Our small screen has been the subject of numerous prank shows over the years. Come to think of it, the TV joker of the moment seems to rotate on a five-yearly (or there abouts) basis: Sacha Baron Cohen introduced us to Ali G in ‘98, Dom Joly brought us Trigger Happy TV in the early ‘00s and Kayvan Novak has been jacking our phones and faces for the past four years. So who’ll be the next big pranker? If BBC Three has its way then Ross Lee, the star of its new hidden camera show, will take the crown.
We thought it best, then, to prepare ourselves for mishaps and make a call to the man himself to find out what unique offerings The Pranker has to offer...
TV.com: How would you compare your style of pranking to say Dom Joly’s or Kayvan Novak’s?
Ross Lee: My style is a lot more Twilight Zone. It’s a lot more tales of the unexpected. They’re very funny, but they’re very surreal and there’s always a very dark element to what’s going on. It’s almost a little like Stephen King’s It, where Penny Wise the clown used to appear--it’s funny but it’s also: “Oh my God, what’s going to happen next?”
The last couple of things I did were for kids television so a lot of people still think of me as ‘Ross Lee: kids’ presenter’. But The Pranker has a bit of nudity and violence, I’ve not seen a children’s TV presenter to do that--I’ve never seen Johnny Ball’s mangina!
We’ve pushed the boundaries when it comes to being shocking, but fun. It’s very easy to be shocking, but being funny at the same time is a very tricky thing to get right... Plus, there’s no one else out there that looks like me. I look like something that Tim Burton has made out of Plasticine.
You’ve referenced a few movies there. Is that were you get your inspiration from?
Ever since I was 4, and I saw David Banner turning into the Incredible Hulk--you could see the green monster rise and the thunder and lightening behind him--that was it, I was always completely obsessed with horror movies. I know with The Pranker you can’t just do horror stunts, because then you’ll alienate a lot of your audience, but I’ve always wanted to suddenly turn someone's world upside down for 5 minutes and then put them back down again safely like they’ve just come off a roller-coaster ride. I think people like to be shocked and scared. If you look at Trigger Happy TV there was no reason to really doubt what was going on there, but with me I like to bring a laser-shooting bald alien from Mars into someone’s life.
So what kind of characters can we expect?
In it, I play a 13-year-old boy; an 80-year-old lady; a 35 year-old housewife and then I’ll be a business man. For some reason I’ve been given the weird ability to morph into different things. I just can’t imagine Dom Joly being able to pull off the facade of a 13-year-old boy or an old lady. I think it’s an added bonus that I’ve been given this bendy, blank canvas to play with.
Has anyone ever worked out that you’re in costume?
No, we’ve been so lucky. We did four months, pretty much pranking every day and never once did somebody stop us. There was one point that it could have gone wrong: The stunt is, I ask an electrician round to the house to fix a light bulb and while it’s fixing it I keep going to the lavatory and coming back with yellow test tubes. I’m putting the test tubes into the fridge and I’m bringing our yellow ice pops. At the same time the doorbell keeps going and there are kids at the door saying: “Excuse me, can we have another one of your ice pops please”. And I’m waiting for the electrician to ask: “Are you giving them urine?!” When it got to the point where he asked what it was, and I say: “It’s my own special secret ingredient from my very own bladder; it’s piss pops, you can’t beat them.” I offer him one, thinking he’s not going to say yes, I would be offended and run out there. We were waiting for him to run out, we had a chorus line of dancers waiting to sing a West End-style song called piss pops. But the guy took a piss pop and had a suck, and I was like: “Oh, I wasn’t expecting that”. He looked at me, said “it tastes like apple juice mate” so when he does leave and we go into this song he knows it’s not really wee. That was spoilt a bit, but I’ve never had anyone see passed my disguise. I can’t imagine anything more embarrassing as that.
So you get embarrassed then?
I was born without the embarrassment gene, so it’s great. The only unfortunate thing with that is that I was also born without the common sense gene as well. I suppose the two of things go well hand-in-hand.
The Pranker’s exec-producer, Philip Edgar-Jones, says there’s “literally nothing” you won’t do for a laugh. Is that strictly true?
I’d never hurt anybody and I’d never want anyone to be properly upset; it’s always got to be funny. At the end of the day it’s a comedy, it’s very easy to go out and shock people, so I think if it’s going to get a laugh then obviously I’m going to do it.
Do you have a favourite prank we should look out for?
They’re all my favourites in different ways. But there’s a brilliant one, I think it’s in episode four, where we fool a security guard into thinking I’ve been eaten by a tiger. That’s pretty good, because we’re all there waiting in the wings and we’ve hired this tiger for an hour. We’re all waiting to get a glimpse of it and then we see it--it’s like waiting to see The Rolling Stones!
You’ve pranked celebrities and politicians in the past. Will they feature in the show?
Not for this series, this is all just Joe public. If we were to go further down the line then it’d be great to trick celebrities. I started off like 20 years ago, tricking my way onto different TV shows: I’ve tricked my way on to The Time and The Place with John Stapelton. The episode was all about age and beauty so I took my auntie Sandra’s best friend Gladis along, who was about 65 at the time, and told Stapelton that we were in love and that a face without lines is like a book without words. He was very shocked. I also tricked my way onto Richard and Judy. I was caller one--saying that I was addicted to buying shoes--but I was also called two--a man who couldn’t stop buying Star Wars chess sets. That was a good one.
I would eventually like to get celebrities more involved because I think they’re more fair game then members of the public.
The Pranker starts on BBC Three on Thursday, July 14th, at 10.30pm.