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Comedians discuss their Sky1 shorts

Little Crackers, Sky1’s series which gives comedians free rein to make a short film based on their youth, returns next month. Here each of them introduces what they wrote (and sometimes directed)

Katy Brand

Her Little Cracker is set in 1989, when as a 10-year-old, she lost some of the magic of Christmas. As chaos engulfed the Brand household – not least due to a badly cooked turkey – young Katy stepped up to rescue the most important part of the lunch: the holly and berries to top the Christmas pud

Taking a memory that’s hazy and strange, then turning it into a well-rounded, appealing short story that’s funny and partly fictionalised is like a fun, television sudoku.

I was quite a pain in the arse as a child. I was quite superior, I thought everything hinged on me making sure everything was all right, while I was surrounded by disorganised fools.

I was a psychotic child. I was oblivious to the hard work involved in preparing a mea for eight, the thing that I did was the most significant and important thing in the whole day. If I could give my younger self some advice, I would tell myself to calm down.

Self-important children are always funny. When I was young I thought everyone was laughing at bme because I was brilliantly hilarious – turns out it was because I was atrociously self-important.

My parents are pretty cool with the film. I wanted to show that I was the difficult one, that everybody else was normal. I hope my mother will forgive me for implying that she drank her way through Christmas.

In my story, there’s an internal monologue voiced by me, so it’s how your adult self would articulate your childish thoughts using an adult vocabulary and a grown-up look at the world.

Joanna Lumley

Hers is set in 1965, when as a 19-year-old, she is still finding her feet in modelling, and uncomfortable about all the vile, sexist comments spouted by the all-important photographer.

People ask now ‘how did you let that happen?’ Because that’s how it was. We were the dolly birds and men could treat us like filth. We weren’t really insulted by it because we all felt we look like pigs.

Although I had a terrific career as a model, you always think, I’m not as good as the other girls, I probably don’t look as nice as they do. I loved Ottilie Mackintosh, who plays the young Lumley]’s quality of complete innocence, but she’s not a drip and she wasn’t cowed by anything.

The joy of casting yourself is a strange thing. It makes you realise how ephemeral you are, how we’re all so fast coming and going. She was like me all over again. We loved our avatars!

This was my first time as a director, and all it’s done is whet my appetite. I’d rather direct than act now. As an actor, you create, but you’re interpretive. As a director, you’re properly creative. For 45 years I’ve been watching all these people on set and now I realise I’ve always wanted to direct. I din’t want that director, I wanted me! I’m better!

I love the edit suite. We could all be Oscar-winners if we could be allowed to edit our own stuff. ‘But no one else would be in it,’ Katy Brand interrupts.

You hear young people tell stories where something profound happened, but they amke it all about them. When you’re younger you think the world revolves around you.

Sharon Horgan

Set in 1984, her film is about the time when she was a 14-year-old working on her family’s turkey farm, and met up with a good-looking fellow turkey plucker

I was brought up on a turkey farm, which is convenient for a Christmas show. It’s a little love story when their eyes met over a turkey. Everything in the story is true, but it didn’t all happen in the one year.

Christmas was completely different in our house compared to most others, it was this crazy kick-bollock-scramble of turkeys, deliveries, feathers and lunacy. At the time it seemed there was turkeys and shit and feathers everywhere and Christmas was a big ordeal, but when I came to look at it, it was a really exciting time. I’ve always been obsessively involved with any project I’ve done, so I think it’ll be pretty similar directing this. When you write your own stuff you’re involved in directing it to an extent. I didn’t like the idea of being in charge, the one everyone’s looking at and wanting answers. But in the ned, I loved it!

We shot it in 3D. I didn’t see the point in doing it in 3D, but it turns out turkeys and turkey farms are the perfect 3D world. I was a bit worried that it would get in the way of the story, but it enhanced it. Though I still prefer to watch it in 2D.

Rebecca Front

In a story written with her brother Jeremy, Rebecca Front tells the story of how she wouldn’t go to school as an 11-year-old in the Seventies. The experts thought it was a phobia – but, in fact, it was because she feared for the mortality of her mother, and did not want to leave her side.

This was a crucial turning point in my childhood because things could have fallen apart completely. I came close to not being able to go to school at all which had a big effect on my family. What we haven’t covered in the Cracker is that my mother was in danger of losing her job because of my anxiety problems. This period didn’t last long but it was a big deal for a couple of months. I’ve done interviews and written about anxieties and being claustrophobic, but this was an early precursor to those issues which I haven’t talked about before.

I did think at times, “Ooh,that’s a bit ‘baring all’,” but it was such a long time ago; it’s not a story that hangs over me.

You don’t really have a three-dimensional view of your childhood at the time. Only when you look back do you take a more critical view. If I could tell the younger me anything, it would be to be less scared; though I still haven’t managed that yet.

I write with Jeremy quite a lot, but I had a first go at this; then I sent it to him to make it into a script. Though he had to write a little cameo for himself getting the Ask The Family anagram right. He couldn’t help but make himself the smartest person in the family.

Mum is delighted that Sam Spiro played her so glamorously. It’s something of a Grandma’s House reunion. I had to ring her and say “Will you play my mother?’” Then had to add hastily that it was me as a child... she’s younger than me.

We had to teach Lucy Hutchinson, the child actor who plays me, how to have a panic attack – which was worrying. But she seemed perfectly able to understand little Rebecca’s panic but within seconds switch out of it and muck around. She’s a clever actress.

Caroline Quentin

In 1967, young Kitty has the starring role in the school production of The Nutcracker – and she wants more than anything for her mum to be in the audience. But as the performance starts, Kitty sees that her seat is empty. Instead she is being treated in an asylum

I found it hard, bit that was the point, to me. It was cathartic.

I was very nervous about writing it because it wasn’t something I’d done before. I storyboarded it first because I’m more of a visual person, and then I set it out in script format. The story must have been lurking somewhere in my brain. I’ve directed in theatre before and a little bit of telly, but this was my first major experience and I think it’s probably what I’d like to do for the rest of my career. I’ve always had a feeling it’s what I’d like to do, and this has confirmed it.

Over the years I’ve picked up more than I realised on how a set worked. But I was obsessed with the edit, because that’s the bit you don’t see when you’re an actor. On the storyboard, I drew all my editing points, drew what I would cut to. Ninety to 95 per cent of that was in my film.

Sadly, I’m not good looking enough to play my mother, so I play some mad old woman.

Alison Steadman

Her story, co-written with stand-up Hils Barker, tells of the time, as a 16-year-old, she snuck into Liverpool’s Cavern Club to see an up-and-coming band called The Beatles – and even got their autographs.

When I was first asked to do it, I couldn’t think of anything remotely interesting to make a little film out of it. Then I heard myself saying, well I did go to The Cavern when I was 15 or 16, and I got Paul McCartney’s and John Lennon’s autographs.

I delayed writing the script because I was insecure about it, but then I sat down at the laptop and wrote the synopsis straight away and thought, I’m not even going to check for grammar. I did it from the heart, sent it off and got the call back saying they loved it.

I enjoyed playing my mum, but it made me feel a bit sad because she’s not here any more. On the other hand, I was kind of proud, proud of her and proud to portray her. It was nice, really nice. In the story, you can see what kind of woman she is.

Dylan Moran

Set in the 2000s, it tells of Michael, who’s just left school and heading into the job market, when he gets mugged for his mobile phone stolen. In a fit of protective rage, the father chases after the muggers – but gets the wrong people

It’s a short story and script, which I’ve done for the radio before. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t have to hunt around for it, it just came to me from being a parent and talking to friends about how you deal with something frightening or unexpected that concerns your children.

The story also references that it’s a tough climate for young people right now. Being a young man, around the same age as the main character who is in his later teenage years, was a time that I found tough. Leaving home, trying to establish yourself and find a place in the world certainly made me gulp.

Darren Boyd

In 1984, a clumsy, introverted kid has just been selected to sing at his school Christmas concert, but mum and dad have to quash his enthusiasm; the concert clashes with the final of their ballroom dancing competition, and they can’t miss that to the world. Boyd, who also directed, shot his Cracker in the style of a silent movie.

I just have a love of silent comedy, right back to the obvious, Chaplin and all the greats, through to Jaque Catelain, whose films I discovered about 20 years ago. I’m a massive fan of his, the way he brought a real poetry to film, and if I had to cite an inspiration it would be him.

I’ve always been drawn to physical storytelling, how we can say so much by the way we move. We’re animals, after all, and there’s a language there in itself and it’s always found its way into whatever I’m doing, where possible.

Jason Manford

Aged 12, Jason heads to hospital for a circumcision – and on the children’s ward he finds himself intimidated by the fearsome Bulldog – and falling for the lovely Judy.

It couldn’t be any more personal! It hasn’t been done before and it’s quite a fun story. It’s also about my first kiss, which I thought would be a good coming-of-age tale for a Little Cracker. Mine happened in such unusual circumstances.

It was interesting, because as a comedian you naturally go for the joke every time but that doesn’t always lend itself to telling a story. Putting a punchline in every 20 seconds can hinder the plot. I found it a challenge but I did a lot of drafts to get it right and worked with a really experienced team. Once the script was done and the characters developed, I thought, ‘right, now we can add some jokes in’.

Ellis Hollins, who plays the young Jason, is amazing. He’s from Hollyoaks and was head and shoulders above every other boy we saw. It’s interesting with him because he was essentially born into Hollyoaks, he’s been acting for nearly all of his 13 years. He’s very experienced but still a young boy.

Omid Djalili

In 1988, Omid is a 22-year-old with a plan: A one-man show that will kick-start his journey to Hollywood – and impress the edgy actress Annabel who could just be his ideal woman

My Little Cracker centres on a ten-year plan that I concocted for myself. I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of destiny and whether things are preordained or if you make your own fate in this life. You can look back at things and see them as always meant to be, but I believe that’s a mystery we’ll never know.

However, I do believe you can make your own luck by seizing opportunities. My father often said that one thing you must never pass up is an opportunity, and falling into a great career and meeting the woman of my dreams were two things that could have easily passed me by.

I always saw myself as an actor but as I got older I wanted to be more than just an actor. Stand-up comedy came very late to me. The first gig I did was a disaster, as you can see in the film. I was a late bloomer because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to perform. I’m someone who is always restless which is why I do so many different things.

I’ve always wanted to write and direct something of my own. I’m very critical of myself so I like to direct my performances. I film myself doing stand-up and I watch it back to judge how I deliver my lines, so directing feels like a natural thing for me to do.

Nothing can be more authentic than if you write about something that’s happened to you and shaped who you’ve become. It’s almost like therapy.

Paul O’Grady

In 1974, 18-year-old Paul feels a little spooked after watching The Exorcist – so seeks comfort from his sleeping mum.

I was going to do a film about me when I was a little kid but then I noticed that a lot of the Little Crackers were about people when they were very young, so I wanted to be different. This story had always stuck in my mind and I thought visually it could be really good because you’ve got this 18 year-old, who thinks he’s a bit of a hard knock, coming home from the pictures and getting into bed with his mother.

I play a toothless tramp in this – I don’t go for glamour roles – and Lily Savage is in it, too. On his way home from the cinema he sees this little dog which, of course, turns out to be Lily’s and she lays into him.

I was over the moon when they told me Alison Steadman wanted to play my mum. She brought out a full Scouse accent, the lot. She doesn’t look like my mum, but it was a hoot to see her saying my mother’s lines because they’re pretty true to the original from what I can remember. She has some great dialogue.

Tommy Tiernan

Young Tommy’s parents are going through a rough patch; and, after speaking to a therapist, his dad has been advised to unleash his inner canine and bark his stresses out. Meanwhile Tommy’s real pet dog is suffering from constipation.

It’s based on two true stories. I’ve taken a story from my childhood and one from my adulthood and merged them – two hideous, stressful situations that will be turned into 11 minutes of comedy. Because my job is making people laugh, I find that to relax... I’m a big fan of various depressing Eastern European movies and it’s a great way of relaxing. For me to watch a sitcom or something actually feels like work, so the less funny something is, the more I enjoy it, like a Hungarian government documentary about dwarves or weasels.

  • Little Crackers starts on Monday December 10 on Sky 1 HD

Published: 29 Nov 2012

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