Jazz and time travel. It’s an obvious pairing. “It’s an old trope,” jokes Daniel Lawrence Taylor.
The actor and writer is charming and cheerful company, recognisable from his roles in a range of TV shows, including Uncle, Hunderby and ITV2’s Cockroaches. He has just hurried across from Soho where he has been spending the week in a writer’s room working on a new comedy for Netflix, which he says, “has the bones to be great.”
We are meeting to discuss his new show, ITV2 sitcom Timewasters.
The show follows a south London jazz quartet who find themselves catapulted back in time after discovering a time machine in a block of flats. Arriving in the 1920s the foursome set about establishing themselves as successful musicians in the golden age of jazz. “But they also run into many, many problems, what with being black and also being from the future,” says Taylor.
In real life however, the cast are far from successful musicians. “I started learning how to play the trumpet,” explains Taylor, which gave him the idea for the show. He has since given up the instrument. “[Learning] was only good for one thing which was giving me this idea.”
The rest of the cast aren’t much better. Samson Kayo (who plays happy-go-lucky Horace) learned how to hold a trombone moments before the camera started rolling, while Adelayo Adedayo (who plays money-mad Lauren) was sent off to lessons so she could at least look like she knew how to play the drums. “I’m just as bad. I don’t play a single note,” reflects Taylor.
The show, which features an all black central cast, is a rarity on British TV. “I remember showing someone [the script]," Taylor recalls. "One person said that the idea was unoriginal – which I found hilarious. It’s original just in the fact that you have four black leads!”
That fact – as well as the premise - have already garnered him fans. Kidulthood actor and writer Noel Clarke tweeted about the show, saying “I already like it and haven't seen it. Right up my street, kind of ideas I've been trying to push through for years. Well done!”
The show’s relationship with race is neatly captured in a line: “People like us never get to time travel – it’s what white people do, like skiing or brunch” – a joke which Taylor says has earned him some flak on Twitter.
“For me, race is so important,” he says, pausing before adding, “because I am black.”
“There’s so much comedy to be had. At the end of the day there are probably people who are going to be offended, [but] I hope people can see what I am poking fun at.”
Although race is key to the show, “That’s not only what the show is about. There’s a lot of dick jokes and people pissing about. I think it has a nice balance,” he shrugs.
According to Taylor, the US is far better than the UK at dealing with ethnicity in its comedy. “We are much more sensitive when it comes to talking about race,” he says. Setting the show in the 1920s allows a bit of a separation from the issue which makes it easier to talk about, he believes.
“You realise [that] in the 1920s… the upper classes were much more fond of black people than the history books lead you to believe,” says Taylor. “Us being a jazz band, we were kind of marvelled as exotic creatures.”
Having started his career in a double act, Taylor initially work as an actor. Timewasters is the first TV series he has written. “[It] is quite nerve-wracking,” he says. However he believes that ITV2 is the right home for the show.
“ITV2 is not necessarily known for its com edy,” he admits. “I think they are trying to change that and we are going to help bolster that.” Unlike some other channels, he suggests, ITV2 takes a chance on more high-concept comedies – something Taylor champions. “One thing that we do is a lot of flat-shares and workplace sitcoms – which are great – but there are so many of them that I do feel that sometimes you can break out of that.”
“I think that we’re going to sit nicely there. I mean, I say that now. Who knows what is going to happen on Monday…” he says nervously.
With shows like Ancient Rome-based sitcom Plebs and post-apocalyptic comedy Cockroaches – in which Taylor also starred, he believes that ITV2 is leading the way in terms of taking on high-concept shows.
“I absolutely adored Cockroaches, and after I had finished it, there was other stuff coming through that I didn’t enjoy so much. I was like, ‘how do I ensure that I only get sitcoms that I enjoy like Cockroaches or like Uncle or Hunderby?’” Write it yourself, he concluded.
“Hopefully people will like it,” he reflects, as he finishes up. “In terms of the kinds of stuff that’s on TV now, I think we were really brave with trying something different and new. It’s entertaining. If you laugh… I don’t know. But I genuinely think you are going to entertained.”
I reassure him that, having seen the trailer, I think people will laugh. “Good,” he replies. “I didn’t want to sound arrogant.”
Timewasters is on ITV2 on Mondays at 10pm