Welcome to Writers in Various Stages of Development #055 with Tiernan Douieb.
Tiernan is a stand-up comedian, a writer, an actor, a podcaster, a dad, and he’s VERY funny. When the pandemic hit and he saw his diary empty, he started looking for new opportunities, including writing for animation. He’s now written for the incredible Hey Duggee for which he was nominated for an Industry Excellence Award for scriptwriting. He’s on a mission to make kids laugh, whilst also working with Frankie Boyle. He’s got it all covered and it was a pleasure to discuss his career with him.
When did you start writing?
I was one of those kids who just wrote bonkers stories all the time, from as soon as I was able to. I’ve always had a head that was probably slightly too full of thoughts, and writing stories was one of the many ways to get them out. I’ve never been good at doing work I didn’t want to do, but I’ve always put stupid amounts of effort into writing and performing even if it wasn’t worth it to anyone but me.
Somewhere at my parents’ house is a huge A4 picture book of the adventures of Wicket the Ewok (Disney, please don’t sue) that I did around 6 years old – that I avoided much actual schoolwork to finish. Not sure I’ve changed much to be honest, but I did keep writing through school, at university for devised drama pieces, and then for stand-up comedy.
Writing properly (although it’s all proper right? Even though it never feels like a proper job…) came with doing comedy, as I’d never really had a clue how to get into it before or where to begin to apply for things. I remember sending a pilot sitcom script that I co-wrote with a friend in 2003 to any production companies I could find the addresses for online . We received some nice replies, many didn’t reply at all and several said ‘er we only make the news’ or things that were completely unhelpful.
Getting on the comedy circuit properly led to me actually writing for things, or at least sending them to the right people who didn’t hire me. I had a few projects – including a kids TV show that I was really keen on – that got optioned and took so long to get off the ground and then didn’t, that it really knocked my confidence for a few years. It was only really the pandemic making me lose all my comedy work overnight that made me give it another go and it’s reminded me how much I love it.
What was your first credit as a writer?
It was for an odd little TV show called ‘I Want 2B Comedy’ in 2004 that I was part of for a now very defunct satellite channel, along with Lauren Shearing – who I then went on to do sketch comedy with at the EdFringe as ‘Tea and Cake’.
It was an odd show that I think absolutely no one saw where we had to write a new sketch every week, then perform it in front of a live audience. I remember one that we were super proud of was about Tarzan bringing home a fancy fridge freezer and Jane losing her mind because he kept doing that and there was nowhere to plug them in.
It was a good intro into having to meet very quick deadlines and think it definitely made us all up our game very quickly, even if only four people saw it. The other team on it were Daniel Lawrence Taylor (BAFTA nommed and RTS winning writer), and Liam J Stratton who writes on ITV’s Vera. Lauren is now doing brilliant improv shows with the Comedy Store Players among others.
When did you start performing stand-up comedy?
I cheated and did stand-up as part of my drama degree at university. I went to Kent and it was an MDrama course, which I think means I have half a masters (not sure if it’s the ‘mast’ bit or the ‘ers’ bit), and was four years long. You got to specialise in one subject in the final year and one of the many options was to do stand-up comedy.
It was taught by Dr Oliver Double who is brilliant. He is literally a doctor of comedy, and it involved writing a new 10 minute set every week to perform to students, before then working on themed shows, longer sets and getting some real gigs out on the circuit. It was quite intensive, but Ollie was amazing at helping you find out how to be yourself onstage.
So, my first gig was (OH GOD) 20 years ago this October, and I was hooked from the second I went onstage. I’d generally just wanted to write and act before then but from saying the first line, and getting a laugh, I immediately had a need to do it again. It’s a bit addictive, despite being a wholly odd job where you just shout at people you don’t know in a dark room.
Once I left uni I worked a horrible day job for a housing association where people shouted at me for hours, then in the evenings would do up to five open spot gigs a week. Looking back, I have no idea how I wasn’t completely exhausted.
Are you a full-time writer/performer or do you balance with a day job?
I went full time about 4 years into doing stand-up because I was super lucky and got cast in a big beer advert that paid me to live for about 6 months. I’d already been getting paid comedy gigs and bits of paid writing work but was also turning work down to do my day job. So that advert allowed me the space to work fully on the things I wanted to. It also helped that I really hated my day job.
I don’t know how I’ve made it work since and there’s definitely been some pretty hairy months, especially when invoices haven’t been paid for. I’m regularly broke but it’s helped that with comedy you sort of make your own work by writing gags and getting on gigs, and then writing and acting work has always propped that up. I’m also a stubborn idiot and have managed to be very lucky.
I love the work I do and prefer the terror of inconsistent pay checks than loathing every day in an office dealing with people shouting at me. I’ve always actively looked for any work I can do whether its writing for podcasts, TV, adverts, articles or writing stand-up for other comedians or specific events. A comedian I admired some years ago said that any work that falls under the remit of what you do is always worth doing and either makes you stronger and builds experience, or at least pays the bills so you can do more of what you actually want to do. I’ve always followed that advice. I think it keeps it interesting too.
Over time workload has increased enough, and I know enough people who will hire and trust what I do, that it just sort of works now. You know, when there isn’t a raging global pandemic kicking off. I do worry that it’s like Final Destination and it’ll somehow catch up with me at some point and anytime I’ve got work gaps I still hyperventilate about how I’ll pay the bills. But something always somehow comes through.
Back around 2008-2009, I was doing live shows here and there with my partner James Bishop. I remember you at the time performing as part of the duo ‘Tea and Cake’ and looking at you two like you were hardened pros whilst we felt like two kids who probably shouldn’t have been there. What was actually going through your mind at the time?
It’s so funny that’s how you saw us. I think by 2008 we’d done one full length fringe the year before which had gone fairly well for total newbies, so it’s possible we had a false confidence about us (that was definitely hacked away during the fringe in 2008). We’d been doing lots of compilation sketch shows in London, had done that ‘I want 2B comedy’ show, and I definitely felt confident about my stand up as I’d been going for 5 years by then.
Those shows at the Albany and venues like that had such a warmth to the crowd, people who were excited about seeing sketch comedy and would go regularly, that it was just exciting to go and be part of. It felt like a whole bunch of shows were very keen for new ideas and experimenting. Whereas the fringe never stopped being intimidating, not least when it started to bankrupt you as well as subject you to endless critique. I’m pleased we managed to seem like we knew what we were doing though! I consider that a credit to our acting abilities!
How does performing live help you as a writer for screen?
You get instant gratification as a performer. Or not. If a joke works, it does there and then, and an audience will laugh. If it doesn’t, you won’t and you know you need to go back and fix it for the next show. This sounds cocky, but after doing that for so long, I feel I know if a joke works now without the audience there anymore. I’m aware of how the timing needs to be, the pacing and the amount of words that are needed for it.
With stand-up you become quite good at editing on the spot, in your head, depending on what the audience want. When it comes to writing, and you have time to really dwell on words it almost feels easier and less stressful. You can go through how each line would work in front of a live crowd and understand how it would land.
I think I’m always trying to find an alternative way to look at things – not least if there’s a subject everyone else has already covered – and having different ways to approach an idea or story has been really helpful with writer’s block on scripts. Also, on a different level, being confident talking to a room is great for being able to put forward your ideas or pitches and make it sound like it might actually be a good one. (Even if you’re really bricking it).
How does your writing process differ between your work on stage and your work for TV/audio?
Stand-up is just you. Though you might occasionally have another act give you a topper to add an extra beat or punch to a joke, generally it’s all you and you have to write for yourself in your (or your character’s) voice.
TV/audio work in my limited experience is a lot more collaborative, even if it’s just because you’re being given a brief on what to write for the episode or topic. That’s quite nice as sometimes the void of your own head can be a bit much and working out where to begin with writing a comedy set can be tricky, but if I’m told ‘these characters have to do this’ it can feel like the hardest bit is already done for you.
You also have script editors etc to go over it and hone it. I would have killed for a script editor as a comedian! Think the other difference is how excitingly visual you can be with TV and even radio, in terms of what you can write for the audience to imagine. Stand up is pretty much just me shouting at people, and though I might have bits of physical comedy (which I don’t usually as I’m not great at it) it’s definitely limiting and means you have to really work at getting the audience to visualise what you’re going on about.
You’ve written on a couple of series of Frankie Boyle’s New World Order. How did you get involved and what was the experience like?
I’ve worked as Frankie’s support act for quite a few years now, after he randomly DM’d me on Twitter. He said he’d heard my material on a podcast and did I want to open for him at a gig, which was really exciting. So, after that I ended up doing bits of writing for him here and there, which led to getting a few jokes into his BBC2 show.
I didn’t get to be in the writers’ room but just worked with Frankie directly on a few bits and pieces which was great fun. His comedy continues to make me laugh and I’m still in awe watching him do an idea one night that’s maybe one line, then 4 days later it’s a full ten-minute section that gets funnier and funnier. A lot of my stand-up for adults is about politics so it didn’t feel too stressful to work on it like I would my own material, with a mind for it being in Frankie’s voice rather than my own.
You recently moved into writing for animation with an episode of Hey Duggee. Tiernan, listen, I’m incredible jealous of you for this. It’s basically like writing for The Simpsons. How did you get involved and are you a superstar at home now?
I honestly couldn’t believe I got to do it. We’d all been such Duggee fans since my daughter was about 6 months old, and I got the job during the pandemic just after I’d lost a year’s worth of comedy gigs in a night. I was so anxiety ridden about what on earth I was going to do, and then Jenny Landreth (the script editor) got in touch and it felt like a lifesaver.
Jenny had seen me do comedy for kids and also for adults some years before, and she’d mentioned a while ago that she thought I’d be suited for writing Duggee but I hadn’t really thought much of it. Then for the 4th season they had space for a new writer and she put me forward to Grant Orchard to do it. I had to write a few test badge ideas and while none of them were approved I apparently ‘got the tone right’ and was given a contract.
It was stupidly exciting and getting to watch my first one the other week on iPlayer with my daughter was amazing. She liked my episode but it’s not her favourite, obviously, because that’s how kids work. (Shout out to the brilliant James Walsh because his ep ‘Norrie’s First Day’ is my daughter’s new favourite rather than my one, and to be honest, that’s fair). I was very scared that not only would my own kid hate it, but that I’d let down other kids too as it’s such a loved show. Luckily Jenny and Grant are very good at helping guide you through it so you don’t get mobbed at the school gates by angry 4 year olds.
What was the process like writing for Duggee and what lessons did you learn about writing for animation?
It takes a while to get to script stage, because first you have to do several episode outlines of increasing length and detail. You start with a 1 pager, then 2, then a 2-3 usually with all the dialogue and moments written in, in a good amount of detail so you’re almost writing it out like a story, word for word. I found it really helpful as actually that meant by the time I was onto the script, you’re copy and pasting bits over and just filling in extra moments. I’ve been doing the same process for other scripts now and find it really helps.
There is a lot of notes, not least because with now 4 seasons of 52 episodes, there’s so much lore to be considered. You can’t have moments that are too similar to ones that have or will happen, and I definitely had a few moments that at the time were scrapped and I was confused as to why, and now having seen some of the other badges realised it would’ve been too similar and it makes a lot of sense that it went.
I do worry it’s given me slightly false pretences on how writing for animation can be, as you’re able to be so creative with Duggee and what the animators are happy to do, and there’s such a strong focus on it being funny which I know is the one bit I can do. At the same time such a big show felt like diving in the deep end straight away and I feel like if I’ve managed that, I can write for other shows too. I’ve definitely learned a lot about episode structuring and pacing, but also how much can be fitted into a 7-minute time slot. It doesn’t have to be a barebones narrative just because of time constraints, there are always ways to make it full, exciting and imaginative.
Note from Chris: Since we conducted this interview, Tiernan received an Industry Excellence Award in Scriptwriting nomination from the Manchester Animation Festival for his work on Hey Duggee. How incredible is THAT?
Back at the start of the year, you were a member of a ScreenSkills animation workshop. Can you explain what the programme involved and what you took from it?
It was great fun! It was the ‘writing for children’s animation workshop’ and it was aimed at people who were early in their animation writing career, which I was (and still am) and free to do if you qualified for it.
Myles Mcleod – who’s written all of the things – led four 2-hour workshops teaching various techniques and, I think even more importantly, how to contact studios, how to pitch and where to look out for opportunities. The most helpful part was a session a few weeks after the workshops where we did Zoom speed meetings with producers from a number of different companies. It was great not only in getting to know people and contacts that may be useful, but also to find out what it is they looked for in writers.
All of us that were on the course have kept in touch and are in a Whatsapp group together, which has been invaluable not only for support, and sharing work opportunities, but also for the mutual griping about trying to do this as a job. As well as occasional pictures of dogs or chatting about biscuits.
As well as all of this – you’re also a dad. How did your career change when you had your daughter?
It changed in quite a few ways. One was that, well now, I’m not just responsible for me but also it turns out my daughter who needs to eat and live somewhere too. Kids are selfish like that. I’ve always been a workaholic but now I’m even more active about finding work and being quite shameless about approaching people to hire me.
Another is that I’ve really cut down and almost stopped doing stand-up gigs for adults. This is partly because the live comedy world was shut down during the pandemic and since it came back, it’s now up against all the other cost of living issues. It makes little sense driving to a gig when my fee will be mostly taken up by the petrol to get there. But it’s also to do with energy levels.
Having a kid who gets up at the crack of dawn everyday means I’m struggling to be remotely creative after 8pm. So, I’m really focusing on writing during the day and kids comedy shows on the weekend (as they happen in the afternoon). I think it’s also realising how much I used to be on the road just doesn’t work for me now. I like being at home, taking my daughter to school in the morning and finding stuff for us to do on weekends, rather than being in a traffic jam on the M1 stressing I won’t get to shout at drunk stag dos.
Adversely, but somehow in coherence with the first bit about needing to be responsible, I’ve also realised that I have to do what I want to do with my work otherwise I’ll be a miserable parent and that’s not helpful to my daughter or me. I have much less time so I’ve become tons better at cramming work into school hours during a day, which makes me realise how much time I must’ve wasted before being a parent.
Oh, and it means I can watch loads of telly with my daughter and pretend its actually research, which is the best bit.
You’re big on the kids’ comedy scene with Comedy Club 4 Kids. For those who don’t know, what exactly is it and how did you get started?
Comedy Club 4 Kids was started by James Campbell who thought it was unfair kids don’t get to watch stand-up as they like laughing even more than adults. It is, much as it says on the tin, a comedy club, featuring comedians who do the comedy circuit, but it’s for kids and all subjects that they can relate to and laugh at. I started doing gigs for James about 2 years into doing stand-up and absolutely loved performing to family audiences with really stupid gags.
James handed over CC4K to myself and two others in 2010 and we’ve been doing gigs all over the world with it since. Kids like it because its not patronising and they get to see a range of adults being idiots for their delight and parents like bringing their kids to it because they’re basically getting to see a clean comedy gig (but likely with slightly more jokes about pooing and farting).
I also started our Comedy Club 4 Kids podcast Radio Nonsense in 2019, where children email in any question they have about anything and I find a comedian to help me answer it in the least helpful and stupid way possible. Over the pandemic it gained a surprisingly big following around the world and I wake up most days with an email containing a weird question from a kid. I love it so much. There’s few better ways to start the day than by seeing some kid in Australia wants to know ‘what is the opposite of peanut butter?’
You also teach kids about politics, right?
Yeah sort of. I co-wrote a kids show about politics with Tatton Spiller, the creator of Simple Politics. He had already been going into schools and managing to teach children aged 7+ about a number of tricky political happenings like Brexit, with a clarity that I am envious of. So we wrote a show where he did all the clever explaining that he’s good at, and I was the idiot who asked questions more ridiculous than the children might which prompted them to laugh, learn and ask much better things.
Thanks to director Daniel Bye, we managed to get Arts Council funding and toured it for a year pre-pandemic and then a little bit afterwards with a new focus more on how kids can make changes themselves. Hopefully we’ll get it back on the road at some point too and I really want to pitch it for TV as I feel it’s an area of education that kids should have, especially in current stupid times.
What is it that you love so much about creating comedy for/with children?
There is no barrier to silliness with children like you can get with adults. For adult comedy audiences you can start a show with the front row all folded arms and a ‘go on then, make me laugh’ attitude. You never get that with kids. They are excited, they are onboard with whatever you do straight away, and you only lost them if you condescend them, don’t make it relevant to them or act like you’re above them.
The only real boundaries are that you can’t do anything that’s not age appropriate, but actually that’s only really ie swears/drugs references etc. Otherwise, children watch and absorb everything so the topics you can talk to them and joke about are pretty boundless. I honestly think if you do it well enough and think it through, and you show you’re also interested in what you’re doing, you can explain anything to kids in a way they’ll grasp onto it. There is such a freedom in their willingness to be imaginative and indulge in other’s imaginations.
If you make a kid laugh, often their grown up will laugh too, and then you’ve made a multi-generational gag which is pretty amazing. Also, you get to do loads of fart jokes.
What common misconceptions do you find people have around kids and family comedy/entertainment?
That it’ll be patronising, that it will be half-arsed and half-written because why make proper content for children? Parents sometimes assume it’ll be like hundreds of other kids shows where they can just look at their phone and use you as a temporary babysitter.
I think kids entertainment at the moment is the best and most varied it’s ever been, and I think across entertainment there are currently shows that have more care and heart poured into them than many adult ones do.
What were your favourite shows as a kid? Have you been able to successfully get your daughter to watch and enjoy?
I liked loads of stuff as a kid, some of which hasn’t aged anywhere near as well as I’d imagined it to.
I’m wary of trying to make my daughter like everything I did because I want her to find her own favourites and also times are different, and some things are not only better but more appropriate to being a kid now.
There’s so much of TV that is ‘well you liked this as a kid so we’ll reboot it and then you’ll make your kid watch it while reliving your past’. Obviously, some shows have done it amazingly but there’s so many new, brilliant ideas out there I don’t want to just be an overbearing parent pushing her towards things that were great 30 years ago.
Saying that, I managed to get my daughter to watch some of Mysterious Cities of Gold, which felt like a win. I think the theme tune has to hook everyone in right? I was a huge Muppets fan, and she loved Muppets Christmas Carol and latched onto Elmo and Sesame Street from very young. I will also be making her watch the original Star Wars trilogy once she’s old enough, but not quite yet. It’s not easy making her pay attention to anything she’s not immediately keen on though.
You also somehow squeeze in a “mostly” weekly podcast – Partly Political Broadcast. What tips do you have for anyone who may be considering launching a podcast?
Erm, it’s very hard work and making anyone listen is even harder? In practice, making a podcast is not difficult. If you have basic recording equipment you can make a decent sounding one and there are so many platforms that mean all you have to do is load it up, and that’s amazing.
But I think podcasting has, like so many other areas, become very celebrity focused. I started mine 6 years ago and it felt much easier for listeners to find their way to you but now if you don’t have at least a minor celeb on your show, the major podcast sites are very unlikely to promote it.
I do mine because otherwise I’d be screaming about the current state of things at people in the park and so I need an outlet that isn’t that.
I’d write all the jokes about current politics anyway and luckily by putting them on a podcast I’ve managed to have a regular audience tune in every week which I’m very grateful for. During the pandemic loads of them donated and really helped me out when I lost all my comedy work and I think without it I’d have been a bit aimless too. I think for anyone starting now that unless you have a platform already, or happen to be very lucky, it’s very hard to build one.
Have you ever submitted to any of the open-door topical comedy shows?
I sent in a few bits but didn’t get anywhere with them. I’ve never really listened to any of the topical radio shows, so think I just didn’t get the tone right and I probably should’ve prepped better. One of those things I’d do differently now, I think.
I do feel like the necessity for balance that is key to a number of the topical comedy shows on TV and radio really limits what writers can do with them, and I personally find that hard as right now (and for the number of years) I don’t think there’s any balance in the British political system or distribution of wealth and power. Comedy doesn’t have to be world changing but I do think that it can be a real force when used to deconstruct how things are and be angry about it. The US is miles ahead of the UK in doing that.
Ultimately what I’ve realised while typing this is I’m not sure R4 accepts many scripts that are 90% swearing so that’s definitely my bad.
What are you currently working on (that you can tell us about?)
I’ve just finished my last Duggee script of season 4, so that’s done for now unless, hopefully, there is a season 5 (and they let me do more). Then there’s a few bits including a pre-school animation that’s in early development and a children’s audio project that I’m not sure I can talk about so I’ll leave it there. I’ve also been writing some online comic strips for the kids coding game Erase All Kittens, which has been so much fun to do, and I’ve got a few stories I wrote for the Cosmic Kids Yoga channel that are out soon too.
The biggest thing is that we’ve got the first ever live version of my kids podcast Radio Nonsense at the Southbank Centre end of October so I’m spending a lot of time working on making sure that will be fun. And I’m trying to pitch a few of my own bits, including an animation and a puppet show, that are at various stages of studios saying they don’t like them.
What are your current goals as a writer/performer?
I’m really happy if I’m able to keep earning a living doing work I actually get excited about. The way I’m feeling about writing for animation at the moment is the same giddy joy I got when starting out in stand-up, and I’m relishing that. I’d obviously love to get my own projects off the ground, but I know how rare that is and I am very content getting to write for, well, anywhere that is silly enough to let me work for them. So yeah, more animation writing would be amazing, and if I ever get the chance to write for a televised puppet show like anything the Henson company does, I think I’d run victory laps around my living room for about three days straight.
I’m hoping I get the energy and incentive to get back into stand-up properly, as I’ve been missing doing a solo stand-up show for a while now. But I think that’s a way off with things as they are.
You always seem like you have a lot of energy and motivation (even if your Twitter bio describes you as tired) and you’ve got a LOT going on. How do you keep going?
Well, it sounds stupid but I don’t think I have a choice. I find it hard to switch off so if I didn’t make things and write stuff I worry I’d end up really irritating my family (which I do anyway, but more so). I find it so hard to stop working and have a day off, it makes me uncomfortable, like I’m wasting the time I could be using coming up with ideas or jokes. I’m always aware of the stigma (with stand-up possibly more so than writing) that it’s a not a proper job. I do get that idea as you know, it’s really fun. Yet I work way more hours now than I ever did in a day job and have far, far fewer holidays. But…it is really fun, and I’d get anxious if it was any other way.
And I am tired! Which is why I’m really trying to only take on work I want to do and cut back on the long journeys and late nights that come with stand-up, to instead focus on writing that I can do at home in my PJs while drinking gratuitous amounts of tea.
What tips do you have for dealing with rejection?
I think its important to not take it too personally. I think stand-up was really good for giving me a thick skin, as you’d get heckled for a joke one night and the next, with a different crowd, it’d storm.
With writing, yes it can be that your work isn’t up to scratch, but it can also be its not what that studio is looking for right now, or its landed just after they’ve already got too much on their plate. I had a script recently get feedback from one studio saying ‘it’s very funny, but it’s got too much dialogue’ and another say ‘it’s very funny but not enough dialogue.’ So at least I now they found it funny and the dialogue is probably just right for somewhere else I might send it to.
Funnily enough, a producer friend of mine read the script and gave me actually helpful criticism that I hadn’t received from either studio and it’s flowing a lot better now. So sometimes it just needs another eye on it, a breather and a step back, then trying again somewhere else.
I used to get really upset by not getting work or being turned down for things and now I’m really not so bothered. It could just be that I’ve done this for a while now, but I’ve definitely taken solace in realising that projects got rejected before may have a different life later on, or influence something else I do.
It is important to ‘kill your babies’ as they say, but jokes that you really liked that don’t fit one show are always worth putting aside and keeping for another. If none of that helps, I just eat a lot of crisps and swear loads and that usually helps.
What’s your number one tip for creating characters?
I spend a lot of time imagining their conversations. What they’d talk about on a day-to-day basis to not just the other characters, but also other people/creatures/anything they’d come across and how their voice would sound, what their opinions would be, where their pauses would be. I remember once hearing one of the famous impressionists (can’t remember which one) talk about how imitating someone was less to do with having their accent right, but more the intonations and breaks in sentences. I like to work out their pacing and speech and build from there.
Probably the best bit of advice was from a producer Rohan Acharya, who oversaw an attempt I made at doing a C4 Comedy Lab, and he just made me go through every line that every character said and would ask ‘why?’ after it. If I couldn’t justify why they’d say it, it had to go. I do that every time now, and find it helps me make sure the character just stays consistent in their personality and drive.
Are there any books, scripts or other resources that you would recommend to other writers?
This is a bit of a fob off, but I think just consuming things that interest you is so beneficial. In a visual/aural way I mean, don’t go round eating art exhibitions please. I keep finding I get inspiration for writing from all sorts of art and writing that aren’t remotely to do with what I’m writing at the time. I learned one of the best stand-up tricks from watching a musician I like play the O2 and they made it somehow become like a tiny pub room. A very serious play I saw influenced some really stupid jokes I wrote for a kids’ story, and I saw a piece by the Russian artist Ilya Kabakov at the Tate Modern years ago that gave me an idea for a script that I still haven’t written. But it’s definitely still in my phone notes and I plan to. One day. Probably.
I think so often its rightly encouraged to read or use resources from your field, but also seeing or hearing art and music that isn’t what you do can be really influential too and give you a different way of approaching how you write and tell stories.
If you could travel back in time to the beginning of your writing career, what advice would you give yourself?
Retrain in cyber.
No, sorry. I think probably to just write as much as I could and create things while I have time.
To be bolder at sending things places, as the worst that can happen is they say no and give you some notes that you’ll learn from to be better the next time. I definitely refrained from sending writing to studios or shows because I thought I wasn’t good enough or ready to, and its only years later now I’ve stopped being so worried about getting turned down that it’s clear how useful it can be to just get out there.
And that some days you just can’t write and its definitely best to spend those not writing, clear out your brain and start again the next day rather than spend all day retyping a title in different fonts and hating yourself.
What’s the worst part of being a writer?
I know some writers find that it’s the fact its quite a lonely profession, but I weirdly like that bit of it. I find all the waiting hard. Waiting for work to come through, waiting for the notes on a draft, waiting for what you’ve written to actually be made and get any gratification for it and waiting to get paid.
I’ve been spoiled by stand-up giving me instant responses and I’m massively impatient, so after handing in the script I wish it was all immediately out there and made. Which obviously it can’t be because amazing animators are putting it together, or actors are recording lines brilliantly, and the reward when it is out there is incredible.
But I still hate the wait. Because I’m a child. A child with a beard.
Has there ever been a time when you considered quitting it all and starting a normal job?
Not often but the pandemic broke me a few times. I’d never had anxiety till then either and I really considered just packing it all in so that I could not have the stress of working in such an insecure industry. But then I also realised my CV is now largely ‘writing silly things and shouting at people in dark rooms’ which isn’t great experience for most office jobs.
I managed to speak to a few work coach people who were kindly giving up advice for free and worked out with them what my ‘transferable skills’ were, and applied to a number of jobs I didn’t want. I think it was terrifying but also made me realise how many other things I can write or do work for if I need to.
What makes you laugh more than anything?
Proper joyful silliness. The hat sketch in Season 2 of ‘I Think You Should Leave’.
A few weeks ago, my daughter did a very loud fart and announced ‘there’s your dollar’, which completely floored me. I could barely breathe from laughing. I know it’s a cliche about how ‘kids say the funniest things’ but nothing has since beaten that. I still have no idea where she got it from.
One final question – What is the opposite of peanut butter?
It’s too big a question to answer in a sentence. We haven’t got to it yet on the podcast but I expect it’ll be a long one!
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