Broadcast in 1999, Bruiser’s acting trope consisted of David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Martin Freeman, Olivia Coleman, Mathew Holness (Back) and Charlotte Hudson. Whilst Ricky Gervais, Richard Ayoade and James Bachman were all credited as part of the writing team.
While it seems hard to imagine a time when we didn’t know these household names- back in 1999, Mitchell and Webb had only just made their TV debut in a series of sketches for Comedy Nation. Ricky Gervais had only just begun his career on Channel 4 and Richard Ayoade was a jobbing scriptwriter behind the scenes.
The Office was yet to be made,Olivia Coleman and Martin Freeman were unknown to the acting world. It was a sketch show showcasing brand new talent … it really is amazing to see just how much talent it ended up showcasing!
It was a sketch show without audience laughter, which was unusual and was probably due to budget restraints. It had some recurring characters, such as David Mitchell, who played a man in various different jobs (a paramedic, a bank robber, a plumber) who was pretty bad at everything he tried, and pretty angry about it too! A series of very funny sketches, parodied James Bond and featured Martin Freeman as Bond, with David Mitchell as ‘Inept Q’:
There was also Mitchell & Webb as two hapless policeman. A series of surreal sketches performed entirely in French, discussing the deaths of famous people. One of my favourites was the series of very surreal sketches between Martin Freeman and the practical joker puppet, called Sparky, voiced by Robert Webb.
So, what happened to Bruiser? Well, the show didn’t get another series – being broadcast late at night may have been a contributing factor. Ricky Gervais went on to make The Office in 2001. It has been speculated that it was his brief collaboration with Martin Freeman on this show that led to his casting as Tim in The Office.
Mitchell and Webb, along with Olivia Coleman and James Bachman, continued with sketch comedy, landing ‘The Mitchell and Webb Situation’ in 2001, which was the precursor to ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look’. And just after ‘The Situation’ they got their big break with Peep Show in 2003.
After the success of That Mitchell and Webb Look in 2006, Bruiser was released on DVD in 2007, albeit it a rare DVD to find these days. However, all the episodes are available on youtube if you fancy a look at the show that started it all for so many people. Here’s David talking about the show on a documentary: The Comedy Vaults: