Tom Rosenthal is a natural playing the youngest son in sitcom Friday Night Dinner. Then again, he tells LISA WILLIAMS, his real family is pretty funny too
THE spirit of Friday Night Dinner can be summed up by the fact that during filming, the cast and crew took part in a table tennis tournament and sports pundit Jim Rosenthal popped in to ‘present’ it.
The comedy is a slightly alternative family sitcom, about a suburban couple whose two twenty-something sons turn up for a weekly family dinner which never goes entirely to plan, either because of some petty family argument or because oddball neighbour Jim pops over to disrupt things.
It’s filmed almost entirely in a real house and the cast itself is an extremely funny bunch. Among them is one Tom Rosenthal, a stand-up comedian who plays younger brother Jonny and whose surname explains the aforementioned appearance of the TV presenter.
“I thought I’d get him some work,” quips the 24-year-old of his famous father.
Although sadly the tournament doesn’t appear on screen, the series itself offers comedy enough to soothe away the Sunday night blues. (Despite the schedule change, producers resisted the urge to rename the show ‘Sunday Night Dinner’.)
Incidents so far this series include a fight between Jonny and his brother Adam, played by The Inbetweeners star Simon Bird, over a cuddly toy, an altercation with Grandma’s new ‘male companion’ Morris, and the revelation that Adam once ditched a date because she “smelled like mum”.
Mum is played by Green Wing actress Tamsin Greig and, while Jim popped up on set to cheer on the tournament, Rosenthal’s real mum (a former producer on Newsnight) has an entirely different response to the series.
Rosenthal says: “My mum gets jealous of Tamsin because she looks more like my mum than my mum does. I look like Tamsin Greig but minus a few years and a wig.”
Greig is somewhat of a mother figure on set too, and apparently scolded Rosenthal for cheating during a game of Boggle.
“I wasn’t cheating though, that’s the thing,” insists Rosenthal, rather unconvincingly.
“But what Tamsin did was more of a look, she didn’t tell me off or say ‘You’re a bad boy’. In a ‘method’ sense it’s wonderful to feel like she is my mum because you don’t have to act so much.”
In an excruciating episode in the first series, Greig’s character invited over a potential girlfriend for Adam for Friday night dinner as a ‘surprise’, but Jonny managed to charm her instead.
In this series, it’s Adam who has the last laugh when Jonny brings around his new love interest.
“I have a boss at work who I hang out with. It helps my career somewhat to be in bed with this lady, so to speak, and Adam finds much mirth in the fact she is 43,” Rosenthal reveals.
Then, of course, there’s Dad (played by Paul Ritter) an eccentric who walks around shirtless and often interrupts dinner to fix machinery on the kitchen floor.
“My dad isn’t as weird as Dad in this yet, but he does walk around without clothes on sometimes,” jokes Rosenthal.
“The thing is,” he adds, “I feel bad saying this, but it is quite funny. He now sits and watches sport on television and gets progressively angry about people that he sees get it wrong, so I’ll walk into the room where he’s watching telly barking at Gary Lineker or whatever and I think, ‘Oh no, this is really tragic and sad’.”
It’s not the first time Rosenthal has mined his father’s life for laughs. Last year his Edinburgh Festival stand-up show was named ‘Child Of Privilege’, and Jim was the butt of a substantial number of its jokes, notably about the time he tried (unsuccessfully) to sue Heston Blumenthal after getting food poisoning from eating at his Fat Duck restaurant.
“As a comedian you have to use what you’re given. I was given this, quote unquote, ‘legendary’ sports presenter as a dad. He’s very used to me talking about him on stage.
“But he’s so supportive and part of that is accepting I’m going to joke about him. Some people thought it was a bit harsh but he’s brought me up to be that sort of person, we’ve had fun together, and he knows it comes from a good place.”
It’s amazing Rosenthal makes it on stage for his stand-up gigs at all, as he admits to “massively” suffering from stage fright as a result of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder so bad, he’s had treatment for it at The Priory.
“I have to touch things before I go on stage, it’s really peculiar behaviour,” he explains.
“Being a performer is not ideal for OCD because you’re constantly putting yourself in stressful situations but it doesn’t prevent me from doing what I want to do.
“I can see it potentially derailing my career in the future if it gets worse but at the moment it’s manageable.”
It was through doing stand-up that he got the part in Friday Night Dinner.
He claims they “spread the net wide” when casting Jonny, and this coincided with the time Rosenthal had started making a name for himself on the live comedy circuit.
“They couldn’t find anyone. I was a new comedian who they gave an audition to. It’s not a very tried and tested method but I’m keen to make the most of it now I’ve got my foot in the door,” he says.
Right now he’s working on his Edinburgh Festival show for next year.
“It’s very embryonic and it sounds ridiculous, but at the moment it’s about the mind, the body and the soul,” is all he’ll say.
And, as with umpteen stand-up comedians who’ve gone before him, he’s working on a script for his own sitcom which raises the question of whether he’d give his dad a walk-on role.
“He’s actually a very good comedy actor,” says Rosenthal. “He’s been in Footballers’ Wives!”
EXTRA TIME - TOM ROSENTHAL’S TOP DINNERS
:: Roast dinner: “Beef or chicken.”
:: Steak with chips: “Maybe some trimmings too, why not?”
:: Pizzas: “They’re quite strong, aren’t they? But I’d have pepperoni, which is a bit boring.”
:: Sea bass: “It tastes plain, and I like plain foods.”
:: Hummus and pitta bread: “This is what I’d make for myself. I will never cook for anyone else, it’s offensive. They’d rather go hungry.”
:: Friday Night Dinner continues on Channel 4 on Sundays