Comedian, writer and actor Daniel Lawrence Taylor (BA Drama and Theatre Studies 2004) talks to us about the inspiration behind his hit sitcom Timewasters, becoming a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit and starring alongside Sheridan Smith in ITV’s Isolation Stories.
It was a chance conversation at school that set Daniel on his career path. “My aim was to become a teacher until one of my class mates in year 9 said he wanted to be an actor,” he says. “I thought, ‘that sounds cool, think I’ll do the same’, and I worked from that moment to become an actor. It’s strange to think that a career that I had no interest in until mentioned by my friend was the career that I’m in now and so passionate about now. I used to be the really quiet kid sitting in the corner playing with my toys so it still baffles my family that I went on to become a performer.”
He was encouraged by a tutor at college to study Drama and Theatre Studies at Royal Holloway, as she felt it was the best fit for him, and he didn’t look back. “I remember arriving and being blown away by Founder’s - you don’t get buildings like that where I lived in South London. I met some really amazing people and I loved that there was a real mixture of subjects to explore. My favourite lectures were held by a lecturer named Lynette Goddard and focused on black theatre. It was during these classes where I discovered some of my favourite plays like Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Leave Taking by Winsome Pinnock.
“Royal Holloway definitely broadened my horizon. Living in London, you feel you have everything on your doorstep which is amazing but can make you a little complacent and naive if you’ve not ventured far from your postcode. Royal Holloway introduced me to a world of different people, and I did a lot of learning over those three years outside my degree.”
Comedy was the go-to in Daniel’s house as a youngster so it is no surprise that he fell into comedy acting. However, it was at university that he first discovered this love for performing comedy and where he met Eri Jackson, who he later went on to form a comedy double act with. “In our final year, myself, Eri, and a group of Royal Holloway drama friends put together a comedy show called Crime Comb: Delousing the law which we took up to the Edinburgh festival. Once we graduated, everyone else from the show went off and got proper jobs so Eri and I, during our months of unemployment, started to put together a comedy act called Ginger and Black … because she was ginger and I was, you know … get it? From there, we bagged ourselves an agent and we soon were gigging all over the country as well as appearing in various comedy shows on TV.”
Daniel created, wrote and starred in the ITV2 sitcom Timewasters (pictured below), which first aired in 2017. “I saw the success of shows like The Inbetweeners and Plebs and I thought it would be cool to do an all black version of a group of friends getting up to mayhem,” he recalls. “Also, there weren’t many roles for black actors so I wanted to create something that not only offered an opportunity for myself, but a lot of other black performers. I was learning to play the trumpet at the time and thought it would be a cool idea to write a show about a Jazz band and the racial troubles they’d get into in a very white 1920s Britain. The time travel aspect was the icing on the cake. I then wrote a script, and myself and my agent sent it round to production companies. A few really liked it, but I settled on developing it with Big Talk as they had an amazing track record. We then pitched it to ITV2 who loved it and decided to make a series. Evidently, I was so busy with writing the show, I had to stop with my trumpet lessons.”
When asked about his greatest achievement to date, it is no surprise that Timewasters is definitely up there. “Partly the show itself, but for what it’s done for representation on television,” he explains. “I’m constantly contacted by young black writer/performers on social media asking for help and advice. There’s so much talent out there, and I hope Timewasters along with shows like Chewing gum and Famalam will open the door for more shows with black creatives behind them.”
After the success of Timewasters, Daniel was named as a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit and won the Royal Television Society's Breakthrough Award in 2018. “It was incredible to win! You never start with the aim of winning awards but when it does happen, it’s an amazing feeling to know you’re being acknowledged by your peers. The RTS breakthrough award was particularly special as it followed Michaela Coel and Phoebe Waller Bridge. BAFTA is also a great community and gives you real kudos when you go into meetings. It’s almost like a golden seal of approval.”
Despite an unprecedented 2020, Daniel has still been busy. In February he appeared on Celebrity Mastermind with fellow Royal Holloway alumnus, Bobby Seagull, and he recently starred in an episode of ITV’s Isolation Stories - four short dramas depicting life in lockdown and what families are going through after weeks of isolation during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
“Isolation Stories was great fun to do,” he recalls. “It was a really quick turnaround. I got the call about it on the Friday and we were filming by the Monday. I thought it was going to be the easiest job ever as I thought it was just a case of walking into my living room and acting to my camera on the laptop but it was a lot more technical than I thought. We were also in charge of our own costumes and how the set looked behind us - all things that as an actor you take for granted as you normally just have to worry about the acting bit. But that aside, it was so much fun. I got to act opposite Sheridan Smith, and Paul Whittington is an incredible director that I greatly admire, so I was so happy when I was cast in that role.”
Daniel’s own isolation story has looked a lot different to what was depicted on the show, “a lot of it has been spent in my pants drinking wine!” However, he has also used the time to concentrate on his next projects. “I have a few script commissions so I’ve been writing them at home, as well as being part of a writers’ room over Zoom. I’ve also been cast in a sitcom for BBC Radio 4, which I’ll be recording from my living room. However, I live next to a busy road so there will be ALOT of retakes. I’ve been one of the lucky ones in my industry that has been able to continue working during lockdown, which I’m incredibly grateful for.”
What is his advice for students pursuing an acting career? “Use your university days to experiment. I spent every term in a different production which weren’t even part of my course. It’s the perfect place to test your skills. Try to dabble in everything. Don’t put all your energy into JUST getting an agent when you leave. Create your own content, and craft your skills. It all comes in handy, trust me.”