Matt Berry Thought Toast Of London Would Be The End Of His Voice Acting Career

When it comes to comedy, we Brits have a special place in our hearts for utter bastards. We love our pompous jobsworths, self-deluded nincompoops, misanthropic braggarts, our incompetent blowhards. We can't get enough of self-important little men like Captain Mainwaring in "Dad's Army," or the impotent tyranny of Basil Fawlty in "Fawlty Towers," or bootlicking careerists like Arnold Rimmer in "Red Dwarf." And don't even get us started on magnificent monsters like Alan Partridge and David Brent, two of the greatest comedy creations our rainy isles have produced.

Matt Berry has been a busy guy for almost two decades now, during which time he has become a cult favorite by channeling this long lineage of comic bastardry into his best-loved creations. His shtick is a little one-note, but when you play it this well, who needs more than one? Especially when his most memorable characters come built-in with that deep rich voice that's a little like wallowing in an oversized fondue set filled with melted Bourneville chocolate. 

Berry started chewing scenery as Dr. Lucian Sanchez, the suave gun-toting surgeon in "Garth Merenghi's Darkplace," before cementing his reputation with two more villainous roles: stealing every scene he strutted into as the dastardly Dixon Bainbridge in "The Mighty Boosh," and stepping into the inimitable shoes of Chris Morris as the spoiled, ruthless, sex-crazed Douglas Reynholm in "The IT Crowd." More recently, he has played roles in the "What We Do In The Shadows" TV series and "Year of the Rabbit," which disappointingly found him unusually subdued as a cockney detective in Victorian London.

With his innate talent for playing boorish, narcissistic blusterers, it was only a matter of time before Berry would find the perfect vehicle for one of his comic creations to take center stage. That time came with "Toast of London," a series that the actor thought could torpedo a portion of his career.

What is Toast of London all about?

"Toast of London" is Berry's finest creation to date. Co-writing the series with Arthur Matthews ("Father Ted," "Black Books"), he plays to his strengths as Steven Toast, a cantankerous, arrogant third-rate actor whose dogged belief in his own talent is far outweighed by the evident disaster of his career. Each episode finds him shuttling around between his useless agent Jane Plough (Doon Mackichan) and his ill-fated acting gigs, which usually end in excruciating embarrassment and/or a fatality.

His only regular work is doing voice over gigs for a small studio, where he is routinely mocked by two hipster sound engineers, Danny Bear (Tim Downie) and Clem Fandango (Shazad Latif). As much as he hates them, that's nothing compared to the rage he feels towards his acting rival and arch-nemesis Ray "Bloody" Purchase, a rampant homophobe whose wife Toast is having an affair with.

While Berry's characters are often two-dimensional thunderers, "Toast" gives him a little more room for character development. Here we find an angry, deluded man adrift in the modern world, typified by his retro sartorial style and complete obliviousness to any culture, pop or otherwise, beyond around 1985. It's played with infectious silliness, relying on repetitious catchphrases, gleeful vulgarity, and outlandish situations, but it is still possible to detect sadness in Toast. While Sanchez, Bainbridge, and Reynholm had a complete lack of self-awareness, Toast's middle-aged crankiness suggests that he knows he's a terrible actor and an even worse person, which feeds into his cycle of awful behavior.

As with any cult comedy, fans will argue endlessly over the best lines and scenes. Personally, I love Berry's knack for mispronouncing a word or putting the stress on the wrong syllable, as in the epic voice-over moment when he is presented with three music acts he has never heard of. Those voice over scenes are probably the most universally loved parts the whole show, but Berry thought they might scupper his real-life voice acting career.

The voice acting scenes in Toast

Whether it's being encouraged to "have fun" with lines like "Fire the nuclear weapons!" for an automated submarine system, or getting totally flummoxed by how to correctly deliver a single word, "Yes," Toast often finds himself totally exasperated by the demands of the client. It doesn't help that he's so incredibly out of touch and that the sound engineers can barely suppress their contempt for him. It goes both ways, but his antagonistic working relationship with Danny Bear and Clem Fandango is where we get to see Toast at his most vulnerable.

Their smug attitude towards Toast isn't really born out of anything personal; they just see him as some amazingly uncool old bloke. As a result, they end up acting like naughty schoolboys whenever he's at the mic, openly sniggering and making fun of him. They have nothing in common and they may as well be talking in different languages, and I always feel sorry for Toast in those scenes. Even if he is, predictably, a total arse towards them in return.

These scenes are such a farcical send-up of the voice over business that Berry feared it might end his side gigs in that department (via The Guardian):

"I'm amazed I still get the work... I thought I'd satirised the job into oblivion as Toast. But that only made them want me more. Weird."

His BAFTA award for his performance in the first series certainly won't have done him any harm in that respect. Despite his growing fame, he has continued with the voice acting, lending his distinctive tones to TV adverts, inserts for radio stations, and playing roles in  "Moominvalley" and "The Book of Boba Fett." No doubt we'll be seeing more Matt Berry in the future, and hearing him, too.