Jesse Tyler Ferguson, AKA Mitchell Pritchett from Sky1’s US comedy import Modern Family, recently entertained an audience of appreciative fans at BAFTA in London as the star of a comedy masterclass.
Part life story, part ‘tips for aspiring actors’, the 90 minutes was really a tribute to the success and brilliance of a show which – only two series in – is already showing the potential to reach the status of comedy greatness. Some fans, many of whom were clearly in the audience, might argue that it’s there already, but as Ferguson himself referenced during the session, the critics haven’t always agreed. Nevertheless, as Jesse talked the audience through his experiences of being at the heart of the show and the collection of clips rolled to laughter and applause, it’s clear that there is certainly something that sets Modern Family apart from the dozens of US comedies that fail to strike a chord with audiences in the UK.
Having confessed to being a dramatic child as early evidence of his destiny to become an actor, a dapperly dressed Ferguson enjoyed every moment of being the centre of attention as he was quizzed by journalist and broadcaster Grace Dent. Thankfully he managed to carry it off without arrogance or smugness, instead staying just the right side of self-satisfaction and knowing confidence.
Answering questions about the risqué nature of some of the shows jokes, particularly around the topics of race, gender and sexuality, Ferguson was keen to point out that “the greatest comedy often offends a few people”, while trying to please everyone is the quickest way to mediocrity. He also spoke about how both his and fellow actor Eric Stonestreet’s portrayal of gay adoptive parents in the show has become something of a touchstone for same sex marriage in the US; a fairly bold claim to attach to weekly doses of 20 minute comedy.
However, both Jesse – who explained that as an actor his “main objective is to make people laugh” – and the assembled crowd of fans were far more interested in the humour behind the comedy, with Ferguson’s comic anecdotes really bringing the session to life. Anyone familiar with co-star Sophie Vergara’s portrayal of Gloria Delgado-Pritchett will know that it’s hard to hear a single line delivered in that thick, Columbian accent without cracking a smile, and it was great to hear from Ferguson that the cast themselves struggle just as much to keep a straight face. “Anything Sophia says to me is hilarious”, was Ferguson’s response to a question about what he found funniest about the show, followed later by another Sophia story from the set about an over-heating microphone pack, complete with an animated impression of his Latino co-star.
Mockingly self-congratulatory throughout – “I’m very talented” – Ferguson gave the impression of someone thoroughly pleased with fame and success, without being carried away by it, which strikes us as about as near enough to the perfect balance as any actor could hope to get. As enjoyable as he was to be in the company of, the collection of Modern Family clips shown throughout the sitting attracted by far the most laughs, serving as a reminder that Jesse is just one fraction of the many components that go into making the show such a standout success.