Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Big Boys star Jon Pointing: ‘Grief is a strange thing to bond over’

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Jon Pointing is used to strangers making assumptions about him. “A lot of people presume I’m a bit of a lad,” says the actor, whose portrayal of a sensitive but boisterous geezer in Big Boys has just earned him a Best Comedy Performance nod from the Royal Television Society. “I can see that they’re thinking, ‘You look like you might have bullied me at school.’ And then they realise I’m actually sort of not that person. I’ve experienced it a lot, especially with my gay male friends. There’s this moment when they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re not a c***.’” The 36-year-old actor is grinning at me across a table, in an Irish caff in Lewisham that’s within bacon-sniffing distance of his flat. He does look like a lad, it must be said. His haircut is a short back and sides, long on top; he’s wearing an oversized vintage Reebok jacket. There’s a builder’s tea in front of him.

“Where I grew up in Epsom, compared to the people I hung around with, I was actually the slightly odd, arty one,” he says. “The one who was slightly too thoughtful. But as I’ve started hanging around with actors and artists and dancers more, I now look like this… I don’t know,” – he lets out an incredulous laugh – “uber male”. It’s this dichotomy that got him a role in Big Boys, Jack Rooke’s brilliant Channel 4 sadcom based on the writer’s own life. In the show, which came out last spring, Pointing plays Danny, a Red-Stripe-chugging Brent University student who just wants to have sex with “fit birds” but whose antidepressants are stopping him from getting, as he calls it, a “Jehova’s stiffness”. At a low point in his depression, he mournfully tells his gay best friend, Dylan Llewellyn’s Jack, “I just wanted to be this normal guy at uni who got drunk and high and got massive f***ing hard-ons.” He’s cracking jokes, but deep down, he’s crushingly sad and doesn’t have the vocabulary to talk about it.

Big Boys was a critical hit. The Independent’s Adam White wrote in his four-star review that it would be viewers’ “next coming-of-age obsession”, while The Guardian ranked it sixth on its list of the best shows of 2022, with Hollie Richardson writing of its approach to male mental health: “I truly believe it might change, maybe even save, some men’s lives.” It’s returning for a second series, with rehearsals starting in the coming weeks. Season two will see the best pals reunite and go on the hunt for a second-year house. Fans can expect it to be packed with just as many references to daytime TV and hun culture as the first – Rylan got a shoutout in season one and Pointing tells me the presenter is now angling for a cameo.

Pointing was a shoo-in for the role of Danny – not just because of his alpha exterior and soft interior, but because he and Rooke connected instantly over their experiences of grief. Rooke lost his father to cancer and his best friend to suicide; both heartbreaks are explored in the show. “I also lost a friend when I was in my twenties,” says Pointing. “It’s a strange thing to bond over, grief, but there is something comfortable about meeting someone you can connect with over that, because he made something out of that feeling. I think it’s a really delicate thing to do, because you’ve got to protect yourself, and I know Jack struggled with that and still does, because it’s complicated and there’s risk involved.” He talks thoughtfully about the intensity of losing someone in your teens or twenties. “When you’re young and something like that happens,” he says, “you get sort of petrified in that moment, in that time, because everything is really important to hold onto.”

Pointing’s late friend, Ads, has been on his mind a lot recently. “It was the anniversary of him passing away the other week and, you know, sometimes anniversaries slip by and you almost don’t feel it – sometimes you don’t want to feel it. A mate will text me and be like, ‘Oh, it’s the anniversary,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know,’ but for whatever reason I’m not in that headspace, or I feel like that’s in the box that I’ve kept it in for now and I don’t need to open that today. But this time, his brother actually left me a voicemail about Big Boys, saying, ‘Ads would be so proud of you,’ and it sort of like, really hit me, because I was thinking about him a lot while filming it and had photos of him in my trailer.”

It hurts that his friend isn’t here to share in the joys of life with him. “I’m missing someone who would be part of this journey with me,” Pointing says. “It’s like, I’m doing a job and I’m loving it, and I think I’m doing a good job as well, and while you’re always a bit embarrassed to be proud of what you’re doing, there are certain people in your life where all that stuff goes out the window. You don’t have to be humble. And you can be like, ‘I’m f***ing killing it, this is brilliant.’”

Pointing was born in Carshalton, south London, but grew up in Epsom, Surrey, “in a slightly nicer housing estate, but still a housing estate”. He lived with his sister and his mother, who was into arts and culture, and who Pointing says his mates would have described as “a bit of a hippy”. “She stood out where we lived,” he says. “We had very little money but Mum would spend what we did have on getting the train into London and going to see free shows.” His parents are separated, and rather than taking him to art galleries, his father was more likely to “put me in the back of a van and take me to work too young, and pubs too young”. He says he essentially grew up in two “very different families… in two worlds I love and have a real affection for”. He’s currently writing a sitcom about them.

Dylan Llewellyn and Jon Pointing as unlikely pals in ‘Big Boys’

(Channel 4)

After school, Pointing studied drama at Winchester University, an experience he describes as “quite vanilla”. “I was a bit naive when it came to applying to unis,” he says, laughing. “I was under the impression that they were all good, right? Like, it’s uni! We had teachers who were like,” – his voice shifts into a bored monotone – “‘Look. it’s Monday. I don’t wanna be here, you don’t wanna be here.’ And I’d be like, ‘I’m f***ing paying to be here!’” He shakes his head. “I should have done more research.”

He finished university and moved straight back to his mother’s. “I was like, ‘I can’t believe this, it’s like nothing’s happened.’ No agent, no idea how to get one, no connections, nothing. I was on Gumtree looking for jobs.” But he was determined to go into comedy, so for years he took his sketches and small plays to Edinburgh, which led to him getting a part in an advert, before he landed himself an agent and eventually roles in British TV comedies such as Plebs, Pls Like and Starstruck. His latest gig was on Jamie Demetriou’s Netflix sketch show A Whole Lifetime, in which he plays the hyperactive presenter of a Love Island-like series called Kiss Villa. His character is one of those people who abbreviates everything: the barrel he’s inexplicably standing on becomes a “baz” and, before long, is whittled down to a “b”. 

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Pointing is now married, but would he ever have gone on Love Island when he was single? “No,” he replies, bluntly. Why? “I’d be miserable. Too self-conscious, too embarrassed. Wait, sorry, do I have to come up with reasons to not go on that show? People who go on that show are insane. To want to do that is quite insane. That’s what’s so weird about Love Island. They’re supposed to be normal people. But it takes a certain type of person to want to do that.”

By contrast, he loved his experience on A Whole Lifetime, and is optimistic about the future of British comedy. He’s not at all worried about perceived “cancel culture” stifling good work. “All of these people who are saying, ‘You can’t say anything these days!’ are saying it to millions of people,” he says, leaning forward over his tea. “There’ll be comedians saying, ‘It’s ridiculous! I can’t even get gigs,’ to a gig, to a whole room of people. It’s like,” – he holds his hands up in exasperation – “you’re fine. There have always been comedians who have been racist and sexist and homophobic and there will always be people who will come and see you.”

Does he fret about where to draw the line with his own comedy? “It doesn’t worry me personally,” he says. “It all depends on what your palate is. What is your frame of reference? What’s in your bucket of thoughts and ideas and names and places? If you’ve got some racist, awful, terrible thoughts in that bucket, then you’re gonna be told to piss off or whatever, and rightly so.” Pointing is a lad, there’s no doubt about it, but one with a heart of gold.

‘Big Boys’ is available to stream in full on All4. ‘A Whole Lifetime’ is out now on Netflix

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