We discover how a talented new comedy writer went from no credits to a Radio 4 series...
Hey Alex, thanks for doing the interview. You're not just a writer, but also a development producer, researcher, performer, celebrity fishmonger... how important is it for you to be able to turn your hand to different aspects of comedy?
We're not supposed to discuss the fishmongering business... It's a shady game. I think it all depends on you and your interests, it certainly helps if you are skilled in a variety of areas – and can definitely save you money! Research and Development is my day job and keeps me in the industry loop whilst I'm trying to further my writing on the side. I do admire people though who are able to write, produce, direct, act in, edit, compose and sing the theme tune for their work, but personally I find comedy works best when it's a team effort.
So collaboration with others is key?
It's very easy to get bogged down in what we're doing with solo and passion projects and become so single-minded that we become too precious about 'killing our darlings'. Comedy writers are, in the majority, very insecure people - I need to have another set of eyes looking at something I've written and saying what does and doesn't work.
"I find comedy works best when it's a team effort"
Can you tell us a little about your journey into the world of writing comedy?
In my teens my goal was to be an actor and writing was just something I did as a hobby on the side so I wouldn't be sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. I always wrote sitcom scripts in my teens and as you can imagine they were pretty terrible, in hindsight though it was great practice, because by the time I had reached my early 20s I knew how to actually write a script and was able to come up with decent jokes and stories that didn't just rip off 'The Simpsons' and 'Spaced'. I'm not saying for a moment that what I write now is gold, I just feel I've progressed more as a writer thanks to all those years of practice and improvement.
You've just finished writing, performing in and producing your 7th and final episode of your podcast 'All Glory'. What's the show about?
It's a semi-improvised spoof magazine show taking a retrospective look back at 'forgotten' trends and fashions of the past in a sincere and deadpan manner. Each episode is centred around a different theme e.g. Dating, Literature, Food & Drink with a different guest comic/improviser. The team are made up of myself, Charlotte Robson, Tom Oxenham and Remy Beasley – all 4 of us trained in improvisation together at the Free Association.
"I've progressed more as a writer thanks to all those years of practice and improvement."
At Why did the Chicken? we teach in our courses that successful comedy is built upon great ideas. How did you come up with a concept capable of sustaining a whole series?
I had come up with this idea about doing something in the same style as 'The One Show' but about things from the past which weren't real. It was before 'Fake News' was coined and more influenced by subversive 90s comedies such as 'Brass Eye' and 'Look Around You'. We made the Pilot hoping (audio network) SOAP would ask for a series, depending on feedback and downloads, but instead they asked us to make it a monthly podcast before the Pilot even went out! Suddenly I was committed to writing, recording and releasing an episode as we went along each month. It was brilliant practice for writing to deadlines but I definitely needed to take a break cos it properly frazzled my brain having to constantly come up with back stories, concepts and interviews for what is essentially complete bollocks.
You've also had a series on Radio 4 - can you tell us how that all came about?
I had been working as Runner in TV and it wasn't getting me anywhere so I decided to take a break from TV and move into Radio. I was living in Brighton and managed to get a work experience placement at Pier Productions where I got chatting to the Managing Director (Peter Hoare) and told him I wrote comedy. He asked to read a radio script and at the time all I had was one episode of a new idea based on internships and work experience – 'Expenses Only'. He read it and said he wanted to submit it to the Radio 4 commissioning round that happened to be just coming up. The timing was just perfect....and to my absolute shock, they liked it!
"...being paid to write a whole comedy series for Radio 4 was an absolute dream."
What was the experience of writing comedy for one of the BBC's flagship stations like?
Surreal. Utterly, utterly surreal. It wasn't even like I had already had a credit on Newsjack or any kind of intro into Radio 4 – or even ANY writing credits. I literally went from having nothing to show for my work to a 4-part series on BBC Radio. It was a huge education for me in terms of tailoring work to a specific brief and – more importantly – constraining scripts to a very minimal amount of time, 13 minutes to be exact. But, for a 24-year-old, being paid to write a whole comedy series for Radio 4 was an absolute dream.
What are you writing for next?
I am currently working on my debut solo show, 'Dead Air', which is a narrative sketch and character comedy set in a Radio station that's closing down. Then there is 'The Adventures of Professor Elemental' a mini steampunk radio series which I co-wrote and co-produced with the Prof himself! We are both incredibly proud of it, we recorded it back in Jan and it was probably the most fun I've had making a project. I'm also working on a couple of collaborative projects with some splendid folk such as David K. Barnes (Wooden Overcoats), Richard Soames (The Beta Males), Jen Sugden (Victoriocity) and Will Hartley (Clever Peter) plus gigging with my improv team, The Handsome Weeping Boys.
"...it was probably the most fun I've had making a project."
What advice do you wish you'd been given when starting out as a comedy writer?
To have more of a plan. I'm freelance and as a result I wind up in this intermittent state of panic over where my next pay cheque is coming from because work is inconsistent. Oh – and if someone had come forward and also told me about Youtube and the rise of social media and the never-ending necessity of having to market yourself then I might have been a little ahead of the curve.
Any top tips for wannabe comedy writers out there?
1. Persist! I know it's a cliché but persistence does pay off. If you can't get it made, make it yourself – whether it's sketches or a podcast, the important thing is to get your work out there. It's a long game but I'm a firm believer that in the end talent will out.
2. Try other things comedy-related – stand-up, sketch, improv. It all helps and improves your writing skills. If being on stage scares you, even more reason to do it – I did!
3. Watch Comedy! Keep up with what's on TV, Radio and online, get to know who's who on the live circuit. Build your network of contacts and friends in the industry – if there's somebody you want to work with just ask them – they can only say no. Ending on another delicious cliché here but - nothing ventured, nothing gained.