"Actually what we're really looking for right now is sex."
"Like... What, what do you mean?" I asked.
"A hundred and fifty thousand words. Sex every twenty pages. A Jackie Collins. A Jilly Cooper. So if you know anyone who's done anything like that -"
And I thought: Could I do that? The children's novel is probably going nowhere bowed beneath the weight of my own expectations and I haven't even started on the picture books. What if I just knuckled down to some porn then? No really. How hard can it be? Fnar.
This conversation (with one of a number of women I know who work in publishing and are called Alex) rounded off an audition for a charity pantomime in - I think it was called St Mungo the Martyr's - one of the many darkened churches hanging round the press of the Square Mile obstinately like goats at a book launch. I'd been droplifted into last year's panto with a week's notice and I had loved it. I had loved the short rehearsal period, and I'd loved mucking around with old friends and shark heads and pretending to hide from Frankenstein's Monster in a jungle and to fall in love and dancing with a Pirate Queen. But this... this audition... standing in a thick coat behind a slightly mardy MD at a piano in a stone hall once the sun had set - I didn't like that. It reminded me of choir. Too long ago. And I've been sleeping strangely lately. Catching up with sleep. Catching up in general.
The Dungeon's still pretty quiet. There's time to sit on the mortuary steps and ask each other: "What if she was perfect in every way, but made of chalk? And the bed was made of blackboard?" or: "If you had to go out with a woman-shaped animal, which animal... etc." Someone suggested a chameleon. I thought, yeah she'd be quite fun, turning up to the restaurant late in her boa and beret, loudly. I don't know who I had in mind.
And I finally answered the questions that had been sent to me by Dan who runs the Mitchell and Webb fan log. Far too late, I think. Long after they'd been sent, certainly. Long after the recording of my one sketch for the television series, which went well, which was significant. Long after the wrap party in the brightly lit room at the top of Television Centre with the ceiling that very slowly and joylessly faded from red to green to yellow for no reason where I ended snorted helium with the producer... I print some of it below only because it's unlikely to appear anywhere else, along with a still that James Bachman took of the set, which actually maybe isn't such a hot idea. Unless you are an enormous fan of the show it probably won't always be clear what I'm talking about either so, I don't know, just pretend I'm talking about Sergeant Pepper or Richard E. Grant going "FORK IT":
Hello. Sorry I took so long. Yes, you had some questions. This is probably far too late to be of any interest to you now but here are my answers. I feel a bit like that guy they accidentally got on the news to talk about Apple.
When did you realise you were funny?
I just assumed. As a baby.
What sticks in the memory are those moments from childhood when you realise you're NOT funny... when a dinner lady tells you that she can't do two things at once and you say "Why not? You've got two hands" which, it turns out, is not funny at all but obnoxious and hurtful... or when your parents are talking about how someone fell from a window and you say "Maybe they jumped."
How did you get the Mitchell & Webb job?
Mark Evans spotted me working in a second-hand bookshop while on the lookout for an Auburn Consultant for Rob - who you may have noticed likes to play a lot of redheads but is a bit method - and Mark knew that David knew me from a touring production of Hamlet I'd done in Seoul (in a part I'd got instead of Rob) so asked if I'd be interested. I said yes but refused payment electing instead to bring along a number of conversations I had transcribed to learn if this was the same thing as "sketches". David explained that it wasn't, I asked James Bachman if I could borrow a pen and some cigarettes, and the rest is history. And I went to Cambridge.
What makes you laugh?
The same as everyone I think, minus catch-phrases, punch-lines and racism (unless it's making fun of accents), plus assonance and obscure references to things I thought only I liked. Actually I'll normally laugh at anything I'm enjoying on any level at all even if it isn't funny, just out of relief. I'll laugh at food, me.
What is your favourite self-penned Mitchell & Webb sketch?
Whatever anyone else's is. I don't care. It's all good. I genuinely don't know what's funny, and I've written stuff I like that nobody else will get but what's the point? A lot of people laughed at "Asbo Zappruder" the baby seal sketch, and that took me no time to write at all (two evenings - for me that's nothing) in fact I almost didn't send it in, so I found the recording of that immensely satisfying because it went down very well. And I think "Padlockigami" will go down well when/if it's broadcast. It's the only thing I've written for telly so far, and seeing that much work put in by other people to televise some ridiculous idea you scribbled down in a note-book back in 2004, and to see that WORK…
...It won't come much better than that.
Where do your ideas come from?
Walks. Unbearable predicaments. Sounds I find myself making (Both Padlockigami and Asbo are sketches that owe their existence to words I thought sounded good). That question drove Alan Moore mad and now he gets all his ideas from a pretend snake deity. True.
What would you be doing if you weren't doing comedy writing?
Sitting in front of an application form for a grant from the Arts Council.
What's next for you?
Well, since I've taken so pathetically long to answer these questions I can tell you. Not the enormous crippling come-down I was fearing, just bits and pieces for the snowballing oeuvre. Some performances on and under bridges. Actually I'm taking some time off work next week to knuckle down to a couple of things, a sitcom about a deeply scarred wedding planner with a monk sidekick, and also a little idea for a variety show called "Allnighter" which can be very accurately pitched as a cross between "Prairie Home Companion", "Battlestar Galactica" and "Bagpuss". Hopefully a week will give me enough time to work out if either makes any sense.
What's next IDEALLY is that I reach the point where I know the stuff that stormed wasn't a fluke. But I'm nowhere near that point yet, so thank you very much for taking the time to interview me. (Actually it's more of a questionnaire, isn't it.) Bye, Dan. Be well.