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Russell Howard: Writing a comedy drama was an 'absurd' idea (but it didn't stop me!)

(Image credit: BBC/Avalon/Pete Dadds)

Spending Christmas with the family can be a testing experience, but it’s perfect sitcom material for Russell Howard, writer and star of brand new BBC2 comedy A Gert Lush Christmas (‘Gert Lush’ being Bristolian slang for ‘brilliant’).

Howard makes his acting debut alongside his sister, Him & Her star Kerry, as well as Greg Davies, Neil Morrissey and Sophie Thompson.

The 35-year-old comedian plays Dan, who brings his girlfriend home to meet his exuberant parents and embarrassing siblings, including his sister, Julie, played by Kerry.

The Howards told TV & Satellite Week all about their own family traditions…

What can we expect from A Gert Lush Christmas?

"It’s very like Gavin & Stacey, that kind of heart-warming show."

Russell: "The idea of me writing a comedy drama seemed so absurd, but me and my mate Steve [his co-writer on BBC3’s Russell Howard’s Good News] thought, ‘Oh sod it, let’s try’. I wanted to write something about family and Christmas seemed a cool theme."

Did you enjoy working together?

"It sounds sickening, but we had a lovely time. I’d do it again."

Russell: "I wanted Kerry to be in it from the get-go and she gave me a lot of help. It’s an odd thing when you realise just how brilliant your little sister is."

This is Russell’s acting debut. Is he any good, Kerry?

"Yeah, I want him to do more. His natural trick is to improvise and that’s where he gets his comic flair, but I kept telling him to trust his script and commit to what he’d written, because it’s amazing. I don’t think anyone else would have had the balls to say that to him because he’s the boss."

Russell: "On the first day of filming, I walked past Kerry and clicked my fingers at her to make a cup of tea, which is a joke we do in our house. Sophie didn’t know that we were related so she spent the first two days just thinking I was really rude."

Is Kerry’s character, Julie, based on her?

"Julie is an amalgamation of loads of my cousins. They’re into spiritualism – we had a party at my house a few years ago and they had an exorcism because there was a bad man who lived in the hall."

Kerry: "They’re all really giddy about the show. They can’t wait to tell their friends the character is based on them – they’re fighting over it."

Russell: "Oddly, the closest character is Dan’s dad. My actual dad is really upset because he wanted someone ripped like Bruce Willis to play him, but it’s Neil Morrissey."

Kerry: "The mother character, played by Sophie Thompson, is definitely a love letter to our mum."

Did you consider letting your parents appear in the show?

"No, but I’m doing a travelogue with my mum for Comedy Central next year, so she will be on telly. She’s far more entertaining than I could be."

Kerry: "She’s losing her mind about it. She’s already working out whether she’s got time to do Loose Women."

Russell: "I’m slightly worried about what I’m going to unleash."

Kerry: "It’s like Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington."

Russell: "That’s how headlines start, Kerry – Mum will be walking around the house saying she’s Karl Pilkington now!"

Do you two get the chance to spend much time together?

"We regularly do Sunday brunch together; we love a brunch."

Russell: "We’re all going on holiday to Australia soon. It’s my dad’s 60th birthday so I’m taking everyone out there for a month."

What happens at a Howard family Christmas?

"We all play Balderdash and have a competition to buy the best presents. Russell’s unbeatable – one year I bought him a clock and he got me a car. My mum and dad have the clock now – he didn’t even like it."

Russell: "It was a really terrible clock!"