Sarcastic Voyage - Nick and Willikins - Series 1
- Here is the not-very-secret origin of Nick and Willikins: Matt and I have a mutual Internet acquaintance named Nick. Nick is from England. As far as we can tell, Nick is not gainfully employed — or at least, he wasn’t in 2010. Yet, somehow, he is quite well-traveled, having visited the US at least once a year since I’ve known him. Our natural assumption was that he’s fantastically wealthy, living as all wealthy English people do, in a castle of some sort and lording his centuries-old power over a feudal state that serves him. Also he had a butler. Obviously. Our imaginary Nick almost immediately deviated from the real-life version, as we gradually cobbled together an entire world for him to inhabit, based on the combined half-knowledge of two anglophilic nerds. Much to the chagrin of everyone around us, we created voices for Nick and his butler (whose name we inadvertently stole from Sam Vimes’ butler in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books) and then proceeded to never stop doing those voices for, like, a month. We eventually thought it might be fun to put those characters in a short serial segment in our then-largely-conversational podcast, Sarcastic Voyage. In those earliest days, we’d switch off doing the voices of Nick and Willikins — whoever happened to write the episode would take up the voice of Nick, while the other fellow would be saddled with being his Willikins. Eventually we realized that Matt was much better suited to being the playful jerk, while I was much more comfortable being the grumbly sarcastic one. And that, along with a general desire to make the audio actually audible, is why this remastered version now exists. It was hard to avoid the temptation to “fix” the writing, but ultimately we felt that we should just perform a clean version of what we’d originally written. Also, honestly, it was a lot funnier than we’d remembered. So that was a pleasant surprise.
- That’s Dave Fields as both The Exasperated Narrator (a name that more-or-less speaks for itself) and the Pythonesque pepperpot voice that says “and now, the Adventures of Nick and Willikins” at the beginning of every episode. I covet that man’s pipes.
- One thing I was pleased to discover when I was writing a later Nick & Willikins serial (The Omce and Future Nick, 2015) was how most of this early stuff doesn’t really contradict itself, in terms of the characters’ basic backstory. I had to cheat a few tiny things here and there, but for the most part, these earliest stories actually hold together with a fair amount of consistency. Which, given that we had no intention of keeping track of any of that (nor any idea that we’d still be doing it half a decade hence), is fairly impressive, I think. What we discover later is that Nick’s father, Lord Gordon of Nick Hall, has been keeping Willikins penned up on his estate, eventually sending the butler in a crate to serve his son. The part about Nick being the only surviving heir of the Nick dynasty is one of those tiny things I had to cheat.
- One thing that did change with Nick’s character is his jerkishness - initially, he was a jerk to everyone. Eventually we determined that it would be much funnier if he were extraordinarily kind, and only a jerk to Willikins.
- The dramatic sting that ends every episode is a piece of public domain music that I have been delighted to encounter in a vast assortment of more established entertainment over the years.
- Willikins’ name - spoken here as Reginald W. Willikins, III - changes frequently. I don’t think there’s an official canonical version of it. I’m perfectly fine with that.
- Being, as we are, not wealthy British people from the Edwardian era, we don’t actually know what butlers… do. We do realize that Willikins isn’t, strictly speaking, a butler. He’s probably more of a footman/valet/chauffer/chef? This is the concept of “upper class servant” as filtered through a century of cartoons and sitcoms.
- I don’t know where the idea of Nick owning and subsequently cooking every animal known to man came from, but I still love it. I suspect it was Matt’s.
- “Two of each; the biggest private zoo since Noah” is from Citizen Kane. I steal that quote a lot.
- The central theme of the entire Nick and Willikins franchise is, obviously, the idea of a class system. I can’t speak for Matt, but I’ve always found the notion, as depicted in most British entertainment of the past 200 years or so, extremely baffling. Oh, we have rich people and poor people in America of course, but I never really witnessed a situation where people from one group were forbidden from fraternizing with people from the other. Maybe that means I’m naive or just privileged. Maybe I bought into the whole “all men are created equal” hype more than I should have. But it’s always been a weird concept to me, and a lot of my contributions explore this idea. Does Nick “own” the people of Nick Hall, as he asserts? Or does everyone just act like he does, while still believing that they’re free to do as they like? Pretty deep stuff! And you thought this was just us doing stupid silly voices.
- Nick’s real-life inspiration is obsessed with some of the most awful-sounding food you’ve ever heard of. “Pizza hamburger” is but one example of this. It didn’t take long for our version of the character to diverge substantially from Actual Nick, but this one detail has remained constant.
- The bit where we fast-forward three years was mine - I hate waiting for characters to get to know each other, and it just wasn’t happening fast enough for my tastes. So now they have a history. (This was something I had to remember to account for when I started drawing up a timeline of what happened when. It also puts Nick and Willikins’ initial meeting in 2007.)
- “Fortnights” is the first of many many antiquated terms that I like to pepper my Nick and Willikins contributions with. It’s more fake-British that way!
- Good Great Aunt Petunia being 178 years old pays off in Nick of Nick Hall, when Queen Victoria mentions “our good great young cousin Petunia.”
- Good Great Aunt Petunia was originally played by our friend Chris Page, who was there in the earliest conception of these characters and, if I remember correctly, helped create the old bird. His performance was quite good, and it was a tough call to replace him. But ultimately we felt that seasoned voice actors were the best choice for the entire project.
- Josef Ravenson, for his part, totally nails the Python pepperpot voice and the B-roll we have of his sex noises (heard very faintly in the background) is some of the funniest stuff I have ever recorded with anyone.
- The idea of Nick going to “the colonies” was our attempt to give him some kind of actual goal and, consequently, move the narrative along. Naturally he never actually made it there and we mostly just moved in circles for awhile. But they were pretty funny circles, I suppose.
- I have to admit, I’m pretty proud of the line “I haven’t been shagged like that since my O levels.” That nicely sums up everything we were trying to do with this stupid thing.
- We would later learn that Willikins is, in fact, a homosexual. That really has no bearing on what happened here, but I thought I might mention it.
- I have a real fondness for naive comedy characters who don’t know what sex is. Nick continues the proud tradition.
- Nick’s mobile phone is called a mobile phone rather than a cell phone and it rings twice rather than once. That’s just the sort of attention to detail I’m committed to.
- Willikins the dog is one of those things I thought there was exactly one joke in, but Matt insisted we keep it going for, like, ever. This is why we keep losing the dog and re-finding him over the next several episodes, which itself becomes pretty funny, I think.
- The Cambridge/Oxford thing is one of those “as far as I know, everyone in England talks about this constantly” things. I probably think that because most of my exposure to British culture comes via comedians who mostly went to Cambridge or Oxford. Do butlers even attend prestigious universities? I imagine they don’t. But I’m still very unclear on how that whole class system thing works.
- I am shocked — shocked! — that a project involving Matt ended up in a “mysterious, mist-covered castle.”
- Usually when I wrote a “Dave is recovering from a night of drinking” bit for the narrator, it was because the actual real-life Dave had been drinking. I would guess this was written not long after he visited Seattle for one of our Emerald City Comicon appearances.
- It will shock you to discover that we did not get the actual Stephen Fry to record with us. I happened to be listening to the Harry Potter audiobook adaptations, as read by Britain’s Most Delightful Subject, around the time we were working on this. These clips were taken from a scene where Harry is talking to Nearly Headless Nick and, whom he addresses as “Nick.” I tried my best to write around that.
- Igor was originally played by Matt. He did a pretty good job of it, but I think Bob was a much better choice. Also it avoids the whole “two characters played by the same actor talking to each other” situation, which I’m never fond of.
- Environmentally Conscious Dracula was originally played by me. Also a better choice, though I must admit, I miss playing this stupid character.
- Once, on a road trip, Matt and I delighted ourselves imagining a vampire who was seriously in favor of saving the planet. It made sense to us that an immortal being would concern himself with making the world more habitable. It’s also one of those things I think we do pretty well: smashing together two seemingly incongruous elements for the sake of comedy.
- “Chloroflurocarbons” is the most fun word to say as Environmentally Conscious Dracula.
- On the other hand, I’ve played Willikins for seven years as of this writing and I still don’t know how to laugh in that voice.
- Matilda Titsmarsch was originally played (and I think conceived by?) Shana Ziolko. Again, she did a great job, but we were trying to streamline things and only use our established stable of seasoned voice actors for this project.
- Apart from Good Great Aunt Petunia, who is played by a dude, Matilda is apparently the only woman (voiced by a woman) in the Nick and Willikins universe so far. What are we, Bob’s Burgers?
- Solar energy seems like the obvious punchline to Environmentally Conscious Dracula and yet… that came much later than the original idea. Happy accident, I suppose.
- ECD’s death scene wasn’t this long originally. Chalk that up to the Wallace Factor.
- I think it’s safe to say I got the last word in the whole “Willikins the dog” argument. This whole “time and space folding in on itself” bit was pretty fun to write. I often find that spite is a fantastic motivator.
- Willikins having to explain sex to Nick via “beasts” goes back to the genesis of the characters. We finally managed to work it in here, 18 episodes later.
- Nick singing “Hungry Like the Wolf” is a not-very-veiled reference to the many, many times I visited Matt and played Rock Band, only to discover that he’d somehow deleted our progress from the last visit, and we had to start over from the beginning with “Hungry Like the Wolf.” Seriously, this happened like, half a dozen times. I’m pretty sure that’s the only song in Rock Band.
- Matt came up with the Toad in the Hole and I love it.
- The supernatural direction that things begin to take here would inform a lot of our later audio stories and also give us a much broader canvas on which to tell them. In about an hour of story time over about six months, I feel like we evolved considerably. These last couple of episodes really pointed the way to the sort of projects we’re working on now.
- I had no idea “Rule Britannia” contained a reference to slaves. More serendipity!
- It turns out that the universe would cease to exist if Nick died, but we won’t confirm that until 2015’s Omce and Future Nick.
- Willikins will also have to wait until Nick and Willikins Are Dead to visit the afterlife.
- Turning Willikins into a wolf felt like a great payoff to the Willikins the Dog stuff, as well as all the wolf song references. I remember being really proud of myself for coming up with it. And then we ended the story without really making any of those jokes.
- I quite enjoyed writing an insane season-ending cliffhanger here as well. The mill burns down because obviously the mill had to burn down. That’s what you do in a season-ending cliffhanger.
- Of course, we never actually followed up on any of these story threads. I place the blame for this squarely at the doorstep of Red Dwarf which, as far as we knew, ran their show the way all British shows run theirs.
Duncan Boszko - Delivery Man
Mark Boszko - Igor
Dave Fields - Exasperated Narrator
Josef Ravenson - Good Great Aunt Petunia
Matt Rowbotham - Nick
Sabrina Snyder - Matilda Titsmarsch
Jason Wallace - Environmentally Conscious Dracula
Ron “AAlgar” Watt - Willikins
Written & directed by Ron “AAlgar” Watt and Matt Rowbotham
© 2010, 2016 AAlgar Productions