Social media star, comedian, TV presenter and now, chat show host, Mo Gilligan has achieved more than your average Instagram star since finding fame on the platform four years ago.
“I was just taken aback that I had the opportunity to get my own [show],” he says of his Friday night chat show.
He made a name for himself last year as the co-host of The Big Narstie Show alongside the grime star. The pair won an RTS Programme Award and a Bafta nod for their entertainment performance.
Before his television debut, Gilligan was juggling writing and performing stand-up with working part-time in a Levi’s store. He describes going all over the country for gigs, spending what he earned at the shows on his train tickets to get there. “You’re just kind of grafting,” he remembers.
He talks of doing some undesirable jobs in comedy to pay the bills, such as performing his comedy to a room full of children, “I don’t think the kids found it funny,” he laughs, “but a lot of the adults at the back would be laughing so I’d be like, ‘cool, I’m still funny.’”
It was during this time that he started posting videos on social media, taking any opportunity to get his comedy to a wider audience.
“I’d post a lot of videos while I was at work,” the 31-year-old confesses. “I’d hide in the toilets and try and quickly upload my videos before I had to go back on the shop floor.”
What started out as “a bit of fun” and a place to connect with people spiralled into a successful outlet for his comedy. “I found an audience online and through that I thought I’d do stand-up…and then a tour…and it sold out purely through social media,” he says.
His comedy videos and sketches portraying people from everyday life has helped him amass over half a million followers on Instagram. His popular ‘Geezer’ character, an Essex lad who is constantly shouting at his wife, Julie, to grab him a “coupla cans”, went viral and inspired his stand up tour.
Showing the true power of what it means to ‘go viral’, Gilligan has gained some famous fans along the way. Rapper Stormzy and Canadian musician Drake have shown their support for the comedian, with the latter quoting “the Geezer” in an Instagram post.
Gilligan has gone from calling in sick to his retail job to go to comedy gigs, to selling out arenas. However, despite his sold-out tours, high-profile fans and interviewing some of the biggest stars on The Big Narstie Show, Gilligan makes sure the comedy characters he creates are still recognisable to the audience.
“They’re just normal, everyday characters, whether it’s the annoying person in the staff room or the person [in front of you] when you go to the shop and you’re trying to get served,” he explains.
“As much as my world is changing, I feel something for these characters.”
While many of his fans know him from his early days online, Gilligan was granted a bigger platform to show off his versatility as a performer when he landed the job co-presenting The Big Narstie Show.
His cool and calm nature would come as a surprise to fans of his ‘Mo the Comedian’ online persona. He recalls the excitement of showing fans the real Mo Gilligan, saying, “I got to be myself and let my comedy do the talking and not the characters.”
Gilligan’s playful on-screen chemistry with Big Narstie resembles a sibling rivalry, with the duo constantly trying to outdo each other with sly, light-hearted digs.
“He was someone that I understood straight away so it wasn’t like we had to pretend to be mates,” he reflects. “We’re always taking the mick out of each other but it’s always from a fun place.”
The show blends all the ingredients of a Friday night entertainment show – celebrity guests, comedy sketches and audience participation – with an essence of anarchy, as no subject is off topic and segments often appear unscripted.
One of the things that sets the show apart is the diverse set of guests they have on the show. From David Schwimmer to Giggs, the conventional chat show rulebook is thrown out the window when it comes to inviting guests on.
“[The guests] don’t feel they need to come on to promote something,” he explains. “We have people like Dennis Rodman [on] and we can just ask, ‘so, what’s North Korea like?’”
“For the audience tuning in, they don’t know what they’re going to get each night, which is different from what is already available.”
After impressing with his presenting skills, there were floods of tweets demanding Gilligan should have his own show. Channel 4 has delivered just that with new chat show The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan.
Aware of the comparisons the show will no doubt garner, Gilligan assures that it will not be a repeat of what people have seen before. “The last thing I want to do is have a show and feel like it’s the same show [as the The Big Narstie Show],” he explains.
Up against late night veteran Graham Norton, The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan teases a different flavour of Friday night entertainment. The show where “everyone is a guest” promises an impressive line-up for the first episode, with Steve Coogan, Jessie J, Asim Chaudry and Tyson Fury as well as music, sketches and games in front of a live studio audience.
— Mo Gilligan (@MoTheComedian) July 17, 2019
When I speak to him, further details of The Lateish Show are still tightly under wraps, “I won’t want to say something and you end up watching and it changes,” he explains.
However, he does reveal that during the early stages of production the pilot was filmed in Peckham, South London, where he grew up.
“I wanted to do it somewhere that I’m from,” he says. “It’s easy to do it in a studio but I think it made it harder to do it in Peckham Levels. We took a lot of ideas that we can now put in the show.”
Growing up in Camberwell and moving to Peckham when he was 15, Gilligan’s roots are still firmly placed in South London.
“I’m a South London boy innit,” he says proudly. When he’s away from home or in different parts of London, he says he still craves the “sense of community” that he grew up with. “If I want to get hair products or certain foods, that’s the place I go. With gentrification happening, I just hope that it can still help thriving small businesses,” he says.
It was in South London that Gilligan’s comedy career started to pick up speed. After quitting his part-time job, he was able to commit himself fully to his comedy and “perfect his craft” by gigging around the city and writing sketches for his Instagram page.
There is absolutely no pretence with Gilligan. His relaxed and grounded persona dispels any notion that fame has changed him. His reaction - “oh, hell no!”- is a mixture of shock and offense that I would even ask if success has changed him.
“I don’t really hang around famous people,” he explains. “I still have the same friends I had from before.”
He names British comedians Lee Evans and TFI Friday’s Chris Evans as his early comedy influences, however he credits American comics for opening his eyes to a new type of comedy as a teenager.
“I’d watch a lot of Eddie Murphy stuff on VHS as a kid,” he remembers. “I was just a kid from South London and I was hearing about this other world of comedy.”
“I was learning a lot about like the LA riots and the whole O.J [Simpson trial]…I’d never heard comedy like that before.”
Gilligan says he still tries to go to live comedy shows when he can but says it “feels a bit like when you go into work and you’re not meant to be working and people are like, ‘why are you in today?’”.
With Gilligan’s schedule, it’s hard to believe he’d find the time. After adding multiple dates onto his Coupla Cans tour earlier this year - “I feel if people want to come, who am I to not want to perform?”- Gilligan expresses the importance of accessibility for his fans.
He recalls missing out on seeing some of his idols tour the UK because he couldn’t afford the expensive tickets growing up. “That’s why I try, as much as I can and for as long as I can, and make my gigs affordable and accessible,” he explains.
“The last thing we want to do is make it this exclusive club,” he continues. “For the normal, everyday person that goes to work, we want to make a gig that’s easier to go to.”
With fans from his online platforms, stand up and now TV…it looks like Gilligan is just getting started.
The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan continues on Fridays at 10pm on Channel 4.