If you have a toddler or child that is a regular watcher of CBeebies there is no doubt that you have seen one of the most talked about shows amongst families. JoJo & Gran Gran is the UK’s first preschool animated series featuring a black British family.
Based on the children’s book by author Laura Henry-Allain, the show follows a 4 year old girl who is exploring the world and community with her ‘Gran Gran’ while her parents go to work.
I had the opportunity to speak to actor Ashley Joseph who voices Jared in Jo Jo and Gran Gran. In the interview he spoke about the warm reception of the show, his crazy method of voice acting and the unique push for culture and community.
Ashley also shared with me the personal connection he has with the character Jared, the proudness of being part of Jo Jo and Gran Gran and his aspiring ambition to be on Celebrity Master Chef!!
“Cartoon characters are magic. None of us ever forget our cartoon characters. For me to be a cartoon character and for me in my lifespan, I don’t know any of my peers who have voiced a Black British cartoon character”Ashley Joseph
Jonathan Johnson: I’m a fan of Jo Jo and Gran Gran, and watch with my daughter religiously. In these times of a Pandemic how have you been able to receive that love and the response to Jo Jo and Gran Gran during this time unorthodox as it came out in March right when Lockdown hit.
Ashley Joseph: The love has definitely still been received through social media. I’ve had so many people tagging me in their story and the most beautiful thing is that it has been of different communities. So many different communities have said here’s my child watching Jo Jo and Gran Gran thank you so much and I think a little story that really touched me.
A father reached out to me and this was when I knew this show had gone beyond anything that I could have imagined. He said to me Hi Ashely I know you don’t know me I know you’re Jared in Jo Jo and Gran Gran my daughter loves the show and where I think they lived was quite a rural area and he was saying she was having some difficulties because I think she was in a minority in her school, please could you send a message of encouragement so I sent her a video and his response to me it was just something that took five minutes of my time it was like a droplet making an ocean of difference to someone’s life and for me to have a cartoon character that you resonate with.
“The thing about Jo Jo and Grand Gran is that Gran Gran is so magical, for Jo Jo she is mystified at how Gran can do these things. She is amazed by her Gran. She is engaged she’s current and to see a grandparent who is like hey, let’s build on what you want to do what is your interest is phenomenal.”
JJ: What do you think the theme of the seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn brings to the table in telling the story and igniting the relationship with Jo Jo and Gran Gran?
AJ: There are a few things to that I think to there always here they’re always together. You can think of the seasons changing tin the sense of sometimes things can be more difficult and some things can be a bit more challenging, but Gran Gran is always going to be there for Jo Jo. And you see there’s episodes when not everything is wonderful and Jo Jo does not struggle, she has challenges and Gran Gran finds interesting ways in explaining that to her and there’s the double meaning of the seasons.
On a practical note I just think that it’s so clever that we are able to watch a show that is reflecting our seasons right now. It just connects even more. Because imagine if you had seen this autumn episode three months ago and your daughter says to you Daddy go out and get the leaves…you can’t. being able to do that straight away it shows you how much is thought out by the production team. The activities they are doing in the show children can do as well and you can do this instant. Even my son has had that as well where he wants to do something straight away and he can, because we’re in the right season.
JJ: As an actor how easy was it to get your message across portray Jared and bring your own uniqueness to the role itself.
AJ: Cartoon characters are magic. None of us ever forget our cartoon characters. For me to be a cartoon character and for me in my lifespan, I don’t know any of my peers who have voiced a Black British cartoon character. I can’t explain it, but to have those type of connections, it becomes more than a job.
I think to be honest when I had my audition and I had a few characters to read for, Jared was the one that was me. It felt very close to a 22 year old me so I kind of tapped into that side and actually I was quite lucky that the voice Director Steve Cannon was brilliant because when we went into the first session we just had a chat and he was just like what do you think of Jared?
We just had a real chat and I said I think he’s really fun. I was connected with that youthful energy. Young people and little children really respond to that and it is something that they can engage with, so that was really easy.
What was really hard for me is that I’m not traditionally a voice actor. So when I’m acting I want to use my eyes I want to use my body. When I got into the studio, they were like Ashley do you want to sit down I said no. If I sit down, we’re not going get what we need. So chair goes away and I’m doing all the stuff.
It was funny because there’s an episode called It’s time to play football. And there’s in the script saying Jared’s running. He’s kicking and there’s another one where he is doing star jumps and I’m doing it all!! And the voice actor was telling me Ashley, you know you can pretend if you want. I just need to be in it and want to be out of breath!
JJ: The actors and actresses from a Black British point of view are kind of legendary. You have Cathy Tyson, LLewella Gideon previously from the Real Mccoy and the 90s London Comedy circuit. What’s the energy like in terms of the voices. Are you doing it together or separately in terms of scripts?
AJ: No, so we record separately actually. Sometimes if you were doing a radio play or radio drama, usually they would have the cast together. But things change and actually with COVID it is actually easier and safer to have people separately. Before COVID happened, we were recording separately anyway. So, when you first go in, you record the episodes and your lines and the voice director reads in for you. It doesn’t reduce any pressure you feel. Because you know Llwella Gideon and Cathy Tyson are coming to smash it, I better come in and smash it.
JJ: I’ve got a fan theory question. What favourite television programmes do you watch? And as Jared what type of show do you think Jared would watch?
AJ: That’s a really good question. I think Jared would like a lot of music competition programmes. I think he would like things such as Ninja Warrior or one of those things. If he was watching his Cbeebies show he would kind of like to watch something like Swash Buckle. Seeing people compete and challenges I think Jared would watch that.
For myself I like to watch things that I can’t get too addicted to. Some series go on for long and that’s a real commitment. Sometimes, I’m like that was a great first season. And all of a sudden you hear it’s been renewed for another 5 seasons. Suddenly I’m committed to you, I’m already committed to my wife and marriage. I don’t know if I can make too many commitments!! Celebrity Master Chef I really like!!
JJ: Is that a Vie for the show that you want to be in the next season?
AJ: You know what, my wife is also a big fan of the show and she said ‘you should go on it’. I was like ‘no one knows who I am’. She was like’ what do you mean? You’re Jared from Jo Jo and Gran Gran. Go tell your agent now!! I love cooking. I cook mostly every day in the house.
JJ: In terms of the Cbeebies universe. There are many different characters with many diverse journeys. How do you think Jo Jo and Gran Gran contribute to the Cbeebies world and the target audience it reaches as well?
AJ: Yes, Jared is the most powerful!! <we laugh>. I think that’s absolutely true. I’ve been connected to Cbeebies for the past 4 years with my son. I think how it contributes, for me I think it’s the first time that I’ve seen an active grandparent. For me Grandparents are getting younger. Grandparents aren’t how we remember them as children. My mum is much more active and involved and I think that’s really important. Having a show that is grandparent led, in the sense of I haven’t seen that before.
I think there’s a lot of shows on Cbeebies that kids are at a day centre,for example Dougie and stuff like that. I haven’t seen anything like this. Because there are so many parents who don’t go to nursery and are with parents.
What Cbeebies are doing is reflecting that. It is also great that there are a diverse range of shows because we live in a diverse community. I think if there were 20 different Jo Jo and Gran Grans it would not be as special.
The thing about Jo Jo and Grand Gran is that Gran Gran is so magical. For Jo Jo she is mystified at how Gran can do these things. She is amazed by her Gran. She is engaged, she’s current. And to see a grandparent who is like ‘Hey, let’s build on what you want to do? what is your interest?’ is phenomenal.
JJ: Before we finish, I’ve got to give you a final plug of Jo Jo and Gran Gran. What’s it about and what people will get from the show?
AJ: Jo Jo and Gran is on Cbeebies every day at 5:25. Currently our new Autumn episodes are out and if you’ve missed it don’t worry. You can catch it on BBC I-player where you can see Spring, Summer, Autumn. Don’t forget we’re still going to give you a lovely bit of winter episodes too. It is fun, it is family friendly. It teaches you about things you know and things that you may not know. It’s a way to really connect as a family and also as a community.
by Jonathan Johnson