Recently boosting his profile as part of the cast of hit US comedy Ted Lasso, where he plays Nate Shelley, Nick Mohammed has a solid 15 years’ worth of sterling work behind him and his own character for the ages in Mr. Swallow. A theatre tour in that guise takes him to Cardiff this month; Carl Marsh popped some questions to Nick.
So, Nick, this tour is called The Very Best And Worst Of Mr. Swallow. Would you care to elaborate on the ‘Worst’ bit, as we know what a calamity he can be?
Nick Mohammed: He’s so clumsy, so forgetful. He doesn’t really know what’s going on. So I think from his point of view, I’m going on tour, but who knows what will happen with Mr. Swallow at the helm of it! Hopefully, none of the material as part of the show will ever be deemed the worst. Mr. Swallow will absolutely have to find his way through that show. And I’m sure there’ll be a few hurdles for him to overcome, as it happens, but yeah, here’s a bit of calamity, for sure.
What else will the night behold, barring surprises you won’t want to disclose to me here?
Nick: Well, [Mr. Swallow] is a bit of a polymath, but I guess mainly he’s going to be talking about his obsession – his number one fascination with numbers. And he will also be teaching a few things on improving your memory. So ostensibly, it’s themed around the idea that it’s a lecture, a kind of ‘evening with…’, but because it’s Mr. Swallow – and because he’s unprepared – you sort of expect the unexpected!
He frequently goes on types of flights of fancy and, you know, gets sidetracked by various topics or things that appear to happen in the room spontaneously. So, he just about delivers on his premise of delivering those lectures on how to improve your memory and his fascination with numbers. But there are many other things as part of the show as well.
One of my favourite Mr. Swallow moments has to be when he did the Jurassic Park song. Will that be making an appearance at the show?
Nick: You know what, I’ve been thinking about it, and because it probably is the thing that follows me around the most – well, certainly follows Mr. Swallow around the most – it would be a shame not to. So I’m currently thinking that if I do an encore, I’ll probably start by singing it and then put the words up, see if the audience can join in with it, and they can all finish it off together. That might be an apt way for them to end the show.
Is the Mr. Swallow character based on someone you’d met in real life, or off the TV?
Nick: Well, it was a character to some degree, largely based on an impression I used to make of a teacher at high school in Leeds. And she had that kind of [starts talking as Mr. Swallow] voice and attitude. I used it just to impersonate, and then when I went to university, I started doing comedy, sketches, and so on.
So, I just started doing that voice – putting that character, as it were, in a few sketches – and over a number of years, started doing that character more and more. At the Edinburgh Festival, then on Radio 4, 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown and so on. But yeah, it’s lived with me, that character, for… God, since I was, like, 14 or 15. So, I’ve certainly got my money’s worth out of him!
Did the teacher ever learn about the character and that he was loosely based on her?
Nick: Well, bless her, she passed away a few years ago. No, she never did know about it. And you know, I’ve never been explicit to say precisely who it was, but she did teach me English. And she was a real character in the school. She was great. And you know, it wasn’t just me who found her really funny. I’ve got a lot of mates, and we’ll often reminisce about some of those lessons that we had. But yeah, I think of it as a homage now.
Nick Mohammed: Mr. Swallow, Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, Fri 5 May
Tickets: £22.50. Info: here
words CARL MARSH
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