration for his mother who always believed in him, but also prepared him for potential failure in a predominantly middle-class industry. The most rewarding part of his success is being able to buy her a fridge, as she proudly displays his Bafta-nominated posters at home.
The only downside to this second season is that Alison Hammond, the namesake of Jack’s goldfish, has not made an appearance. Rooke observes, “I doubt she would appreciate it. It would be strange being portrayed as a fish in a sitcom.”
The second season of Big Boys will premiere on Channel 4 on January 14th.
Come join Jack Rooke and the Big Boys cast on January 15th for a Guardian Live event streamed live, where they will discuss the show. Tickets can be purchased at the link provided.