Mo Gilligan was TikToking way before being a professional TikToker was even a thing. Five years ago, he would spend half of his time folding jeans on the shop floor of Levi’s, while the other half was dedicated to filming comedy skits for his Instagram profile, using wigs and flat caps to embody personas such as the geezer (“get a coupla cans in, love”) and the FBI girlfriend. OK, so he wasn’t a TikToker per se, but he was, whether he knew it or not, crafting a format that would go on to help budding comedians regularly find virality on the platform. Trailblazer? Probably. Hilarious? Definitely.
These days, the 34-year-old Londoner can’t walk down the street without being recognised. Having your very own show on Channel 4 will do that. First airing in 2019, The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan is a Friday night chat show and then some, a raucous hour of celebrity interviews and performances, games such as “Nursery Grimes” (in which guests are challenged to perform nursery rhymes to the tune of classic tracks) and big laughs. As he put it when accepting his second BAFTA for the show earlier this year, the show brings “Black boy joy” to our screens each week. About time. The show returned for its third series last Friday, with guests like Top Boy’s Ashley Walters, Sean Paul and Loose Women’s Judy Love joining Mo for the big kick off. (Head to All4 to catch up on it ASAP, if only to see Walters’ 21 Seconds x Ten in the Bed mash up.)
But that’s not all Mo’s been up to. There’s been Netflix specials, dates at London’s The O2 Arena, a book, a documentary about the legacy of Black British comedy and even a gig presenting this year’s Brit Awards. Next up, he’s set to bring back Channel 4’s legendary ‘90s morning show The Big Breakfast with co-host AJ Odudo. The pair revived it for the stations’ Black To Front Project last year (which put Black talent both in front of and behind the camera for a full day of programming) and did such a bloody good job Channel 4 had no choice but to bring it back full time. No big deal, eh?
There’s little wonder, then, that Mo’s a bit late for our Zoom interview. He’s only the most in-demand presenter and comedian in the UK right now. And he’s gearing up for The Lateish Show’s big comeback, which will air a few hours after we speak. We’ll let him off. Thanks for making the time, Mo.
Hey Mo! Been a bit of a busy morning, has it?
Oh, yes, man, but good. It’s good to be back doing the show. I’m really excited to have it back. We filmed the show this week and now we’re already planning for the next show, writing with the rest of the guys in the team. So yeah, busy, man…
Sounds it. 2022 has already been a pretty massive year for you. You kicked it off by hosting the Brit awards. What was that like?
It was real bucket list stuff to be at The O2 with 20,000 people and the star-studded names that were there. It came at a time when, if someone ever said to me, “do you think you’d host the Brits?” I would be like, “yeah”. But it came a lot sooner than I thought it would. It was amazing.
And then you won your second BAFTA for The Lateish Show. In your acceptance speech, you said that you were nervous, even though you’d already won before. Does all the success still feel like a bit of a shock?
100 per cent. When I won previously, it was over Zoom in lockdown and I celebrated in my house with my loved ones. But to be in the room and hear your name being called out, it was like, “Oh my gosh, this is absolutely crazy!” I’d just got off a flight from LA, so it gave me that extra boost I needed before my jet lag was about to set in. I had a show in LA on Friday, I flew back Saturday and I was at the BAFTAs on Sunday. A very surreal week, if I’m completely honest. Every part of me was like, this is amazing, but at the same time, tomorrow is Monday and I need to take the bins out. You quickly get brought down to reality.
You also hosted a massive BAFTAs after party. Can you remember much of it?
I didn’t really drink that much, because whenever I drink I sometimes get tired and I’d just come off a long flight, but it was amazing. A lot of close friends were there and people within entertainment as well. Everyone enjoyed themselves and we partied well into the early hours of the morning. I don’t ever really host parties and stuff. When people come to the house I’m like, “you can come, but when it’s time to get going… chop-chop.” But yeah, it was really good vibes.
Then wake up, put the bins out…
Oh, yeah. You’ve got to get them out, because sometimes it might be recycling, or it might be general waste, so you’ve got to know what ones you’re putting out. It’s a big deal!
It’s too complicated. Since The Lateish Show first launched in 2019, you’ve made two more series, the fourth one has been commissioned, you’ve performed at The O2, you’ve had Netflix specials… the list goes on. Do any of those projects stand out as highlights?
The first Netflix special will always be something I remember very vividly and probably getting my show – that happened in the same year. It was massively exciting. It was like, “oh my gosh, I’m on TV and I’m on Netflix!” It definitely felt like the start of something and, since then, I’ve gone on to be able to do so many other cool things. But most importantly, I’ve always said that what I’ll do now is just carry on carrying on what I do, because it’s one thing to get there, but it’s harder to stay at it and be consistent.
A personal favourite was your documentary, Black British and Funny, which celebrated the legacy of Black British comedy, while also pointing out the inequality in the industry. As you point out in it, The Lateish Show was the first show to be helmed by a Black man in 20 years. Do you feel like things have changed since it first aired?
Well, I’ve got a lot of friends who are now doing their own shows and starting their own production companies who are from diverse backgrounds. I can’t really say whether things have changed or haven’t. I remember going to the BAFTAs for the first time and it was like, “Oh, being here is really fun, but I don’t see any of my friends here.” Going there this year-round was really special. I got on the red carpet and Zeze [Millz] interviewed me, I saw Samson [Kayo] who I was with in LA, so it feels like there is a change happening, but there’s still a long way to go. I think what’s really nice is there’s also people who are occupying spaces behind the camera, which is really good. That’s something that I also champion a lot. But again, I can only say that from a place of looking at my journey to where I am now. And it doesn’t mean that because I’ve got a show and a BAFTA, it stops here. There’s still so much more to go.
You were one of the first comedians to find success on social media and then be offered a major platform. Do you think this new path into the industry is also helping get different voices and perspectives through the door?
Yeah, there’s a lot of people who have their own audience now and they’re bringing that audience to TV. Look at Munya [Chawawa] and Zeze, these people have been working for a long time, building up what they do and their audiences. So when they do get their opportunities, sometimes people are like, “God, this person’s fantastic, where have they been?” They’ve been right in front of your face the whole time! It’s really nice to see, you know I’ve seen Yinka [Bokinni] earlier today and she’s got a show that’s gonna be on Channel 4. Zeze and Yinka have a show together. Munya, he’s on a few shows on BBC Three and Channel 4, and funny stuff with YouTube originals.
And there are people who have their own audiences on other platforms like YouTube, who are massive and have millions of views. You don’t have to be just one thing, you can expand it. Look at KSI, he started off doing YouTube videos and now he’s performing on the Brits mainstage with Anne Marie. Whoever knew that you could turn something so small into something so big. That DIY generation are really using the media and benefitting from the fruits of their labour, putting in a lot of hard graft online and, today, with some TV success.
Obviously, we’ve got to talk about the new series of The Lateish Show. What can people expect from it this time?
It’s much bigger than ever! I feel like a lot of shows say that, but we have really groundbreaking prizes for our audience members to win at home. We’re going to be doing a live finale show as well, which is going to be really exciting. We’ve got some amazing guests lined up. There’s more of what everyone enjoyed. We want another BAFTA, so we don’t want to change our formula too much. I think the most important thing is we’ve got a live audience back in the room [after the pandemic], which just raises the volume up that little bit more.
That’s what we like to hear. One of our favourite sections of the show is Nursery Grimes. What’s your favourite one that’s ever been done on the show?
It’s probably Alesha Dixon’s Hey, Diddle, Diddle [to the tune of Mis-Teeq’s All I Want]. It was so funny because she was so cool at first, really chill, and the beat dropped and it was literally like I was reliving those Mis-Teeq days. She got a wheel up and no one had ever got one [at that point]. It was so, so good. I was genuinely shocked. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is really old school Alesha Dixon right now!”
Legendary stuff. Who would be your dream guest?
One thing that we try to do on the show is having guests that you’d never see together. So if I could get David Attenborough and Vybz Kartel that would be sensational. In what universe is that happening?! Trevor McDonald would be great as well. I’ve always wanted to get Adele on the show with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Dame Judi Dench, I don’t know why, she just seems mad cool. Viola Davis, she’d be cool. Denzel Washington, oh my gosh, he’d be incredible. So yeah, if any of those guys are free in the next couple of months, they’re more than welcome. We’ll even pay for their flight.
Fingers crossed! We’ll put it out into the universe… You’re extremely busy these days. Do you ever get time to chill out?
Oh, yeah! I’ve recently moved, so I’ve started getting into gardening actually. I find it’s so therapeutic. I bought a lawnmower – I’m literally telling everybody I know that I bought a lawnmower. In my spare time if I’m not jet washing my patio, I am cutting the grass and planting some tulips, believe it or not. Tell Alan Titchmarsh to watch out. There’s a new gardener on the scene.
The Lateish Show is on Fridays at 10pm on Channel 4 and All 4