Former geo-physics graduate from St Aidan’s College, Nick Mohammed, speaks to Palatinate on the Edinburgh Fringe, his rise to fame with the BBC and his love of Durham.
Tell us about your time at Durham.
I absolutely loved it! Although when I first came I didn’t drink – but that soon changed in Freshers’
Week when I was forced to down a mug of red wine and wear a toga. It was a bit overwhelming.
I also auditioned twice to be part of the Durham Revue and never got in. Ironically they have now
made me an honorary member!
What has the transition between geo-physics and comedy been like?
I thought I might end up working for an oil company; I didn’t always know I wanted to be a
comedian. I did a postgraduate at Cambridge and got involved in comedy there, and I’ve been a
professional magician since the age of 16. But I couldn’t get more job satisfaction than I do now –
you are instantly rewarded. You make people laugh or you don’t. You’re funny or you’re not!
Did you get a chance to see Durham’s comedy trio, Wittank?
Yes! I thought Kieran (Boyd’s) and Naz (Osmanoglu’s) stand-up was brilliant. They’ll go far.
You’re now a successful comedian on BBC3 – but how did you start out?
I gigged a lot. And I went back to the Edinburgh Fringe every year, to be seen. Up there it’s so
expensive and you usually make a loss. At that time I took out a “careers investment loan” – they’re
probably not available now – to help me along the road. My agent spotted me at one of my shows
and the production company Talkback Thames approached me to make a show. But it’s been a long,
long process over the six years since I graduated. It took two to three years before the BBC gave us
the go ahead to do our show.
“The King Is Dead” – your new spoof panel show on BBC3 – sees you, Simon Bird and Katy Wix
interview and prod fun at celebrities. What was it like working together?
It was a challenge for all of us, because we’d mostly worked with scripts until that point. Simon (Bird)
was doing very well with The Inbetweeners, but that was scripted, too. Sometimes we had really
quick-witted guests and we were like “Shit – they’re going to show us up!”
How was the feedback for the show?
I think the press were baffled – they might have interpreted us as being unnecessarily childish or
harsh. We were aiming towards a young BBC demographic and were learning on the job. I think
there is room for improvement with the second series, but we’re proud of it and we got good
You’ve also performed for Radio 4 – “Nick Mohammed in Bits” – where you enacted the part of a
2nd year Durham student, Cordelia Grimes. Do you think your jokes about Durham are accurate?
They were totally exaggerated, obviously, but still based on truth. Cordelia was an amalgamation
of many people I met. I was just poking fun at that upper-class, affected attitude that you see
around Durham. People tend to adopt it when they go there. I actually downloaded Aidan College’s
Fresher’s handbook and quoted the jargon section. But often the things I joked about, like going to
Hound, were things that I did myself when I was a student. It was my way of celebrating Durham. A
lot of people got in touch after that and I don’t think anyone was pissed off.
You also jested that Palatinate had “Guardian proportions”.
I meant “proportions” as in the size of the paper, not the importance of it! But I loved Palatinate,
especially for the reviews. I remember they had a bit of a love hate relationship with The Durham
Revue. The group would have to perform some Palatinate sketch to get them back on their side.
What are your upcoming plans?
I’ve had some exciting talks with Channel 4, and I’ve got further work with the BBC. I’m also doing
a live show in November with one of my characters Mr Swallow. He’s based on a teacher I had at
school. And funnily enough, I’ve had pangs to go back to Durham so I might visit soon. It sounds
tacky but my heart does lie in Durham.
What would your advice be to aspiring artists?
The industry is tricky. It is a slow build-up, and you have to been seen as much as possible. The
Edinburgh Fringe is the best place to showcase your work. It’s important to learn what you’re good
at, and to not piss people off. You have to think of things as an investment for the future. The BBC
can be quite edgy – it’s a risk for them to take on new people. Even I don’t have a guarantee for my
future. Fingers crossed! It’s hard – but stick at it.