I had been toying with the idea of writing something for Miriam and myself to play in together and started to develop that when my father died. He had cancer and died very quickly, three months after his diagnosis. There was no time for any bucket list, no time to really reconcile. Grief, parent-child relationships, how death throws light onto ones life and how the bloody awful can also be bloody funny when you need that relief and indeed release … well that inspired BUCKET. I knew Miriam and I would be able to get that chemistry and complication of an odd couple yet funnily similar looking mother daughter pair. I have never seen this version of mother daughter attempts at bonding on screen yet I know how true, and truly difficult, it can be. And people have written to tell me what it meant to them, so that’s wonderful.
What led you into a performing and writing career?
I always loved it and mucked about as a kid but opportunities were not very forthcoming at school. I didn’t go to a private school, we had no theatre or real drama teachers But when I went to university I ended up in Footlights (Cambridge comedy club) and did a lot of plays too. An agent saw me performing at The Edinburgh fringe and I started from there. It took me a while longer to become a professional writer, to believe that I could or should. But I wrote live sketches and progressed to radio and then a play or two and then met some tv people and ideas grew. You have to keep going but it is very tough and there is no roadmap!
What do you think the challenges of comedy are?
Comedy is personal. If you like it it is good, it has worked. If you don’t like it, then it will seem like it is bad. People are extremely possessive and judgemental about it, because in some ways the only criteria one can measure it by is : do I find it funny. So you have to know that as many people won’t like it as do probably. And when you are new it’s a challenge. But if you have performed live you know your way around a joke, you get to know what it is that YOU do that’s fun and works and that’s all you can do – give your voice. You can’t be lazy with comedy. You need to work at making things as good as they can be, adding jokes, removing them to help something else land. And some days it just doesn’t work, whatever you do the timing is off. But you also need to trust your instincts. Lots of people in TV will chime in with notes and opinions. 90% of these will be wrong. How do I know? Because if people behind desks knew everything then every comedy would be perfect and please everyone – and that’s impossible.
Which performers and writers inspire you?
I am always inspired by anyone making their stuff and getting it out there! I know that even if I don’t like or love something it will have great merit to others, it will touch someone or brighten a day for someone else and that is what counts. Personal taste? I devoured everything comedy as a child, loved Victoria Wood and French and Saunders, more recently Tina Fey and lots of US stable mates. Julie Andrews has incredible timing, so did Bette Davis. I liked old time Woody Allen, a lot of that darker, wordier thoughtful humour I found in books actually, Muriel Spark is a favourite. But I haven’t ever tried to copy people , I couldn’t compete and also I am what I am! We all crave new voices don’t we? Ones who might give us what we don’t get from whatever is ‘hot right now’….
What’s next for you?
I am typing this from the set of a movie actually! Where I have been drafted in as a script consultant on jokes and stuff! I think it’s secret ish right now but it’s a Hollywood film, shooting in UK… I recently went out to the US to meet assorted TV people too. I loved the enthusiasm and support over there. But I would also love to do some more theatre over here, go back and work my muscles properly for a bit!
Any advice for budding comedy writers?
Don’t let the bastards grind you down! Keep writing, make sure it’s your thing and not a version of something else that people tell you it should be. Perform live lots if you can, trusts your instincts and remember: it’s meant to be fun but it will feel painful!
Thanks to Frog for a fantastic interview, looking forward to seeing more of her work in the future!