Ted Lasso’s Nick Mohammed: ‘I didn’t think about comedy seriously until doing a PhD in seismology’

The character comedian and TV star on meeting angry fans, his first UK tour as megalomaniac magician Mr Swallow and taking inspiration from Torvill and Dean

Who did you look up to when you were starting out?
French and Saunders were probably the most inspirational. I used to watch a lot of older stuff too like Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em and Fawlty Towers. But it wasn’t just comedy. I found Torvill and Dean hugely inspiring purely in terms of sheer dedication to their craft. I feel similarly about Derren Brown – people who just completely own their areas.

Why did you decide to go into comedy?
I’m not sure it was ever a decision, in that there was never any guarantee it would all work out – and in many ways that’s still true today. I used to perform magic a lot when I was younger and so I knew I liked entertaining people and it was something I wanted to do for a living. But it wasn’t until I started doing a PhD in seismology that I started thinking seriously about doing comedy for a living. I wouldn’t advise anyone else to take this route though, it’s a little longwinded.

Can you recall a gig so bad, it’s now funny?
My last Edinburgh show ended with me trying to memorise the names of everyone in the audience. One night there was a fire alarm in the middle meaning we had to vacate. When everyone came back in, they all sat in different seats which affected the memory system I was using to try and recall their names. It was a spectacular disaster.

Nick Mohammed as Mr Swallow in A Christmas Carol-ish …
Clueless … Nick Mohammed as Mr Swallow in A Christmas Carol-ish … Photograph: Matt Crockett

Describe your character Mr Swallow for those who may not have seen him.
Northern, bombastic, clueless megalomaniac.

Where did the idea for Mr Swallow first come from?
The character is based on a school teacher. She had the same voice and more or less the same attitude as Mr Swallow. So it kind of started out about 25 years ago.

How do you test a character to see if they work, or is it instinctual?
With Mr Swallow I kind of see it as effectively an endurance test. When I first started out it definitely divided the room. Part of the joy, for me at least, is in occupying that sweet spot where it could all come tumbling down. One aspect of Mr Swallow is that he delivers his material (not that he thinks it’s material) with utter conviction. He acts like he’s storming it and that everyone’s on side regardless. This is why I almost always work with a director as I usually can’t tell how it’s going once I start.

Mr Swallow returns this year with a musical retelling of A Christmas Carol before a UK tour next year. What can audiences expect?
A Christmas Carol-ish … is Mr Swallow’s take on the Dickens classic. Naturally he’s cast himself as Scrooge but has forgotten to learn almost all his lines plus he doesn’t understand the rules of time travel. It’s another musical farce basically in the vein of his previous shows Dracula and Houdini. And the tour is a collection of solo Mr Swallow shenanigans I’ve been showcasing in Edinburgh and London over the last decade, but have never had the opportunity of taking on tour - so that’s exciting/terrifying!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
The oil needs to be really hot before you add the batter when making Yorkshire puddings.

And the worst advice?
Going cross-eyed when you see a magpie so that you see two will bring you good luck.

Since appearing as Nate in Ted Lasso, you must get recognised more on the street. What’s one of the strangest fan encounters you’ve had
It’s a weird old thing getting recognised and definitely something I’m still getting used to. Lots of people are pretty angry with Nate too, given how the last season of Ted Lasso ended - so managing that has been fun. The strangest encounters are almost always in Richmond, where the show is set, and where we’ve lived since 2014 – so way before the show’s lifetime. But now it just looks like I’m hanging out there to get spotted.

Contributor

Interview by Liam Pape

The GuardianTramp

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