In praise of ‘Toast Of London”s Matt Berry, the off-kilter comedy hero to lead us into 2021

Has anyone else been served the ad for the Calm app recently? Dreamy northern Harry Styles talking to you through your phone promising to send you to sleep, Cillian Murphy (who I prefer to think of as Tommy Shelby at all times) whispering to you gently. Might I suggest the most distinctive voice of all for the next contender: Matt Berry.

You’ll know Berry and his voice from something, whether it’s the Money Supermarket ads, underrated horror comedy Garth Merenghi’s Dark Place, as the surreal boss Douglas Reynholm in The I.T Crowd, or as Steven Toast in Toast of London. Well, good news for Berry fans: Toast is back! And this time, he’s in America.

Co-creator Arthur Mathews has revealed that the next series, Toast In America, will start shooting next year. In… er…. the UK. Good luck getting Hackney to look like Hollywood, lads. In any case, it won’t matter because it will be good and the only thing better than Toast baffling Brits will be him confusing Americans.

In case you haven’t seen it, Toast Of London follows a middle aged and brilliantly named actor and voiceover artist Steven Toast as he constantly deals with the banality that life throws him off stage. Think of him as Andy Millman, the main character from Ricky GervaisExtras, with a personality – and the occasional shag. Berry is at his finest as the lead role, bringing his brand of slightly off-kilter, surreal-but-could-almost-be-normal humour in every scene.

The way he over-pronounces certain words every so often at random even has me cracking up and I couldn’t tell you why. For a man who’s always been just out of focus of mainstream, Berry has had global superstar Jon Hamm cameo in Toast. All I want to do is know that they’ve got each other on WhatsApp and I’ll die happy. Even Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme appeared in one episode. Rock the fuck on.

I first became aware of Berry in The I.T Crowd, then delved back through his career to find he’d been there all along in The Mighty Boosh and Garth Marenghi… His ‘boyfriend’ sketches in BBC Three comedy Snuff Box – his character is nice as pie to woman until she mentions her dreaded “boyfriend” – are dangerously close to reality and constantly sent round whenever someone immediately becomes uninterested when you announce you’re not single.

His nature voiceovers are five minutes of genius if you need a cheer up while working in your pyjamas for the eighth month in a row. What show were they for? Who knows. Berry has retained a slight air of mystery and I want it to stay that way. For a man who’s voice sounds like someone trying to do an impression of The X Factor announcer, he’s done well to make it his trademark.

Amazingly he also wrote all the music used in Toast, as well as Snuff Box, and has played in a number of bands over the years. While I’m sure he’s very good, I don’t think I could take him seriously if I saw him on stage being genuine; I’d be waiting for the punchline. This is unfair on someone who’s opened for British art-rock legend Steven Wilson at The Royal Albert Hall and released six albums, as Berry has. I’m going to spend the next few days listening to his tracks now trying not to imagine him as Toast when playing them.

His work since Toast (aside from the MoneySupermarket ads, which have probably made him richer than God) has included a part as vampire Laszlo in cult hit What We Do In The Shadows and Year Of The Rabbit, a sitcom set in Victorian London, where he plays Detective Inspector Rabbit. Obviously.

As well as Toast In America, I can’t wait to see what Berry does in the future. Mostly because you can’t go that wrong if one of your frequent collaborators is Submarine director Richard Ayoade (Garth Marenghi…, The I.T Crowd, a spoof AC/DC rock opera, the music video for Super Furry Animals‘ ‘Run-Away’) and also because the next on the agenda is a four-part mockumentary called Squeamish About… where Berry plays Michael Squeamish (even that name is funny and I can’t explain why) in a format similar to the nature voiceover, using archive footage and voiceover. He’s also voiced the character of King Poseidon in the new SpongeBob Squarepants film, Sponge On The Run, due for release in 2021.

May Berry’s brand of caricature, off-kilter silliness and parody continue for many years to come, after 2020 I never want to watch anything serious again. Whilst we wait for Toast In America, console yourself with this Channel 4 compilation of his best bits. Until 2021, Toast.

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