It’s a truth universally acknowledged that there just might be jobs in Britain that command more respect than estate agents. People with clipboards in town centres. MPs. God. Hell, maybe even journalists. And yet, across three seasons now, actor and writer Jamie Demetriou has created a universally loved, multi-Bafta-winning comedy where we root for – and we really do – estate agents.
“Taking something that’s a bad idea,” says a smiling Demetriou over Zoom, “something that’s hacky, and to actually do a good job with it, that’s something I aspire to in a really big way.”
Demetriou, 33, is speaking to me from the London edit suite where he’s in the final 48 hours of editing the third series of Stath Lets Flats.
“It’s a bit like being on stage and being interviewed about how the gig went,” he says. If there’s one thing you need to know about Demetriou, it’s that he worries a lot – he has spoken in interviews before about anxiety and finishes almost every answer with an apology about the answer being boring (it never is) or depressing (more on this later).
Was it a worry to make a third series at all, given that so many crucial British comedies call it a day after two?
“Oh, mate,” says Demetriou, shaking his head. “Yes, so much. That made it very difficult to write.” The sole writer on the show, Demetriou wrote the third season in Los Angeles last year. Even without lockdown, he describes his writing process largely as “vanishing into a hole on my own for a while”.
“I didn’t feel like I’d run out of ideas at the time, but maybe when I started writing, that crossed my mind. But in quite a literal way, it needed to have a third series because I left the second one on a cliffhanger.”
More than one cliffhanger, in fact. As the new season begins, family estate agents Michael & Eagle Lettings is thrust into crisis, the gorgeous will-they-won’t‑they between his sister, Sophie (played by Demetriou’s real-life sister, Natasia) and colleague Al looked set to boil over, whilst Stath is preparing for fatherhood.
The series sees Stath facing up to the responsibility of having a child or, as Demetriou puts it, “having a one per cent increase in introspection, but from having had zero per cent introspection in his life, that is quite significant.”
“It’s a real-life responsibility, having a kid,” he explains. “You can’t make him too reckless because it would just completely isolate an audience, to have someone being a very dangerous dad. They can set fire to a flat and there are no real implications, but you can’t do a thing where he drops the baby.” The fact that babies also don’t have personality traits or social anxieties to be mined into comedy gold also affected Demetriou.
“That was…” he pauses, searching for the right words, “a real cold slash of water in the face.” (That could be a line from the show – Stath Lets Flats’ humour is a very internet‑y absurdism, where the best gags come from Stath’s garbled language, a cracked mirror of misheard phrases, broken English and failed wideboy sales patter.)
That Jamie and Natasia Demetriou both went into comedy is, he explains, in no small part down to their upbringing. Born to Greek Cypriot immigrant parents in North London, the basis of their comedy comes largely from finding their father hilarious.
“There’s very little storytelling in the show that comes directly from him,” says Demetriou of his IRL father, the eccentric, elderly chef who insists that George Michael once worked in his takeaway. “But our sense of humour comes from finding everything he said so mad and funny growing up, it acted as a bed for what grew comedically with us.”
Demetriou’s ambitions while at school were initially not for comedy, but musical theatre. He did session vocal work in his teens (“which I loved so much”) followed by an unconvincing stint in a mid-’00s indie band. “I had a faux-intense London accent, this fake ’00s indie accent, when deep down I just wanted to be singing those jams. I was trying to sound awkward but actually, I would be thinking, ‘I want to sing a lot better than this’.”
In 2008, he joined a comedy troupe while at university in Bristol (some of whom also appear on his show) and began developing the voice that would become Stath. And then in around 2016, his acting career took off, going on dates with Fleabag (he played Bus Rodent) and giving Alan Partridge an allergic reaction to seafood – a 2013 comedy short about an incompetent Greek estate agent was commissioned into a full-length series. When Stath Lets Flats arrived, it did so at the same time as This Country and People Just Do Nothing, a renaissance of British comedy by groups not always represented by an often-middle-class Oxbridge comedy establishment.
Demetriou remembers him and Natasia meeting a pre-fame Charlie and Daisy-May Cooper at a script read-through. “We were blown away by how funny they were, it was just so clear for everyone to see,” says Demetriou. “And then This Country came out [in 2017] and everyone got that they were geniuses. I’ve been desperate to do something with them.” His wishes were answered: Charlie Cooper appears as a guest in the new series, as do Julia Davis and Tim Key.
The new series would be, however, the hardest experience of Demetriou’s career. While 2020 should have been a personal high – he won Best Male Actor in a Comedy, Best Writer of a Comedy and Best Scripted Comedy at the 2020 Baftas – events in Demetriou’s family, combined with lockdowns, proved a perfect storm.
“The last two years,” he says, his voice almost trailing off, “as it has been for everyone, it’s been tough. On the last day of the edit on series two, my dad got a dementia diagnosis and he’s been battling that.” Just a few months later, Demetriou found himself in LA on a job when the world went into lockdown. “Then he got Covid, and that escalated the dementia.” Throughout 2020, Demetriou remained in America, hoping to return home for Christmas, which proved impossible.
“I was writing Stath quite fluidly up until that happened and then… it’s interesting, I haven’t thought about this for a while, but I had a massive bout of writer’s block. Up until the end of shooting the show, I had the worst writer’s block I’ve ever had. I became a total insomniac. It was a very, very bumpy ride, [doing] the show. I wasn’t sleeping. I would be waking up on ‘action’ and falling asleep on ‘cut’, and things like that.”
It doesn’t show. The series is appallingly funny throughout, perhaps with a warmer heart than it has had previously. More than this, the writer’s block proved to Demetriou that there was an “invisible umbilical cord between my writing and my connection with my dad”.
One consequence of this is that he now feels “more connected and in love” with his Cypriot roots than ever before. Common to many second-generation immigrants, Demetriou never felt as close to his Greekness as he believes he should have done, but the series forced him to examine his heritage. It’s a lens that reveals a lot about England; the world of Stath Lets Flats is grey, budget and shabby, shot around Green Lanes as the city begins to drift into takeaways and endless corner shops: there’s a lot of old men sitting around playing cards in hairdressers.
Is there ever a concern of making Greek life appear too ridiculous? Demetriou pauses. “Like any smaller culture, the dimensions of those cultures are so limited that you have to be careful. At the same time, I’m trying to make the show as funny as it can possibly be. The best thing for that culture is to have as funny a show as possible about it; I don’t think that exists if you’re pulling your punches.”
“The show is my experience of Greek culture,” he continues. “There’s a huge Greek culture that celebrates the show. I get a lot of people saying, ‘I know that guy, that guy is my cousin’, but occasionally you get people who are disappointed, and it’s unfortunate. I hope it doesn’t upset people, but it does just have to come down to taste. I know that I’m doing it with love, even more so with this series.”
What’s next for Demetriou, now suddenly a triple Bafta winner? “After I’ve done a long stint of writing I like doing a few auditions, finding some acting work.” He’s starring in an Apple TV+ murder mystery show, The Afterparty, which airs early next year. His next big thing, though, is likely to be a crap R&B singer character he’s occasionally performed as stand-up.
“I’ve got plans to do something with the singing as a fully-fledged thing by itself,” he says. “Comedy songs [are something] I find quite painful and embarrassing, but anything that’s slightly cringe is there to be improved.”
And, more importantly, what’s next for Stath?
“In the future, I don’t know. It’s a decision that has to be made I guess. I do still enjoy playing him. It’s quite a nice relief at times to have a character whose rhythms you’re comfortable enough with that you know how he’d react in any given scenario.” A pause. “I started working on it when I was 24 and I’m 33 now. It’s been my whole adult life, really.”
And after that, Jamie Demetriou heads back into the editing suite to worry about how to keep people in love with a bunch of letting agents during the housing crisis.
All episodes of Stath Lets Flats are available to stream now on All4