David Earl, Jim Archer and Chris Hayward discuss the path toward the creation of their zany AI comedy, Brian and Charles.

Brian and Charles Brings a Whimsical Tale of Friendship and Artificial Intelligence to Sundance


When David Earl first created the goofy inventor Brian Gittins, he was simply looking for a fresh angle for his stand-up comedy. He never imagined that Brian would be the subject of a feature film. But then Brian met Charles. “I’d been performing as Brian for quite a while,” Earl says, “just on the standup circuit, bits and pieces [and] little vlogs, and then I did an internet radio show, which is just awful. But people would call in … and I’d try to converse with them in character.” One evening, Earl got a caller named Charles who claimed to be a robot. Charles spoke in an electronic voice devoid of any inflections, and as the conversation went on, Earl found himself doing most of the laughing. Charles was actually Rupert Majendie, an actor and producer who liked to play around with voice-generating software and had an offbeat sense of humor. “That was kind of the birth of Brian and Charles,” Earl says.

Brian and Charles, a comedy mockumentary directed by Jim Archer and written by Earl and fellow stand-comic Chris Hayward, chronicles the relationship between Brian, who lives alone in a small Welsh village and invents zany contraptions that rarely seem to work, and Charles, a robot who Brian builds out of a mannequin head, a washing machine and other spare parts. Charles, who is played by Hayward in a cardboard costume, learns English from a dictionary and quickly develops a cheeky personality. Charles also develops a sentient, autonomous spirit and yearns to learn more about the wide world outside of Brian’s small country cottage.

“I had loads of moments on set where Chris would just walk on as Charles and I’d think, ‘I can’t believe we’re being allowed to do this’.”

“I met David through the comedy scene,” Hayward says. “I saw him doing standup over 10 years ago now, and … we became friends just through that.” It was Hayward who first came up with the idea of building a body for the character of Charles, and soon he was joining Earl on stage while Majendie sat at the back of the venue with his computer and gave Charles his voice. They started out playing gigs in pubs and moved to the Soho Theatre in London. 

The next step was a short film in 2017 directed by Jim Archer, a talented young filmmaker whose credits ranged from working on the crew for Attack the Block to directing episodes of The Young Offenders. The short film was successful enough to convince Earl and Hwayward that they wanted to try Brian and Charles as a feature, with Archer directing and Majendie producing (as well as providing the voice of Charles, of course). “We did the short film, and it was successful and people loved it,” Archer says, admitting that he had questions at times as to whether the feature version was working. “Were we just stretching it out? Maybe that was the story, maybe it was just an 11-minute story … But as we started shooting I think we got more faith that it had legs.” Earl and Hayward admit that even they had doubts. “I had loads of moments on set where Chris would just walk on as Charles and I’d think, ‘I can’t believe we’re being allowed to do this’,” Earl says, laughing. “It felt like we were getting away with murder.”

“… As we started shooting I think we got more faith that it had legs.”

Archer remembers a particular story that, for him, sums up those times when they all found themselves both amused and scared by the unconventional nature of the film that they were making. “We were shooting in the rain, on the back of a truck,” Archer says, “and we were all soaking wet, and there was just silence. I think it was David who just said, ‘Two Stars – The Guardian.’ And I’m like, my God, that could be it.” There were many challenges to face, especially shooting in Wales in the wintertime during a global pandemic. Still, the creative team behind Brian and Charles persevered through rain, sleet and silliness in its forms. When they were finished, they had a film that wasn’t just hilariously funny but also had a surprising amount of heart to it

Brian and Charles premiered at The Sundance Film Festival 2022 on January 23 at 11:00 a.m. MT. With such an off-the-wall crowd pleaser of a film, this is almost certainly only the beginning. When asked if they’d be interested in telling stories about the further adventures of Brian and Charles, Earl, Hayward and Archer all agree that under the right circumstances, it’s a prospect that would be hard to resist.