A funny kind of ‘ Catas­tro­phe’

This re­la­tion­ship com­edy’s mak­ers sought bru­tal hon­esty. Cue glow­ing no­tices.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Mered­ith Blake

Sharon Hor­gan and Rob De­laney aren’t a cou­ple, but they play one on TV — well, ac­tu­ally, on Ama­zon.

The duo cre­ated, wrote and stars in “Catas­tro­phe,” a ro­man­tic com­edy ( of sorts) that de­buted Fri­day on the stream­ing ser­vice. Hor­gan plays Sharon, an Ir­ish teacher liv­ing in Lon­don whose week­long f ling with Rob, an Amer­i­can ad man in town for work, evolves into a more per­ma­nent ar­range­ment when she winds up preg­nant.

Though it’s hardly an un­ex­pected turn of events — as Sharon tells a stunned Rob, “We had sex, like, 25 times in a week and you wore a con­dom maybe twice” — the preg­nancy and other com­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the ter­ri­fy­ing pos­si­bil­ity that they might be in love, turn their lives up­side down. ( Hence the ti­tle.)

Their real- life part­ner­ship be­gan in far less dra­matic fash­ion: Hor­gan and De­laney met on Twit­ter, where he is some­thing of a su­per­star ( 1.1 mil­lion fol­low­ers and count­ing). As the cre­ator of crit­i­cally adored but short- lived comedies in­clud­ing “Pulling,” a raunchy, cringe- in­duc­ing cult fa­vorite about three sin­gle women in Lon­don, Hor­gan had an im­pas­sioned fol­low­ing of her own.

They even­tu­ally met and de­cided to col­lab­o­rate on a se­ries draw­ing from their own ex­pe­ri­ences as spouses ( each is hap­pily mar­ried) and par­ents ( De­laney has three chil­dren, in­clud­ing a new­born; Hor­gan has two).

“Catas­tro­phe,” which earned glow­ing no­tices when it pre­miered this year in the United King­dom, ar­rives at a mo­ment of cri­sis for the ro­man­tic com­edy, which has fallen on hard times in film and tele­vi­sion. De­laney and Hor­gan re­cently spoke with The Times for this edited con­ver­sa­tion about their ap­proach to the genre.

Can you ex­plain where the idea for the se­ries came from?

Hor­gan: We just thought we should write about the stuff that we know. I know it’s re­ally bor­ing to say that, but it is true. We liked the idea of draw­ing from our own lives. I got preg­nant very quickly when I was with my boyfriend, who’s now my hus­band, and we just had to de­cide to be to­gether and make it work. With Rob be­ing Amer­i­can and me be­ing Ir­ish, it felt like a nice or­ganic root into their re­la­tion­ship, him sort of be­ing on a work trip from the States and us hav­ing a f ling. It felt like a good start for, I guess you could call it, a sit­com.

So the premise didn’t come first? It was more about fig­ur­ing out what kind of story makes sense given your shared ex­pe­ri­ences?

De­laney: We are both very in­ter­ested in our mar­riages and our par­ent­ing and the con­flict be­tween the two of those and ca­reer. Ob­vi­ously both of us need to laugh and make other peo- ple laugh. We just had so much over­lap in the things we wanted to talk about.

Hor­gan: It’s much bet­ter when two peo­ple just de­cide what it is they want to write and tak­ing the idea to some­one rather than be­ing pitched an idea or be­ing ad­vised this is the kind of thing that peo­ple are watch­ing. Those don’t end up be­ing very good. The things that end up be­ing good are the things you re­ally have a mas­sive laugh writ­ing and you re­ally feel like you have to get them out, and things that are true tend to be fun­nier.

De­laney: It’s so hard to get a show made. You might as well talk about ex­actly what you want to talk about. It’s prob­a­bly not go­ing to work out any­way, so why not have it not work out when it’s some­thing you care about? When I fail, I want it to hurt.

There’s no short­age of tele­vi­sion shows about re­la­tion­ships or par­ent­ing. Did you think some­thing

was miss­ing from other por­tray­als?

Hor­gan: Quite of­ten it’s rose- tinted or sweet. We wanted to make a bru­tally hon­est re­la­tion­ship com­edy and use com­edy to talk about tricky things. If you can talk about tricky things and make peo­ple laugh you’re prob­a­bly do­ing some kind of good. The stuff that we both re­ally like is quite of­ten like drama that hap­pens to be funny rather than sit­com- type funny. Richard Lin­klater style — real, gen­uine con­ver­sa­tion and re­la­tion­ships.

De­laney: The TV shows we most talked about while we were writ­ing this were “True De­tec­tive,” “Happy Val­ley” and “Trans­par­ent.”

Hor­gan: We liked the idea of be­ing am­bi­tious for a com­edy — not nec­es­sar­ily go­ing for com­edy ac­tors. Most of them are drama ac­tors. I’ve al­ways thought that’s been a great se­cret to cast­ing, and it sort of paid off with this. We wanted to make a com­edy that had good pro­duc­tion val­ues, the kind of stuff that usu­ally only drama gets to do in the U. K. We were watch­ing “Trans­par­ent,” and we were just re­ally inspired by the care Jill Soloway took in ev­ery as­pect.

What was your writ­ing process like?

Hor­gan: There’s a lot of talk­ing.

De­laney: I think about my own mar­riage. My wife and I have been to­gether for 11 years. My wife is a very in­ter­est­ing per­son to me. Some­times I would like to go to the top of the Em­pire State Build­ing and ei­ther push her off or jump off with her be­cause it’s so hard be­ing mar­ried, but it’s never bor­ing. And so we wanted to make sure even when our char­ac­ters were fight­ing that it was al­ways re­ally in­ter­est­ing and com­pelling.

Hor­gan: We liked the idea of two peo­ple mak­ing each other laugh and en­joy­ing each other’s com­pany, be­cause we knew we were go­ing to be putting them through hell in other scenes.

De­laney: In a lot of sit­coms you’ll see the spouses get fed up with each other. Like, “Hey, she’s driv­ing me nuts” or “He put the di­a­per on back­wards, but at least he put it on!” That’s like, kill me. That’s a lie. That’s why peo­ple get di­vorced and kill each other, be­cause there are sit­coms like that. We wanted to make peo­ple love each other in­stead of kill each other.

Your char­ac­ters re­ally do seem to like each other, which is re­fresh­ing.

De­laney: We wrote it and peo­ple would be like, “Je­sus, this is dark.” We were like, “Swear to God, it’s go­ing to be funny.” And then it was broad­cast and it was, “It’s a love story.” And even we were like, what? We knew we wanted it to be, but I thought it might not come across that way.

Hor­gan: I think be­cause we were so cau­tious about mak­ing it too ob­vi­ous, the love as­pect of it. There’s lit­tle things along the way that hint at it.

So what do you find so funny about each other?

De­laney: De­spite the fact that Sharon ap­pears to be very to­gether, I be­lieve she would sac­ri­fice her skin and her bones and her mus­cles and or­gans to make peo­ple laugh. If Sharon got an or­der from the mil­i­tary that was like, “Well, to make peo­ple laugh you’re go­ing to have to saw your own arm off,” she’d be like, “See you later, arm!” I for­get what a good ac­tor she is. Not just good but like Olympic, world- class good.

Hor­gan: This is ridicu­lous. [ Laughs] It’s re­ally hard to de­scribe what you find funny about the per­son you write with ev­ery day. It’s like his sense of hu­mor is just in my DNA now. It’s all around me. But he never lets me down. I still read his tweets like a fan would, go­ing through his timeline and snort­ing and honk­ing. I gen­uinely don’t know how some­one this nice and seem­ingly kind can write such dis­gust­ingly aw­ful, funny things.

It sounds like your writ­ing process has a con­fes­sional qual­ity to it.

Hor­gan: When you write a show like this you have to be in­ti­mate and you can’t be scared of telling each other re­ally dis­gust­ing things be­cause they all need to go in the show.

De­laney: We feel very lucky that we get to trans- mute the things that might have been scary or bad in al­most real time. We’re still mar­ried, we still have kids, and we still don’t nec­es­sar­ily know how to do it the right way.

You’re both mar­ried to other peo­ple. How is it for your spouses that you’re col­lab­o­rat­ing on some­thing so per­sonal?

De­laney: This would be the worst way to have an af­fair. My wife’s cool. I think Sharon’s hus­band is pretty up­set about the whole thing, but... [ laughs]

Hor­gan: He quite en­joys see­ing bits of our lives that I’ve taken whole­sale. I don’t think he finds it that easy to watch when we’re like, hav­ing sex. Also, my eldest daugh­ter has started wind­ing him up. She’ll be like, “Mummy, what was it like to kiss Rob?” She’s 111⁄ 2. She knows ex­actly what she’s do­ing. But apart from that, my hus­band gen­uinely loves the show. It’s the thing I’ve done that he likes the best.

For a com­edy, “Catas­tro­phe” tack­les a lot of dark sub­jects. What mo­ti­vated that?

De­laney: A show that pur­ports to be about real life but doesn’t have those things to me wouldn’t be a real show. The worst stuff that hap­pens in this show hap­pened to us — that is the most au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal stuff. We re­ally just wanted to show that that’s a part of life and it’s OK and there’s ways to sur­vive.

Hor­gan: Also I know for me I’d just got­ten to a stage where I just don’t want to make some­thing for the sake of it any­more or just do some­thing that was silly and daft. I wanted to make some­thing that was say­ing some­thing. There’s a real chal­lenge do­ing that in com­edy. We weren’t sure how peo­ple were go­ing to re­act, but it’s nice to do some­thing that has some sub­stance.

Pre­sum­ably you’ve got lots more ma­te­rial to draw from.

Hor­gan: His life at the mo­ment, with the new baby and hav­ing had to move [ to Lon­don] and make a new life, is very handy. We’ve got a pot of gold there, un­less one of us dies.

De­laney: If I do die, you still have to fin­ish it. Hor­gan: Re­ally? De­laney: Of course.

Carolyn Cole Los An­ge­les Times

SHARON HOR­GAN and Rob De­laney star in the show stream­ing on Ama­zon.

“I T’S SO hard to get a show made. You might as well talk about ex­actly what you want to talk about,” says Rob De­laney, with Sharon Hor­gan.

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