“We really liked each other because we’re both quite tall.”
“Yeah, it was so nice to see a woman who wasn’t afraid of her height – that didn’t shy away from being tall. And I also thought Lola was really funny.”
“And I thought Stevie was really funny.”
“I was doing improv, Stevie was doing a sketch group… and we just kind of fancied each other.”
“So then we had a very long, very sexual relationship.”
This is just one of the ways Stevie Martin and Lola-Rose Maxwell say they’ve met. Another involves something to do with tinkering bells that I don’t really understand. To tell you the truth, I’m not quite sure where the line between truth and performance lies in their case (somewhere towards the “very long, very sexual” part, if I had to guess), but it’s clear how in harmony they are, both in and out of character.
The harmony comes through talking to them and it’s evident when watching their sketches. Over the last three years, the pair reached millions through their derision of the Internet and technology. Satirising Zoom calls, online shopping and digital authentication, Stevie and Lola conveyed the daily dysfunction of navigating the online world – frustrations that came to a head during Covid.
Watching their videos from lockdown now, it’s impressive both how distant and current the topics feel. Decidedly of the Covid era, they almost bring a pang of pandemic nostalgia – yet it’s equally very timely in an increasingly digital world. This remains true of screen time, an eight minute pilot released on YouTube today, which sees the pair leave the Zoom screens behind while continuing to ridicule the apps, automation and technology of 2023.
In order to accurately portray bewilderment, you need to know what you’re talking about. For all the chaos in their videos, Stevie and Lola’s sketches are brilliantly written, while their focus on technology predates the pandemic. “It was January 2020 when we did the first one,” says Stevie. “Pre-Covid we maybe did three [sketches together]. Lola would come round, and we’d film for the whole day, to cut it down to two minutes…”
“And then lockdown hit.” The conversation has been building up to this for ten minutes and Lola delivers her line with real gravity. The ensuing pregnant pause allows the weight of the pandemic to reverberate around the room, bringing back distant memories of Zoom quizzes, daily walks and clapping for carers. Eventually, she continues. “I could no longer go round to Stevie’s because we very much abided by the rules, so we started doing them on Zoom. We were just talking about things that annoyed us and it was very easy. I think the hardest part was the editing, which Stevie does. For me, it was very easy.”
“Thankfully for us,” Stevie says, “loads of stuff became tech based with the pandemic. Going to the pub, QR codes, payment stuff, online shopping, it all became more intense.”
Despite the ease with which the ideas typically came to them and the nature of their light-hearted, two-minute sketches, the pair were then (and remain now), picky in what they release. “I think a lot of people, rightly or wrongly, will enjoy creating lots of content, whereas I’m somebody personally that waits until I really feel confident about it.”
While this means their releases have become less frequent, there exists a certain permanence to the Internet. This can go one of two ways: enshrining moments people would rather forget, or preserving those that are worth coming back to. With the pair’s Twitter sketches, it’s absolutely the latter.
when you need to confirm you’re not a robot pic.twitter.com/nueeljlewl
— Stevie Martin (@5tevieM) November 29, 2020
Lola, who previously specialised in improv, particularly highlights how nice it is knowing the 20-something sketches the pair created during the last couple of years will live on well beyond their initial performance. “They’re always there, they always exist and they’re always things I’m proud of – every single one of them.”
Both Stevie and Lola agree, however, it’s time to move on. “We found a formula that works. And then we became slaves to that formula,” Stevie explains. “We were like: ‘Oh, we need to come up with a sketch that works for this’, but it never works like that. It has to come from the heart and be something that’s really annoying you.
“I think that’s why it’s so great that we got to make screen time, because it was the next evolution of those sketches.”
screen time is written by Stevie, directed by Andrew Nolan and produced by Howard Cohen with whynow. It stars Stevie and Lola alongside Mark Silcox, Graham Dickson, Adam Riches and Bilal Zafar. It feels a lot longer than eight minutes, as they descend down an increasingly absurd, inescapable, mobile phone rabbit-hole.
“We always struggled because we couldn’t make anything, because we didn’t have any money,” reveals Stevie. “To have somebody go, ‘I’ll give you money just to make something’, that’s never happened to me before. It meant we could have a bit more freedom. Also, to be able to release it online and that be legitimate because you’ve got an online following… in 2019, no one would have watched it or cared. And maybe people won’t watch this, but at least it’s out there.
“It’s odd, because I’d like to do more online things than, say, a Netflix special, but if Netflix are reading this: I’d also love a Netflix special.” Both Stevie and Lola stress, at length and with gratitude, the importance of giving people in comedy the opportunity to enact their vision.
Releasing it on YouTube does seem like a natural fit. It is, after all, a show centred around mindless digital consumption – an area in which YouTube is one of the world’s foremost experts. But it also seems to be a natural progression of the Twitter sketches through which Stevie and Lola have developed their act.
Both note that the transition from computer camera to professional camera was not without its difficulties. For Stevie, the writing and editing process was magnified, while Lola emphasises how “hot” she thinks she looks in screen time – and by hot, she means warm. Yet they’ve succeeded in expanding a relatable series of stay-at-home sketches into a TV show, maintaining the charm that first won them so many plaudits.
“I think we needed to move on,” Stevie says. “And it was a perfect moment. And it’s the perfect show.”
screen time is out now. Watch below: