“They were looking for someone to fill the boots of this quite odd character,” explains 34-year-old actor and comedian Jamie Demetriou. “And if I was to be typecast, it would likely be as someone unhinged.”
It’s charmingly self-effacing for a three-time Bafta winner. Best known as the creator, co-writer, producer and star of hit Channel 4 sitcom Stath Lets Flats (which deals with the adventures of hapless estate agent Stath, and which concluded its third series in November), Demetriou is being hailed as one of Britain’s most exciting comedy talents. And his star is now in the ascendant Stateside too. After regular parts in big-budget shows like Hulu’s The Great, he’s currently appearing as Walt in Apple TV+’s new blockbuster sitcom, The Afterparty.
The “they” he’s referring to are the producers of the series (Christopher Miller, who directed 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie, among them). Anticipation for The Afterparty has been high ever since the cast was announced; stacked with American comedy talent (*deep breath* Dave Franco, Ilana Glazer, Ben Schwartz from Parks and Recreation, Ike Barinholtz from The Mindy Project, Sam Richardson from Veep), it’s the story of a 15-year high school reunion party which goes horribly wrong when one of the classmates comes to a tragic end.
What follows is Agatha Christie-on-shots, a millennial murder mystery, with a police investigation led by the incomparable Tiffany Haddish (who won the 2021 Grammy for Best Comedy Album). Each episode is dedicated to a different suspect and their account is shot in the film genre style that matches their personality — romcom, Fast and Furious-esque action movie, Hamilton-style musical and so on. Arguably it’s a wry comment on the impact of social media, which has created a generation of “main characters”.
“I’d be inclined to say that there’s an element of that, for sure,” says Demetriou. He quit Twitter last year after 13 years on the platform, “it just felt like a tic. I was opening it for no reason”. He says he feels infinitely freer and less stressed without it. “Social media is a 24/7 high school reunion. You live with the opportunity of keeping up with everyone more than you did at school.” Playing Walt, the loser from chemistry class who no one can remember, he distinctly lacks that “main character” energy in the show. Despite that, he deploys all the exquisite, fumbling dweebiness we’ve come to love from a Demetriou character. “I think that Walt’s unhinged side is all repressed and he therefore isn’t able to make a connection with anyone,” he explains.
Despite the three Baftas, Demetriou — who grew up in Friern Barnet but is chatting via Zoom from his flat in London Fields — says that he found the prospect of working alongside so many comedy greats “extremely daunting. And very exciting and humbling. Having the cast list read out to me after I accepted the part, it was hit after hit. It was like listening to The Strokes for the first time — ‘all these great songs on one album?’ It was incredible”.
The prospect of working for one of the US streaming giants, who are free to push the boundaries of the sitcom genre, was also appealing. As he points out, “on...platform[s] like Apple, the rules aren’t as set in stone. An episode could be a particular length, or it could not. They’re able to be more malleable which is exciting. There’s definitely a reluctance [in the UK] to leave behind traditions, like weekly releases [of episodes]. Stath series three was released as a boxset. That’s something that I was scared of doing in the past because it felt like it didn’t fit the narrative of the TV watching experience I had as a kid.”
Money, of course, isn’t an object for streaming platforms either. Unlike the much maligned BBC, which is where Demetriou caught his first big break as an actor, playing Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s elaborately bucktoothed paramour (“Bus Rodent”) in the first episode of BBC Three’s Fleabag. How does he feel about the Beeb’s prospects under Tory funding pressure? “I think that it’s stressful,” he begins carefully — true to comedian form, the IRL Demetriou is reflective and rather serious. He cites the importance of the range of comedy programming he enjoyed in his “absorbent years” as a teenager. “It does scare me to think that there’s a world in which that kind of freedom might go away as a result of the abolishment of the licence fee.
“But ultimately, you hope that in among the rubble of these things, there’s always a way out. It would be sad to just say the whole thing’s f***ed,” he says, primly, “and not have any kind of hope. I mean, BBC Three’s coming back,” Demetriou points out of its relaunch as a TV channel (rather than an online-only service). Tomorrow in fact. “So you never know what’s around the corner.”
Around the corner for him personally is, he hopes, some time off. The Afterparty was very much “just” an acting gig which he admits was part of the appeal after showrunning his own creation. “Feeling like I was holding my own in a room of geniuses comes with its own brilliant and exciting pressure,” he explains. “Although definitely not the pressure that comes with staying up till four in the morning trying to work out the various ways a flat can look bad.”
It’s a reflection, in part, of what we might tongue-twistingly call Stath Lets Flats Stress. “The amount of time the show took to make, I wasn’t able to be with family as much I could have been. So I’ve just hunkered down and put some time in with my dad. He’s suffering from dementia. I’m taking time to do things that aren’t work-focused, and I’m reaping the rewards.”
Demetriou’s father has an amazing story, which Demetriou reflects on “when I’m ever feeling hard done by”. He was sent to the UK from Cyprus at the age of 12 but due to a miscommunication, ended up living on the streets of London for the first few months after his arrival. “His family were penniless. And he was sent here to send money back home, but without much of a plan in place, basically. He was supposed to be meeting a family member. And he’d not really heard of London, and he didn’t really know where he was going. So it was pretty tragic circumstances,” explains Demetriou. After a few months living rough, he was taken in by a Greek family.
“The fact that he was in dire straits… and this city allowed him to turn a corner, that suggests that anything’s possible,” says Demetriou. “I guess part of that was instilled in me, and is why I’m able to be in the position I’m in, doing something that I actually really, really wanted to do, against what I believed to be all [the] odds… If I’m lucky, a modicum of his determination has rubbed off on me.”
Even with the dividend of the Stateside profile boost The Afterparty will give him, Demetriou’s in no rush to jump into the next thing. “As far as next projects go, I’m just seeing what’s out there. But I’m focusing on doing as little as possible at the moment, so that when the next thing comes along and becomes all-consuming, I’ll feel like I’m ready to do it.”
The first three episodes of The Afterparty are on Apple TV+ now