comedy writing

  • 19 Oct

    Get Brexit Done? Not On Your Life.

    People now pushing Brexit simply because ‘it’s been dragging on too long’. Fuck you. So sorry you’re bored of all this. How tedious that it’s always on the news. Must be a real drag to be part of one of the most significant flash points in modern European history.  Must put you right off your dinner. 

    Of course it’s tedious. Most socio-political and economic things that matter are. This is incredibly dry and complicated, no matter how Whitehall and its tabloid patrons would have it spun. 

    Of course it’s irritating. It’s being managed by a drunken clown convention straight out of a Hogarth print. If you were being forced to watch your kid’s incredibly important birthday party being planned every stage by scores of narcissistic rabid baboons, you’d have every right to be irritated. There’s only so much shit being flung across the room one can stomach.

    But that doesn’t mean anyone should be dismissing this seismic calamity, nor the way it came to fruition, as some trifling inconvenience that simply needs to be over and done with, like it’s the weekly big shop. What a shallow collection of self-absorbed skin bags we really are. 

    Maybe a major reason it’s still dragging on is because it’s incredibly important that we get it right. That maybe there is NO WAY to get it right. That maybe, just maybe, we should have left this sort of thing to those with relevant knowledge, skills, experience and qualifications. Not the current gaggle of self-serving politicians and certainly not ‘The People’.

    I’m not saying ‘The People’ are thick. This isn’t some smug middle-class anti-Brexit tirade. My point is that when it comes to issues like this, people are, at best, completely indifferent. We’re more interested in going down the pub with friends, binging Netflix, having a nice lunch or seeing who wins Strictly. And that’s absolutely fine. Point is, we shouldn’t need to be involved in this. 

    Back in 2016, Cameron probably thought he could quietly slip this through, appease the euro-sceptic back benchers, declare a decisive ‘Remain’ victory and no one would even notice. Talk about not reading the room. People were annoyed for wealth of reasons, most of them nothing of them to do with Europe. I doubt the way Europe and the United Kingdom interact on any level was really even on our radar in any meaningful way. Most of us are just trying to get through the fucking day.

    But we all got whipped up by opportunists and money lenders into having an opinion, into a froth of polarisation that shattered the gossamer-thin facade of class and societal unity. While some no doubt had informed convictions either way, for the most part, those of us happy to keep the status quo because everything seemed to be working fine ticked ‘Remain’, while the disaffected, fearful and the ignored channelled their ire and frustration into the ‘Leave’ checkbox.

    Now we’ve got the Bumbling Prince of Thieves in No 10 and he is no more equipped to or interested in securing the best deal for the British people than a shark is bothered that its throat might be a tad rough when it swallows your leg.

    Can’t we just ‘get it over with?’ Can’t we get back to how things were? what is that exactly? A continually grim struggle amidst the shackles of austerity? Some mythic version of Britain so bucolic and fantastical you’d think Downton Abbey was up the road and the local pub was run by a fucking hobbit? Perhaps somewhere in between.

    Fact is, we are a mongrel nation. A stew of cultures, cross pollination, traditions, races, classes and creeds. Even in the Brexit heartlands, that you only have to travel mere minutes to stumble upon a different regional dialect shows just how many different tribes are so densely packed in to such a small collection of islands. This tribalism goes back centuries. You don’t really want to pull at that threat. Inviting us to make such an ill-informed binary choice and pick a side was always going to be a catastrophe. 

    No, we should not ‘just get on with it’. Not if it’s a bad idea – which all research and evidence would suggest it is. however you voted in 2016, no one voted for this. No one. Because ‘this’ wasn’t on the ballot box. 

    Now, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I’m not going to forget my principles, standards nor considered and reasoned research that led me to make what I hoped was an impartial and informed choice. But hey, I’m no expert. We’ve had enough of those so probably just as well. 

  • 01 Jul

    No Sex Please, We’re Creating: Gender and Equality in the Writers’ Room

    There was a bit of a hoo-ha recently when it was reported that ITV’s Head Of Comedy, Saskia Schuster has banned all-male comedy writing teams.

    Monty Python (L-R: Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, John Cleese)

    Monty Python (less Terry G) 1969: arguably the most famous comedy writing team ever. The Oxbridge graduates used to meet regularly upstairs at Soho’s famous Nellie Dean pub in Soho. Women need not apply.

    This lead to all sorts of misguided and unhelpful online outrage about men being marginalised so women could be fast-tracked into the British comedy industry, regardless of merit.

    Now, as anyone with even a Trump-sized brain knows, this is not discriminating against men. It’s a laudable attempt to redress the balance in what has historically been a male-dominated space.

    The Simpsons writers room

    The Simpsons writers’ room, early 90s. Note: the only female present is cardboard. And a baby.

    Writer and performer Brona C Titley offered this excellent response in The Guardian, which compelled me share my own experience of working in a comedy writers’ room.

    My sole experience is an odd one, and not much fun.

    I worked on a (thankfully) failed attempt to replicate a US late-night talk show for UK audiences. I spent several weeks trapped in a braying sausage fest, all white men, leftovers from Loaded magazine.

    My overriding memory is just how exhausting it was. All the banter about ‘fit birds’ and ‘’aving it large’ (whatever the fuck that means) turning to tedious white noise.

    Funny thing is, I was completely marginalised and ignored throughout the process even among ‘my own kind’, because I was the only one in the room who knew nothing about football and wasn’t a lad, thereby somehow invalidating my input.

    This wasn’t an awful experience because they were all white men, but because they were monstrous arseholes who happened to be white men. But the fact there was no diversity didn’t help.

    You gather together one type of ANYBODY in a room and the experience will nosedive pretty fast.

    I’ve had incredibly satisfying creative collaborations exclusively with white men, exclusively with white women, and with a diverse mix of talented people.

    Crucially, I’ve also had awful experiences working with all of the above.

    30 Rock starring Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin

    Tina Fey‘s brilliant 30 Rock, based on her own experiences as Head Writer in SNL.

    Equality and diversity should be encouraged in every endeavour; Titley’s article is bang on. It’s tragic we still even have to say this. But what irks me is that such dialogue in the public space often rapidly descends into identity politics. Which is a cop out.

    Monty Python, a lot of whose output has dated horribly, will always be a profound influence. As is Peter Cook and Peter Sellers. As is Jerry Seinfeld and Robin Williams. But I don’t admire them because they are all white men. But because their comedic brains resonate with me. Still do.

    The greatest thing about the greatest comedy is that it transcends class, race and gender.

    Alternatively, Fleabag, the best comedy I’ve seen in a long time, isn’t superb because Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a woman, it’s because she’s a phenomenal writer, actor and director. But thank God we live in times where she was given the opportunities to gift the world her brilliantly warped mind.

    Because, as Titley correctly asserts, everyone who works in the creative industry does so because they were given an opportunity.

    Fleabag on BBC Comedy

    Fleabag. Created and written by a hugely talented human. Who happens to be a woman.

    There is no doubt that diversity tends to birth infinitely more interesting work – IF the chemistry is there. And I think that’s crucial for me. That’s how you create your best work and ultimately, it’s the work that counts.

    Bottom line, I don’t really give a shit who is in the room with me as long as they bring something to the table.

  • 02 Jan

    Hooray for Hollywood

    Hello world,

    2012 is here. This year will prove very interesting, not least if the Mayans are right. Still if they were that good at pinpointing the apocalypse, surely they would have foreseen their own demise…?

    Sadly astral charts and ancient predictions are less likely to bring about the downfall of modern civilization than the current economic meltdown which shows no sign of abating, but I know precious little about the ins and outs of it all so I shall say no more.

    What I will say, is that last year ended for me on a career high when a sitcom script I co created and co-wrote with dear friend James Devonshire is being sold to a major Hollywood studio. As several people have asked me to explain further on Facebook or Twitter I thought here would be a better place to do so.

    The idea was simple enough – a recession comedy about a man who has everything, loses everything and has to return to where he grew up and start again. Not particularly original I’ll admit but what me and James wanted to do is recreate that fast-paced, zingy dialogue that those Yanks have been doing so well for decades, but which is somewhat lacking from British comedies. Think Howard Hawks over Roy Clarke and you’re on the right lines.

    It seems the script had proved a bit too much a storng flavour for the British producers we’d so far shown it to, but on reflection it makes sense it would appeal more to the US market. Sure enough we gave it to a producer now working over in California (who also happens to be a gloriously wonderful, kind, thoughtful woman – a rare thing in this game) who read it, liked it and felt her boss would like it too.

    We’d never heard of her boss, but a quick google search revealed him to be the former President of a major US TV studio. This is when it all got very exciting. further probing revealed that during his tenure, he had a hand in developing and sustaining, among others, Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld, Friends, ER and The West Wing. This is when it all got VERY exciting. Talk about a proven track record.

    This man did like our work and talks began with a view to develop a US version of our script which, despite the aforementioned dialogue style, was very much a British beast, picking apart and subverting the traditional view of rural English village life. More The Wicker Man than The Vicar of Dibley but without the surreal grotesque overtones of the former that inspired the brilliant League of Gentlemen. In short, village life can be pretty grisly and that’s what we wanted to capture.

    Fortunately for us, America has hundreds of equally grisly rural backwaters and so our script struck a chord over the Pond and as we move into the new year, with any luck we’ll see a pilot being filmed. At the moment I am keeping everything crossed and touching an enormous amount of wood. I ask you please to do the same.

    Hopefully this blog entry won’t have jinxed development, but I always believe that if I had the power to negatively affect the outcome of a future event by merely vocalising my desire for everything to go well then this must make me some sort of demi-urge. Rest assured, I know from my tussle with a minor stomach bug over the festive period I am not a god. Merely a frail, overly-delicate mortal, flesh and blood and full of wind.

    So that’s it. Forgive the vagaries – I felt it best not to mention names (apart from James of course) and I’ll keep this site updates with more news as and when it breaks. If, on the other hand, the Mayans turn out to be right about 2012 then I suggest we all stock up on the ham in the tin and start building that bunker in the garden.