Dennis to Society
What a hero this guy was. He is, in my opinion the greatest TV Character, (voted number 28 in a channel 4 poll, pah!). The funniest and wittiest interviewer to have graced our screens. He asked the questions only others thought, many being ambiguous in order to embarrass or catch his victim out. Move aside Parky, here's Dennis.
Pissed grin Pennis was unwelcome at a celebrity bash to say the least, those who recognized him tried to steer clear or ignore him (see Lesley Joseph and Joan Collins). However, for those unsuspecting 'stars' who just thought he was there because someone gave him a free ticket, well it wouldn't have been long before they were tracked down by the little menace.
However, Dennis was killed off by creator Paul in 1997, he started in 1995, I do think it was right that he ended when he did, the timing was right and he left before people could get sick of him. He went out on a high and not as someone people didn't find funny anymore. Here you can read all about Dennis, in Paul's words, some taken from interviews when Dennis was alive. He was great to the end but he had to go eventually.
Paul: "And that's a good thing. I was bored shitless of the whole fucking thing. On Dennis's level, he was becoming a fat, bloated, parody of himself. He was falling into every cliché in the book towards the end of his life..... it had to be done...."
"Dennis Pennis had become too expensive. Taking a film crew out every night with no guarantee of getting even a minute's worth of footage of me harassing celebs was just stupid. And then the program would take months to compile, and it was just boring, man..... hanging out in the rain, twiddling your thumbs, playing with your hip flask...... he had to go......"
"Killing him was important to me - I don't want him round my neck for the rest of my life. All good things come to a short end, y'know? All the things I've loved in my life have never lasted more than a year. That's what makes them so exciting. It's a self-destruct thing...... it seemed right to execute him now....."
"Maybe I'm just a complete idiot. But I miss the good old days when nobody knew who I was. You could get in anywhere, and have politicians walking right past you eating their mini-volavantes. That was when it was brilliant, that was when we had fun. We got access 'anywhere'. People would think 'well, he looks a bit weird but the credentials check out, gotta let him in....'. That's all gone now".
"Dennis is rotting..... no, he's decomposed. I can appreciate his appeal though. He's exactly the kind of thing I'd liked watching if I hadn't been him. We all like to see celebrities being ridiculed, and I genuinely didn't give a toss about who I offended. I had no problems upsetting prospective employers. Dennis is very raw and not thought out, and I didn't care who I annoyed."
Paul says Australia's Norman Gunston taught him a lot about comedy. For starters, if you're crying you're not being funny.
Paul: "I was aware of Norman and what had happened to him," (referring to Garry McDonald's 1993 breakdown under the stress of bringing his gormless but much-loved character back to do more of the celebrity veneer-stripping interviews for which he was famous).
"At the time I was getting really stressed and upset myself when I was doing a very similar role and, to be honest, I don't think I was that far off a nervous breakdown myself. That's why I gave Dennis away."
"It was like Pennis just invaded people's consciousness, and it just circulated like a joke in a pub. The format was golden - people love seeing celebs in any situation, and to see them having the piss taken out of them is fantastic. The celebs that got pissed at me were the ones who thought I wasn't paying them the respect they thought they deserved, or that they were used to having. That was the key to it, that was my philosophy from the start - getting into a position of the privileged, and then wasting it......... Dennis appreciates that, up in his director's box in heaven, trailing after Mussolini and throwing abusive questions....... Looks like I'll have to dig him up and re-launch him....."
Despite what people may think, Dennis did have consideration, he never invaded anyone's privacy by doing things such as waiting outside their houses. All celebs were caught unsuspecting and off-guard at very public moments. This annoyed the genuine reporters who repeatedly tried to get him arrested and taken off the premiere circuit, so as not to spoil their own chances of getting interviews. Apparently even the BBC banned him from their own celeb packed events. Pennis was at one point going to have his own talk show, the only problem was they couldn't get any guests. He was also a hit with the ladies:
Paul: "I could only pull when I was Dennis Pennis, it's his sharp tongue which attracted the girls".
When Paul was acting the part of Dennis he wore glasses, this is as Paul says below, for protection incase someone tried to hit him.
Paul: "It was always going to be a dangerous job. I also think get away with it because I look so vulnerable and have this pissed grin. I almost got seriously 'ruffed up', as my dad would say, in Venice. This bouncer was giving it all this Good Fellas speak, 'Get the fuck out the way asshole'. Turned out he was a taff doing a better American accent than me. By the end of the three days he wanted to kill me. He told me he was going to push my teeth so far down my throat they were going to come out of my arse. I was pretty scared. One night I was doing a link when I tripped over a barrier. I thought I'd broken a finger so I disappeared into the night to find a tap. I lost the crew and met up with him in a dark alley. I thought it was going to be curtains. I became this quivering idiot whimpering something about Children's BBC. Luckily for me he turned all nice on me and we went for a beer. He got quite into what we were doing and even told me when Kevin Costner was leaving".
"It got to the stage where I was being chased by bouncers around London and around film festivals and I got serious threats of violence against me and I was thinking, like, this was just supposed to be a bit of a giggle. People take it so seriously, and the other thing was that it was also stressful to never ever know what was coming back at me from the person I was talking to - I've always thought of myself as a character actor rather than a comedian, so I was keen to get back to having a scripted bit of dialogue".
Kevin Costner, not Dennis's biggest fan to say the least.......
Paul: "The funniest celebrity encounter was with Kevin Costner. I stalked him for 24 hours and he ended up escaping onto a boat expecting me to follow him, shouting 'Come on you can walk on water, you cocksucker!' and no that didn't go on air".
"It felt fantastic, like victory, I hate him. I couldn't sleep that night thinking, 'That was Kevin Costner!' I don't hate many people, which is why there could be someone much better for the job. I often think I'm not vicious enough. When I do hate people it's a lot easier. I depersonalise them. When I like someone it's never that great. I had real problems with Tim Roth who I really like, I was like this cocksucker saying, 'Your performance in Reservoir Dogs was a bloody mess'. Yawn!. The worst person I've ever interviewed was Barbara Windsor, I couldn't get a word in edgeways for half an hour".
"I always preferred the weak-looking targets. But then they usually had the bigger bodyguards, so it was kinda hard to win..... y'know, John Cole has some *serious* geezers behind him."
"I think one of the most prolific Pennis moments was when I asked Versace what he'd thought about a fashion show. 'I'm in heaven,' he gasped, he died a week later. When I met my heroes, Dustin Hoffman and Steve Martin the most stupid lines fell out of my mouth. I told Steve that his films aren't funny! That kind of thing happened a few times. I'd forget my glasses, or the accent, or look the wrong way, sometimes I did all three!" One of Pennis' first victims was Russel Grant. The naughty Pennis even spent a night in jail whilst in America trying to give the Pennis treatment to a few Oscar winners.
There is though one person Dennis wouldn't have done-
Paul: "The only celebrity I wouldn't do is Ian Wright. When my old man said 'Be an Arsenal fan', I complied. I'm close to religious about it, which is why I have T-O-N-Y written in biro across my knuckles. It refers, of course, to the Gunners stalwart centre-back Tony Adams".
Paul really wanted to Pennis Barry Manilow just missed him.
Paul: "I missed him by three seconds. I'd worked it all out, I was going to say to him, 'I'm a big Manilow fan, you're the guvnor, I think it's outrageous that you get so much stick about your nose, people should concentrate on the music'. Really draw him in, end up with a handshake and as he walks away pull out this king-sized bed-sheet from under my jacket and say, 'You've dropped your handkerchief'."
"A lot of stand-up comics must be out there cursing me thinking 'Who the fuck is this person?' That's why I'm convinced that if you got Lily Savage on the job he'd be ten times better than me. I write the material with my friend Anthony Hines. I get a lot of the jokes out of the Penguin joke-book. If anyone buys it they'll find 90% of the last series in there. The way I play it is relentless. If you don't like it there's another one behind it in 0.5 of a second."
"Pennis started back in '89 when he was just one of those twatty characters that you come up with when you're stoned with your mates. I was in a dark, psychedelic band at the time - into Public Image and Magazine - called We Are Pleb. I've got a lot of respect for bands with names guaranteeing them limited success. This TV programme called Transmission wanted to interview the band, and that's how I got my foot in the door. I stuck on a pair of glasses and covered an old jacket in badges in homage to Johnny Rotten and Pete Townshend. We sent the video off to BBC2 and it just struck it lucky when somebody liked it and asked for more. I'd like to say the whole thing was more thought-out planned, but it was all totally spontaneous".
"As a kid I was big on Lydon / Rotten. Still am, I guess that's evident from the orange hair. I used to be a bedroom punk. Ruffing up my tie on the way home from school. There's a lot of that in Pennis. But he's also based on Woody Allen. I really love neurotic characters who assume that you're interested in every detail of their life. I've got a friend like that, who when you see him for the first time in two months, goes into intricate detail about the state of his teeth".
"I agreed to be flanned in an advertisement for Anchor Butter. Of course, the money was an incentive as well. In the advertisement I'm flanned by an eccentric Belgian fellow named Noel Godin who for decades has been flanning dignitaries as if to say, 'I could have killed him if I wanted to, but I'll flan him instead'. Like Pennis only messier. He loves puns and has a book published called Cream and Punishment".
"I could smell Live TV and the Big Breakfast obviously wanting to put a bucket of water over me. I knew I was going to get whacked eventually. So by doing it to myself it would defuse the vigilante in people. That's what scares the shit out of me about being a professional personality. If the audience goes off Chris Evans, they go off Chris Evans. But if people start hating Dennis Pennis I can still walk away and be Paul Kaye. Chris Evans breath smelt of condemned meat by the way". (Dennis once kissed him).
"The character relies on the fact that he's going to fuck off sharpish. I hope I don't outlive my welcome. He's got a shelf-life and he feels tired to me. If I do a third series, it's only because I've got freedom to do something new on modern art or go to New York and interview people at the deli."
"I'm developing new characters with Anthony Hines. One that has already had its TV debut on Very Important Pennis is - Strutter, the Los Angeles lawyer. Mike Strutter is based loosely on the Sean Penn character in 'Carlito's Way' - I was watching Los Angeles TV, and 90% of the adverts are financially orientated, all offering some kind of financial assistance, lawyers literally encouraging you to employ them to sue people."
Final words from Paul:
"I'm glad Dennis is dead but I will still enjoy irritating all PR rabble". And that's just the way we like it.
"Dennis, Dennis, oh with your eyes so blue
Dennis Dennis, I've got a crush on you.......etc"
thanks to Tintin for the screen grabs!