‘Bomb and stab and gen­er­ally ex­e­cute your dar­lings’

Si­mon Black­well — co-writer of The Thick of It, Peep Show and now Back — on how to write bril­liant com­edy (and he should know)

Esquire (UK) - - Culture -

Com­edy duo Mitchell and Webb, above, play feud­ing fos­ter broth­ers in new sit­com Back, writ­ten by Si­mon Black­well for Chan­nel 4

Think of a com­edy you’ve loved in the past 10 years, and there’s a very good chance Si­mon Black­well had a hand in it. A long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor of Ar­mando Ian­nucci, he wrote on Peep Show and The Thick of It, and then trans­lated the lat­ter into Amer­i­can for Veep. He’s now writ­ten Back, also star­ring Mitchell and Webb. He’s a man who knows how to make peo­ple laugh; here’s how.

THINK ‘LIT­TLE PIC­TURE’

“When writ­ing Veep, we’d meet with Repub­li­cans and Democrats. We were re­ally in­ter­ested in the minu­tiae. What time do peo­ple get in in the morn­ing? Do they so­cialise out­side of pol­i­tics? In what de­part­ments do they swear? We found out that in the State Depart­ment they don’t, but at the Pen­tagon they eff and blind all over the shop.”

FUNNY DOESN’T HAVE TO BE REAL

“I like com­edy to be emotionally real but I love Toast of Lon­don and House of Fools, they make me weep laugh­ing. I’ve been do­ing this for 20 years, and with a lot of com­edy you can see where

the joke is go­ing, but with Vic and Bob I’ve no idea, and that’s the joy of it.”

WRITE MORE THAN YOU NEED

“On The Thick of It, there would be very long scripts that we’d cut down and then make longer, then cut and make longer again. It was re­lent­less jokes. You could never watch an episode and tweet about it at the same time, as you’d miss some­thing.”

JUICE THE PAIN

“[Peep Show cre­ators] Sam Bain and Jesse Arm­strong’s skill is what Sam calls ‘juic­ing your pain’. If some­thing ter­ri­ble hap­pens, there’s al­ways part of you that thinks, ‘I can use this.’ Amid the mis­ery you can see how it might be funny. And Sam and Jesse will juice it un­til it re­ally hurts.”

FIND A PART­NER OR A TEAM

“In In the Loop, Chris Ad­di­son’s char­ac­ter said some­thing wasn’t easy peasy lemon squeezy, ‘It’s dif­fi­cult dif­fi­cult lemon dif­fi­cult’. I was in the gar­den when I thought of that, and I wasn’t sure, but I threw it in. With team writ­ing you’ll throw some­thing in and if some­one thinks it’s shit, they’ll say. And be­cause we’ve worked to­gether so much, no one’s pre­cious about their lines. You have to get rid of so much and not just shoot your dar­lings, but bomb and stab and gen­er­ally ex­e­cute a vast num­ber of dar­lings. But if you’re up for it then it’s very free­ing.”

WATCH THE SWEAR­ING

“For The Thick of It, if a draft had got too sweary, Ar­mando would send it to the writer and ask them to ‘de-fuck’ it. ‘Fuck-heavy’ is the tech­ni­cal term. We would de-fuck as of­ten as we re-fucked.”

NEVER BE SAT­IS­FIED

“I think you should al­ways be dis­ap­pointed in what you’ve writ­ten be­cause there’s al­ways an el­e­ment of, ‘This could have been fun­nier.’” —

Back is on Wed­nes­days at 10pm on Chan­nel 4

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.