A new comedy film, documenting the fall and rise of a South Wales’ social media star will be screened across South Wales (and Manchester) venues from this week. Created and produced by Kevin Jones and Keiron Self, The Martin Decker Show began life over the COVID lockdown as a YouTube channel.
Now expanded into a feature film, made for virtually no money while shot entirely on iPhones and GoPro’s, The Martin Decker Show is as entertaining for its visual humour as it is thought-provoking for its tragicomedy.
Andy Howells chats to Newport-born actor, writer, and director Keiron Self who plays the films protagonist in the first of a two-part interview discussing both Keiron’s starring role in The Martin Decker Show and co-writing with Giles New on the forthcoming feature animation, The Canterville Ghost.
You’re from Newport originally. What drew you into the acting profession?
It was a long time ago when I was in Cub Scouts. There was a play and I got laughs for what I thought was no reason. Since then, I had lovely Drama and English teachers in Newport’s St Julian’s Comprehensive, who were very supportive and suggested I do things. I was lucky enough to get into Oxford and did loads of stuff there. The whole Fringe, and terrible comedy shows. Then I went back to Welsh College to do the acting course for a Post Grad.
I guess it’s always something I wanted to do growing up, so I got the bug early on. Then, I was lucky enough to fall in with Mappa Mundi Theatre Company straight out of college and just did the classics, the Shakespeare’s, Hamlet, Henry V, Twelfth Night and Midsummer Night’s Dream. That was where Giles New and I started writing around those sort of shows, just doing sketches and things that people liked. I’ve fallen in with some good people and been lucky enough to keep getting some form of work since then.
For a time, you were doing two television sitcoms My Family, and High Hopes alongside each other.
An incredible run. I was never sure that I was ever going to be asked back. Obviously, My Family became quite a big hit. I joined it in the third series. I think I did one episode and then they just kept on making it, and I was “Oh! you want me back?” So, it’s great! But then finishing that, and going into High Hopes, then doing a Christmas show, that was sort of 5 or 6 years, which was amazing. I saw it as a very jammy decade!
How did The Martin Decker show come about?
I’d worked with writer and editor, Kevin Jones (who edited Keeping Faith, Casualty, Y Swn and The Feast), on a short film (The Cornet Player) way back in 2009.
He’d written a stage play, which was a monologue about a guy who was having trouble dealing with a midlife crisis and a potential breakup of his marriage. Before the pandemic in Christmas, 2019, we did a Research & Development of it at The Other Room in Cardiff. Then the pandemic hit, so theatre shows were off, but we really liked it and wanted to do something with it. Kev suggested doing some YouTube shorts with elements of what the original script was, but it’s completely changed since that.
So, during the pandemic. when we were allowed to go out, I would go to Kev’s house because we used his bathroom basically to do all the filming. So, the idea is, Martin Dekker has retreated to his bathroom to make YouTube videos, to try and achieve some sort of self-affirmation, make himself feel better, and just also deal with this crumbling mental health. He set up 2 GoPro’s in his bathroom, much to his family’s chagrin! So, they would be on constantly and we’d use an iPhone.
I’d go around to Kev’s house, mask up, then go into the bathroom, door shut; windows open and do a little thing. Usually, what Martin was thinking about or trying to accomplish that week and then we would just send them out, like 5-to-10-minute things on YouTube.
As the pandemic progressed, we started doing stuff outside with just me. Then when rules were relaxed even more, there was a bit where we could start getting other people in to bounce off and not just listen to my droning voice all the time.
Then it started to develop, (without us consciously being aware of it), a massive narrative arc. It felt like, this could lead to that, or that could lead to this! So, over about 2 and a half years, this film developed out of existing material and other stuff we’d filmed.
We got some actor friends involved, and filmed over lockdown when we could go out and just keep a safe distance. Richard Elis, who was on Eastenders and has done shedloads of stuff (plays Martin’s YouTube rival, Lock Dad). Kevin McCurdy is a fight director, we’ve got him in to teach Martin how to fight when I’m worried about my estranged wife getting a new boyfriend. We’ve got a stalker played by Elln Phillips. It was stuff we could do over lockdown but by keeping distance.
Kev, because he’s an editor by trade, mashed all the clips together and made it work, I think, quite nicely. The tour that we’re now doing has also got Q&A element. So, I go out with the film. I introduce it. We watch the film, and then the audience has a chance to ask me questions in character as Martin Decker afterwards.
It’s got a slight gig element, it’s fun. We did a showing at Chapter in Cardiff, another in the Torch at Milford Haven and another in Machynlleth. So now we’re on to Llanelli on Thursday September 7, Manchester on September 14, then Pontardawe, Newport, and Anglesey the week after.
We’re going to community places; it feels community based. I mean the budget; I don’t think we’ve even got to a Grand yet in terms of how much we spent on it. It’s all been Kev’s time, his plasticine and Fuzzy felt skills (The Martin Decker Show features several fun animated sequences) He got his whole family involved. It’s like a cottage industry!
We used my house a couple of times, because when the pandemic reared its head again and nobody was allowed to go out. We’d planned to film, but then we created a reason why I couldn’t be there, and so it was all thinking on your feet stuff.
During the pandemic, it was a helpful lifeline for both of us in terms of we’d have something else to focus on. A sort of creative endeavour to carry on with.
It’s a beautifully observed film as far as making your own films or community-based television is concerned, you see many familiar aspects rolled into one with Martin Decker. But, his mental-health aspect kicks in very quickly and is a strong part of it, isn’t it?
The original piece that Kev wrote for the stage was at the root of it. The whole Kakapo thing that he’s got the flightless bird (a large species of ground dwelling parrot, endemic to New Zealand) on his bathroom wall was a bigger metaphor in that. With all comedy, if you’ve got nothing underpinning it, then it just becomes a succession of jokes. You must have some pathos, some sort of tragedy. There must be something human underpinning it, otherwise why would you care about these people?
That was always our intention. We ended up leaning more heavily into it than we thought we would to begin with. I think people have really responded to that, and are quite surprised that it’s gone to some places that they weren’t expecting it to go.
It’ll have more legs if it’s got something human at the cause. Everybody can do funny sketches about older blokes trying to be cool on YouTube. I think if you’ve got a proper reason why he’s doing that, clinging on to some version of himself, trying to plug holes in what’s happening to him, it just makes a bit more sense.
So, the climax of the film, without giving too much away, does see Martin make some important decisions in his life. As a continuation you’re going out to the screenings in character, how is that going to work?
We’ve been lucky enough to get a member of the cast to come along and be the interviewer for the Q&A, then offer it up to the audience to ask questions as well. Richard Elis (Lock Dad) is doing the ones in Llanelli and Newport, so obviously he’s coming at the Q&A with a definite agenda!
By the end of the film, Martin’s very aware of what’s happened, but there’s still a front that he’s putting up. Even at the Q&A, which people point out to him, and he must deal with it accordingly. So, there’s a structure to the Q&A, but then there’s also the wild cards of whatever may happen on the night, and whatever people ask. There’s a bit of a frisson, and nothing is the same, because we’ll improvise around a lot of stuff as well. There’s a lot of the actual bits in the film where there’d be a structure, and then we would play around a little bit with what was there. Often, there’s a lot of stuff that isn’t used. It was good fun, a joy to be a part of.
We’re hoping this won’t be the end, either we can try and get it shown in other places, or we’re also talking about doing another stage show, the one we couldn’t do before. So maybe he goes back to do some sort of presentation and make it bit more multimedia. It’s quite a rich character, there’s a real humanity to him. I think that’s just happened within a sort of alchemy of what Kev has written and what other people have brought to it. We’re just flattered that people have put it on, to have me come and talk at them for a bit!
Catch The Martin Decker Show at the following venues:
- 7 September – Y Ffwrness Theatre, Llanelli
- 14 September – Block Cinema, Manchester
- 20 September – Pontardawe Arts Centre
- 21 September – The Riverfront, Newport
- 23 September – Ucheldre Centre, Anglesey
- The Martin Decker Show is unrated but does feature some strong language and adult themes. The screening running time is 90 minutes including Q&A.
- Look out for the second part of our interview with Keiron as he discusses the animated feature, The Canterville Ghost, coming to cinema’s later this month.