'Stormzy inspired me': Mo Gilligan, the selfie comic turned chatshow star

His viral videos earned him a sell-out tour and a new late night TV show – can the character comedian become the Instagram era’s Chris Evans?

Two years ago, Mo Gilligan was selling jeans in the Levi’s store in Covent Garden. This month, he’s fronting – as creator, writer and host – his own Friday night entertainment spectacular on Channel 4. There are meteoric rises, and then there’s Gilligan’s, which has propelled him from DIY comedy videos via a sell-out tour to the bright new hope of weekend TV in the time it takes to wear out the knees on a pair of 501s.

No effort is being made to conceal that The Lateish Show – the Gilligan vehicle in question – aspires to be a TFI Friday for the Snapchat generation. And you can see why the south Londoner might be just the man to host it. His fast-track success was triggered by a series of character-comedy shorts filmed in his bedroom and posted online. He made them before his retail shift started at 4pm, snuck into the workplace loo to upload them, then logged on after work to gauge the reaction.

He says one of his first videos – a rundown of “different types of grime MC” – got over a million views. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh’,” says the 31-year-old Gilligan. “That never happens!” His childhood heroes – Ian Wright, So Solid Crew – were suddenly his fans. Later videos found Gilligan in character as a mouthy white man forever requesting “a coupla cans” from his off-screen wife, Julie. The catchphrase was parroted by Canadian hip-hop megastar Drake, and Gilligan’s profile skyrocketed.

“I had no idea what would happen with [the videos],” says Gilligan now. “I just put up some silly films and hoped people would like them. And then it was like ‘oh my gosh – this is really happening!’” Prior to the videos, he was a performing arts graduate and part-time comic who gigged regularly if not lucratively, mapping a different route to the usual comics’ career path via the Edinburgh fringe. (“I couldn’t afford it. I was working in retail: I couldn’t get a month off.”) He also compered mixed-bill events at which pre-fame Stormzy and Ed Sheeran used to gig. “And when those people went on to huge success, it inspired me,” says Gilligan. Last year, he joined Stormzy as a brand ambassador for Adidas.

Soon, his standup gigs started selling out, prompting Gilligan to book his first UK tour. Its London dates sold out within two minutes. “And I was like, ‘It’s probably a glitch, or they only put 10 tickets on sale … ’” He kept adding dates; they kept selling out, with no promotion whatsoever. “And that’s when I realised,” he says: “this is bigger than I thought it was.”

I saw one of his 22 performances at Leicester Square theatre, where his ease and charisma marked him out as a likely star. The “coupla cans” alter ego was there, so too the grime MCs and a routine, derived from his videos, about different types of girls in nightclubs. This was comedy – from the nostalgic childhood stories to the feelgood jokes about male mating rituals – that (as per his ambition for The Lateish Show) “your little brother can watch and your nan can watch, and they both feel included.”

Mo Gilligan
‘The same characters, on a much bigger scale’ … Mo Gilligan. Photograph: Yoshitaka Kono/Channel 4

On the strength of his tour, Channel 4 invited Gilligan to co-host The Big Narstie Show with the eponymous grime and social media star and to develop his own TV vehicle. The Lateish Show has been over a year in utero, rather longer than it takes to post a video to Instagram. “If I had a show,” Gilligan had to ask himself, “what would I want it to be?” The answer closely resembles the network’s biggest ever Friday night hit, which Gilligan remembers watching – and loving – in its 1990s heyday. “TFI Friday was a show where, if you’re watching it at home, you want to be there. And that stuck with me. But how about that for the modern era, where you watch TV and tweet about it at the same time?”

Like its Chris Evans-hosted forebear, The Lateish Show promises games, music and celebs – including, in its opening episode, Steve Coogan. (Other confirmed guests include Jessie J, Lee Mack and People Just Do Nothing star Asim Chaudhry.) There’ll be Gilligan’s trademark character-comedy too: “But I did those videos on my iPhone in my bedroom. Now imagine,” he says, “the same kind of characters but on a much bigger scale … ”

A TV show is a different beast, he says: long-term fans need to brace for change. “There’s a new audience to entertain. I’ve got to branch out a little bit, guys. It can’t just be characters, characters, characters.” Instead, he promises a Graham Norton vibe. “I want funny anecdotes, people on a couch together – just TV where you watch it and think, ‘That was good, I enjoyed that.’”

You certainly wouldn’t bet against Gilligan succeeding – and neither would he. “I’ve taken a different route to get here, I’ve taken risks, and I’ve believed in my ability – and those have been the marks of my success, I think.” And as for his nerves as The Lateish Show’s launch night approaches? “There’s got to be nerves,” says Gilligan. “It’s a big deal. But nerves keep me sharp. Nerves are making me work harder than I’ve ever worked to make sure this succeeds.”


Brian Logan

The GuardianTramp

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