Hot property: Jamie Demetriou on the rise of Stath Lets Flats

In the first of a series exploring the stage origins of hit comedies, the actor-writer remembers creating the delusional letting agent at Bristol University

“For a lot of series one, I don’t like Stath as a character,” says Jamie Demetriou, the comedian, actor and writer behind triple Bafta-winning sitcom Stath Lets Flats. “His behaviour is terrible. Even with a character you dislike, you should sympathise. I had to remember what I’d learned on stage – when characters exuded hope or delusional self-belief, the audience were endeared to them.”

When we speak, Demetriou is in LA filming The Afterparty, a new show with Tiffany Haddish. It all sounds far from the basements and pubs of UK live comedy, but that’s where Demetriou started out and where the character of chaotic Greek-Cypriot letting agent Stath, who is set to return in a third series for Channel 4, first began to take shape.

Demetriou grew up in London and had never performed comedy before attending Bristol University. But his appearances in student plays earned an invite into the Bristol Revunions – a student sketch troupe taking a show to the Edinburgh festival fringe. He’d never heard of the fringe or seen a live sketch show, yet proved a natural – not just at performing, but at writing sketches, too. This was “a glorious revelation … I remember thinking I knew where I wanted to go for the first time,” Demetriou says.

Ellie White, the comedian and actor who plays love interest Katia in Stath Lets Flats, got to know Demetriou in the Bristol Revunions (alongside Charlotte Ritchie, Feel Good writer Joe Hampson and others). “Jamie wrote most of the show,” she says, including “incredible musical numbers” (a favourite saw the pair playing parody Disney characters whose song falls apart when it becomes clear they don’t know the words) and original characters.

Ellie White and Jamie Demetriou with the Bristol Revunions.
Ellie White and Jamie Demetriou with the Bristol Revunions. Photograph: Jamie Demetriou

Many involved characters failing at something – a trademark of Stath, who serially fails to let out any flats. “I definitely did a version of Stath,” Demetriou says. “I learned that characters are funniest when they don’t really know what they’re doing.”

Crucially, it offered space to experiment. “That’s the beauty of student comedy: you can get all your grotesque, rubbish little ideas on stage. By the time you’ve left uni, you’ve got that out of your system and learned a bit.”

In the summer of 2012, Demetriou had a choice: attend an interview for a BBC traineeship or fill an hour at the fringe with only 15 minutes of material: “I shut my eyes and decided to go to the fringe.”

He invited performers including White to open, naming the show People Day (and Special Guests). “At the beginning of the month, he had one character and three people in the audience. By the end, he’s got this big following,” White says.

That first character was Big D, a shoddy rapper who’s confused to find himself playing a comedy show. Demetriou swiftly created companions: “I’d spend all night talking to myself in different character voices, then pick up a wig on the way to the show. That ended up being an amazing baptism of fire.”

The experience honed his character creation: “I start with a trait that’s difficult, but endearing, that I’ve seen enough times that people watching think: ‘I’ve met that guy’.” (With people-watching so important to his work, Demetriou admits that the pandemic has made writing series three of Stath challenging.)

Demetriou performing on stage.
Demetriou performing on stage. Photograph: Jamie Demetriou

He tries to avoid cliches, looking to portray interesting “friction” instead. “Stath is pure friction because he’s a clash of cultures – a wide boy who desperately wants to be a dad and is insanely loving. Emotional behaviour juxtaposed with masculine bravado, done well, is a treat.”

On stage, Demetriou also perfected characters’ physical quirks: “All the tics, tricks and comedic devices I use in my performance on TV, I generated on stage. Your muscle memory kicks in and your body does a thing that you remember an audience laughing at.”

Stath’s known for his clumsiness (breaking co-worker Al’s nose via a hectic gesture, trashing rooms while chasing a pigeon), and his unique style of speech (“oh my crump”, “the early worm catches the dirt”, “bit of a twisty pickle”). This “blend of attempted archaic English” was also teased out via live performances.

Stath attained full form with a Channel 4 short released in 2013. Soon a series was commissioned. At points, second-guessing what TV audiences might want, Demetriou had to remind himself of lessons learned while writing Edinburgh shows: “I would never have been able to write a sitcom without trusting my instincts. With the transition between live and TV, you come full circle to what you found funny in the first place.”

Stath Lets Flats features, alongside White, performers whose live work Demetriou admired – his sister Natasia, Katy Wix, Nick Mohammed, members of Cardinal Burns and Sheeps. “My obsession with Al Roberts and Stath’s obsession with Al Roberts are very close,” he says. “I feel incredibly lucky to have been in this generation of comedians.”

Demetriou has always suffered pre-show anxiety (“Me and Jamie would get very nervous before we went on stage and had no sense of humour about it,” White says. “We would sit there shaking.”) Yet, while “there’s no worse feeling than just before I’m about to go on stage, there’s no better one than leaving stage happy,” he says.

Pre-pandemic, Demetriou still performed semi-regularly at Knock2Bag comedy nights at Moth Club in east London. Many favourite on-stage memories were made here: “There’s a song I do, a ballad to sex, but from someone who clearly doesn’t know what sex is. I asked if there were any couples that felt like coming on stage and making out while I sang. I didn’t expect anyone to say yes. Two hands went up – they got off with each other for the whole song. People were on their feet in the crowd, the atmosphere felt like I’d just started a sex rave.

“It felt like something that could only exist on a night where the audience and performers are entwined.”


Rachael Healy

The GuardianTramp

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