'Kevin and Perry Go Large' at 20: How we made the crude cult comedy classic

·10-min read
Kevin and Perry Go Large (Icon Film)
Kevin and Perry Go Large (Icon Film)

They began as a sketch in a TV show and became two of the funniest and most quote-worthy characters of the 1990s. Then the two teenagers played by Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke headed to Ibiza for “guaranteed sex” and to make their DJ dreams come true on the big screen.

On its 20th anniversary, we spoke to co-writer David Cummings, actress Tabitha Wady and DJ Judge Jules about the making – and impact – of Kevin & Perry Go Large.

Getting the band together

David Cummings was a rock-guitarist-turned-comedy-writer (he was in Del Amitri) who had known Harry since school. By the late-90s, he was renting an office above him in London’s Soho, contributing sketches to Enfield’s series, as well as The Fast Show, which starred his uni friends Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse.

“Me and Harry used to go for lunch quite often together and he started floating the idea of a Kevin and Perry movie,” remembers Cummings. “I made some suggestions and over lunch one day, Harry said, ‘you seem to have a pretty clear idea of what we’re trying to achieve with this project, would you like to write it with me?’ And I said yeah.”

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Despite the popularity of Kevin and Perry – whose hormonal tantrums and feeble attempts to get girls were aped and joked about across the country – Cummings faced some familiar problems. One was a comparatively tight budget of £2million. The other was the lack of success at spinning British TV characters off into movies, particularly for young audiences (this was well before The Inbetweeners made more than £40million at the box office – the writers of which cheerfully acknowledged to Enfield himself that they had basically pinched the plot of …Go Large for themselves).

Cummings started thinking about why so many TV spin-offs hadn’t worked.

“I was thinking maybe it’s to do with something as simple as the light in the UK,” he reveals. “So I thought let’s get Kevin and Perry out of there.”

As a professional musician, Cummings had always found the idea of the superstar DJ ludicrous, so decided to weave that into the plot with the character of Eyeball Paul (Rhys Ifans), who the lads are desperate to impress so he’ll listen to their demo tape. It was early November and Enfield’s manager said that if the script could be written before Christmas, the film would be able to go into production quickly the following year.

“It was brutal pressure,” recalls Cummings. “I did the first draft on my own and I was doing seven days a week. And once I’d finished the first draft, I sent it to Harry and he did his draft. So we never actually sat in a room together, we just bounced the script backwards and forwards between each other. And you know, Harry put in about two hundred knob gags. He gave it back to me, I’d try to take some of them out and then Harry put them all back in again. He was right and I was wrong!”

Going into production

Harry Enfield in Kevin and Perry Go Large. (Icon)
Harry Enfield in Kevin and Perry Go Large. (Icon)

The movie got the greenlight, seasoned TV helmer Ed Bye was hired as director and the cast was assembled. Kathy Burke had muttered to Enfield that she wasn’t keen to do many more sketches as Perry, so the movie acted as a perfect last hurrah for the pair. James Fleet, who had played Kevin’s teacher on the TV show, took over as his dad, while his TV mum, Louisa Rix, played the same role. Tabitha Wady and Laura Fraser played the love interests (“who doesn’t want to kiss Kathy Burke?” laughs Wady), Gemma and Candice.

As well as wanting it to be funny, Enfield was keen to make the clubbing and Ibiza scene feel authentic – a notoriously difficult task that few have achieved – so he sat down with an expert in the shape of DJ and producer Judge Jules.

The musician was asked to compile the film’s soundtrack, add some local knowledge to the plot, as well as compose the song, Big Girl, that Kevin and Perry are trying to flog to Eyeball Paul.

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 2000:  Photo of JUDGE JULES;   (Photo by Jon Super/Redferns)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 2000: Photo of JUDGE JULES; (Photo by Jon Super/Redferns)

“Harry already had the chanty lyrical idea,” remember Jules now, of the slightly rude single. “Me and somebody else did the musical backdrop. The idea was to give the lyrics a cool undertone, which we did in a Fatboy Slim-esque sort of style.”

In Enfield though, Jules found a fellow fan. “I think it was a surprise to everybody just how into dance music he was.”

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As for the soundtrack, the remit was straightforward. “Quite simply to choose big tracks, nothing more high-brow than that,” says Jules. “I was playing the biggest clubs and playing Ibiza a lot and [I was asked] to find tracks that represented that sound.”

Heading to the island

Kevin and Perry Go Large (Icon)
Kevin and Perry Go Large (Icon)

With everything ready to go, the production headed to Ibiza.

“We were all travelling on the same plane, which was great,” says Tabitha Wady, who played Perry’s potential girlfriend, Gemma. “It was such a laugh, a very vibrant and excited atmosphere going out there. We all stayed in a big hotel away from where we were filming, because they could keep an eye on us all.”

The basic plot was a pretty simple one – Kevin and Perry go on holiday to Ibiza, chaperoned by Kevin’s parents. Once there, they try and get a mega-DJ to listen to their song, become famous and lose their virginities.

Actress Tabitha Wady arriving at the World Charity Premiere of their film 'Kevin and Perry Go Large' in aid of Comic Relief, at the Warner Village West End ciema in London's Leicester Square.   (Photo by Tony Harris - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Actress Tabitha Wady arriving at the World Charity Premiere of their film 'Kevin and Perry Go Large' in aid of Comic Relief, at the Warner Village West End ciema in London's Leicester Square. (Photo by Tony Harris - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

“If it’s going to be a film, there needs to be at least one big idea in there,” says David Cummings. “I thought lampooning rave culture and DJs, there was enough in it. And of course, [the boys’] relentless quest to get laid is in there as well. With Kevin and Perry, you could send them away, give them an experience and have them mature somewhat.”

One of the best decisions the filmmakers made was film in probably the most famous club on the White Isle.

“They stuck a camera in the middle of Amnesia,” says Jules. “Probably the most suitable place to get a visual image of what Ibiza’s all about.”

STEAMY NIGHTS IN IBIZA (Photo by Stephane Cardinale/Sygma via Getty Images)
Amnesia, circa 2000. (Stephane Cardinale/Sygma via Getty Images)

With production trailers camped in the car park, the moviemakers shot in the legendary venue during the day.

“It was interesting because the extras would have been in the clubs all night and then they’d come and work with us in the day,” says Tabitha Wady. “So the atmosphere was amazing, they were really up for it.”

Of course, being a teen comedy, there are plenty of funny set-pieces too.

“We were aware that we could be vulgar, but not completely tasteless,” explains Cummings. “It’s a movie about 15-year-old boys that you wanted 15-year-old boys to go and see.”

Kevin and Perry Go Large (Icon)
Kevin and Perry Go Large (Icon)

Two classic scenes feature the leads in the sea and a human poo (“that’s based on an experience I actually had on holiday in Greece,” says Cummings) and the girls extravagantly popping their zits in preparation for a night out.

“That’s one of my favourite days of filming ever,” laughs Wady. “Just to be that revolting. They set tubes that ran up our arms all the way to our fingers and they put facial cleanser in so when we pushed the spots it would all flow down these tubes.”

The reception

Tabitha Wady in Kevin and Perry Go Large. (Icon)
Tabitha Wady in Kevin and Perry Go Large. (Icon)

With the movie wrapped, the filmmakers started to figure out how to make it as funny as possible.

“The first time we showed a rough assembly to an audience, it was two hours long,” says David Cummings. “This was in a cinema with an invited audience and it was basically greeted with a tumbleweed. And one of the many secrets of comedy is if you can cut it, cut it. So the finished version of Kevin & Perry is, I think, 81 minutes long.” (it’s actually 82).

Comic Harry Enfield and co-star Kathy Burke arriving at the World Charity Premiere of their film 'Kevin and Perry Go Large' in aid of Comic Relief, which was screened at the Warner Village West End in London's Leicester Square.  * Enfield turned up in an outfit emblazoned with his support for London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone, the latest showbiz star to pledge allegiance to Mr Livingstone.   (Photo by Tony Harris - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Comic Harry Enfield and co-star Kathy Burke arriving at the World Charity Premiere of their film 'Kevin and Perry Go Large'. (Tony Harris - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

Released on 21 April, 2000, the movie got mixed reviews, but was a homegrown hit, scooping an impressive £2million to take the number one spot at the box office, a place it reclaimed a fortnight later. Its appeal, however, appeared to be local.

“Harry was very keen for it to be globally released,” says Cummings. “I think he even went over to California for a test screening of it…and what absolutely and utterly failed to translate was two people in their forties, one of whom was a woman, playing 15-year-old boys. It absolutely did not translate on any level. So the film didn’t do any business anywhere in the world apart from the UK, which is slightly disappointing. But it did very well in the UK.”

The legacy

Rhys Ifans and Eyeball Paul in Kevin and Perry Go Large. (Icon)
Rhys Ifans and Eyeball Paul in Kevin and Perry Go Large. (Icon)

Kevin and Perry remain a fondly-remembered and still-referenced cultural touchstone for people who came of age during the Nineties and early Noughties (most of whom are now parents, many of teenagers) and the film remains one of the most authentic portrayals of the club scene on film.

“One of the reasons it’s so good is because it’s got a very pure representation of the clubbing environment in Ibiza and it’s got a very pure representation of Ibiza,” says Judge Jules. “Because it’s a comedy and because it’s not aspiring to be what it isn’t, it actually ends up doing the job really well. Of all the Ibiza movies, it’s by far the most successful, by a mile.”

So much so, in fact, that Jules is heading to the island for a 20th anniversary celebration of the film at Amnesia in September 2020.

For him, the soundtrack has transcended its humble origins as well.

“Not every record on the soundtrack was a hit, although quite a few things were hits at the time,” he says. “But you can literally play every record off the soundtrack to a 15-year-old now in 2020 and they’ll know it. It’s created a legacy for every single track that’s on there, as opposed to some tracks from that era which are landlocked into having a fanbase who were clubbers in the early Noughties. It’s been hugely significant, hence why there can be an event of this nature.”

There was talk of a sequel, but because its success never extended beyond Britain, it never quite happened. As for the megabucks pulled in by films like The Inbetweeners subsequently, David Cummings laughs, “One thing I’ve learned in the writing game is never have the good idea first. It’s always good to have it second or third.”

Nevertheless, Kevin and Perry’s DJ adventures and their attempts to navigate the travails of teenagedom remain much-loved.

“I could never imagine that people still love [the movie] like they do now,” says Tabitha Wady. “So many people message me, or try and get in touch to say, ‘I love it, I remember it so well’. It’s such a feelgood film, it takes you back to your youth. I love it for that.”