‘“Do you even lift, bro”?’
They’re in Josh’s flat, workshopping some of the link lines Josh and the writing team had come up with in an earlier session. They’re playing with them, trying them on for size, seeing if they can sketch out more banter around them. James reads out that particular line with an air of absolute disdain.
‘What’s that supposed to be? Why’s that funny? That’s not funny,’ he fires at Josh, pushing himself back in his chair as if to get some distance from the unfunniness, as if he thinks it might be contagious.
Josh looks up from his own page of script, not deigning to raise his head, just staring at his friend over the top of his glasses. ‘It’s funny,’ he says patiently, ‘because you don’t exactly look like a gym bunny, James.’
‘Oh, what, it’s a joke about how I’m weak and scrawny?’ James huffs. ‘Come on, man, that’s just lazy. It’s not even accurate! I don’t mind the corduroy stuff, fair play, but it’s not funny if it’s not accurate! I’m a drummer, I’ve got biceps!’
Josh raises an eyebrow. ‘When’s the last time you practised the drums, though?’ he comments, and James looks away, pouting. ‘And sure, maybe you do have biceps, but it’s not like anyone can see that under all that corduroy.’
They’ve been going at this for too long, he realises, which is why they’ve descended into silly bickering – it’s more fun. He takes a sip of his tea to fortify himself, and discovers it’s gone cold. He wanders over to fill the kettle, and is mildly surprised when James jumps up and follows him.
‘Not accurate,’ he pushes, trying to lean his head over Josh’s shoulder, first one side, then the other. ‘Lazy,’ he continues, as Josh ignores him and crosses to the sink. ‘I’m bigger’n you, Josh. I could take you.’
Josh stops with his hand on the tap, lets out a laugh. He puts down the kettle and turns to face James, who is standing unreasonably close. He rolls his eyes, and admittedly he does have to roll them quite far before he’s got all the way up to James’ head.
‘And it’s also funny, from a personal point of view at least, because you act all tough and aggressive when you’re on the telly, but in reality, you wouldn’t even know how to hurt a fly.’
James grins briefly at the line. Josh knows he’s right, James can barely keep up the act. It is fun, though. ‘I’ve been in fights,’ he counters.
‘You’ve run away from fights.’
‘You think I couldn’t take you?’
‘The bigger they come, the harder they fall, my friend,’ Josh smirks.
‘All right then, man, you wanna do this? You wanna go?’ James puffs out his chest, which doesn’t achieve much.
They’ve clearly gone stir-crazy, and this is ridiculous, but it’s such a welcome distraction. Josh is close to giggles, and he can see James is too, and putting this show together has been fun but altogether too much hard work, and they’re both too giddy not to keep escalating the stupidity.
Josh steps away from the sink, puts a bit of clear space between himself and James. He holds his hands out by his sides. ‘Come at me, bro,’ he says with heavy irony.
James hesitates, his face falling, and Josh scoffs quietly. ‘Yeah, all right then,’ James immediately blusters, trying to marshal his expression, ‘I will come at you. Bro.’
James stalks up to Josh, scowling, pulling himself up to his full height. Josh is still holding James’ gaze and smirking, though he’s having to lift his chin a fair bit to do so. And then James… sort of grabs Josh’s arms, and shakes them a bit.
Josh laughs out loud at that. ‘What are you doing, mate?’ he exclaims, grabbing James’ arms back to exert some kind of resistance, because while being gently shaken about isn’t exactly painful, it is irritating.
‘I’m fighting you,’ James deadpans, struggling against the deadlock they’re now instantly in. ‘I know how to fight.’ They rotate a bit, a clumsy dance.
‘Oh, yeah,’ Josh replies. ‘Sure you do.’
And with that, he twists, pushes James’ arms up, pulls himself out of his grip. James is still open-mouthed with surprise when Josh rears back and barrels into him, low centre of gravity working to his advantage. James folds at the waist where Josh has grabbed him, knocked straight off his feet, gangly limbs flailing, and then they both crash to the floor, scattering pages of script across the room.
James just isn’t quick enough, not even close – probably landed quite hard on that bony arse of his, that’d certainly slow his reaction time – and by the time he’s recovered enough of his wits to start resisting, Josh is already straddling him, gripping his legs between his knees, pinning his wrists to the floor either side of his head. James’ expression finally flips from shellshocked to indignant, and he tries to move his arms, but he can’t wrestle himself free from the pressure Josh is exerting.
‘Get off me!’ he yells hotly, wriggling his whole body now, desperately searching for some weak point in Josh’s hold. He doesn’t find one.
‘Come on, James, you said you know how to fight,’ Josh grins down at him. ‘This should be easy for you.’
‘Get off me, you filthy hobbit!’ James yells again, cheeks starting to flush pink. He’s looking anywhere but at Josh, until he isn’t. He stops struggling, resignation in his eyes, a plea for mercy, even.
‘Go on, say it,’ Josh goads. He’s not letting James off the hook so easily after that embarrassing performance.
‘I give up,’ James groans, his blush deepening.
Josh leans in close, pressing his modest but robust weight even harder against James’ thin body. ‘Damn right you do,’ he smiles, his voice low. ‘And we’re gonna keep that line in. And you’re gonna say it, and the audience is gonna laugh, and you will know damn well, James Acaster, that it’s because you’re weak, and scrawny, and pathetic.’
Josh is only playing, but James looks genuinely terrified. And then he realises why, as he feels something solid push against his stomach that wasn’t there before.
Lucky for James, he thinks, that he’s going to be behind a desk when he delivers that line. Lucky for Josh, though, that he’s going to be the only other person who can see behind that desk.