Cancel culture is a divisive topic in the world of comedy at the moment, with some claiming it’s having a negative impact and others saying it is perfectly easy to be funny without causing offence.
In mockumentary People Just Do Nothing, which makes its big screen debut this week, the comedy comes at the expense of a group of characters with an abundance of confidence – despite often being completely unaware of how wrong they are getting things.
Asim Chaudhry, who plays Kurupt FM’s manager Chabuddy G, told Sky News he thinks good comedy comes from knowing your subject.
“I don’t believe in, like, ‘Oh, I’m allowed to say whatever I want, it’s comedy’, I think that’s wrong, I think you need to have respect,” he said.
“For me, the most important thing is a level of research into something. For example, when someone comes up to me, say it’s a white person, and they come and do a Chabuddy G accent to me, which happens quite a lot…
“When someone comes up and it’s really bad I will be like, please don’t do that – but trust me, it doesn’t matter what colour you are, if you come up to me and you do a really good Chabuddy G accent, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s completely right.
“All I’m trying to say is that it’s about a level of detail, a level of research – if you really know something then you’re allowed to take the p*** out of it, you’re allowed to spoof it. I think cancel culture can get a little bit OTT, but it’s all about respect, it’s all about detail, it’s all about research, and it’s about intentions as well.”
The new film, People Just Do Nothing: Big In Japan, sees the MCs and DJs of Kurupt FM and their hapless manager heading to Japan after one of their tracks gains popularity on a gameshow in the country.
Steve Stamp, who plays the drug-addled Steves and who co-wrote the film with Allan Mustafa, who plays MC Grindah, says that in order to avoid potential offence both of them went to Japan in order to avoid lazy stereotypes.
“We had research trips where we investigated ideas that we had and sort of ironed out whether or not this was actually a thing when you’re out there or whether it’s just what people say happens when you’re out there,” he says.
“We made sure that what we were drawing from was genuine experiences and making sure that we weren’t just drawing from tropes essentially, so yeah, we were aware of it and also I think we were careful to make Kurupt FM the joke.”
Hugo Chegwin, who plays DJ Beats, agreed it’s the characters who bear the brunt of the comedy.
“With us, the joke is always on those characters – you have to be respectful and sensitive towards other cultures, communities and stuff like that,” he said.
“We’re not here to offend people, and also our comedy show is about idiots; we’re not stand-up comedians – and I think that’s where it becomes tricky – so that’s not us.”
The film marks a turning point for the characters, who started out in a series of short videos on YouTube in 2011 but have never before found fame.
Now, after five TV series, a BAFTA and a year’s delay thanks to the pandemic, the movie is arriving on the big screen, and a new medium meant new challenges for its creators.
“The writing process did take a little bit longer because we were learning on the job,” said Mustafa. “TV’s something we’ve done for eight years, this is the first time we’ve done a film.
“We didn’t want to take it too much from the tone of the TV series. The characters stayed and reacted the same, but you put them in these bigger situations in Japan – it’s about how they react to it rather than the characters changing, it’s the situations around them changing.”
Chaudhry said changing the setting helped with the transition to cinema.
“It was fun to explore a different space, a different country, and Japan is out there – I mean, it is a very futuristic, unique place,” he said.
“Visually it looks amazing, and I think that helped us make the film feel cinematic as well, because obviously we’re a TV show and we’re a mockumentary so we purposely want things to look gritty.
“Even when we did the YouTube stuff back in the day it looked so bad and gritty and shaky that people thought it was real. We wanted to kind of maintain that – a bit more polished obviously, for the TV show – but that was a bit of a challenge, like how do we make it look like a film?”
Stamp says having the same crew for the film that they had on the TV show meant they never strayed too far from their original production values.
“We had a couple of sets… but generally we were out on the streets and out in these little locations much in the same way as we would be in London. So it allowed us to feel comfortable doing what we do.”
Because the film’s release had been postponed, it is now coming out in cinemas more than two-and-a-half years after the fifth and final series aired on TV.
Mustafa said that while he was initially dismayed by the delay, he’s now changed his mind.
“You think, are we losing momentum here? Are people going to forget about us? On reflection, it’s actually been really good, it’s built it up so much that people are just so ready.
“And I guess also, you know, after the year we’ve had, it sounds selfish but it’s good that people need a laugh now, so maybe it’s the ideal time for it.”
People Just Do Nothing: Big in Japan is in cinemas in the UK from 18 August