If people don't like this show, they don't like us | Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney on Catastrophe

If people don't like this show, they don't like us

Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney on Catastrophe

Sharon Horgan

Explain a bit about Catastrophe. What’s the concept?

It’s an unromantic look at a romance, I think. It’s about a couple who meet on a one-night stand, and end up spending this great week together, and that should be it. But she gets pregnant, and he decides to do what he thinks is the right thing and stuck around. And she’s happy for him to lend a hand, as she can’t really be on her own. So they have this speed-life version of a relationship, where everything starts going to shit from the moment they get together.

But the way it differs from a normal relationship is that they don’t really know each other, they’re just getting to know each other while all this shit’s happening. Going to have a pregnancy scan and getting bad news is hardcore enough with someone you’ve been with for years. But having to do it with someone who’s almost a stranger to you…

[Rob and I] both had a series of shitty things happen to us in our relationships or in our experiences as child rearers, and we felt like it would be nice to bring people a warts-and-all picture of a relationship. Still romantic, still a love story, but a real version of it.

Am I right in thinking that you and Rob met over Twitter?

Yeah, that’s right. I started following him because Graham Linehan had retweeted him a few times, and I found him extremely funny. And totally filthy. And then I noticed he was following me, and then he got in touch on a private message saying he liked what I did. I thought that was sweet, and when I was over in the States we decided to meet up.

And then we just kept meeting up, over the years, and eventually found the right thing to collaborate on. But that was kind of scary when we started writing – you never know whether these things are going to be a disaster or not. It can be really hard to write with someone, it’s very intimate and exposing. But the relationship worked immediately, it felt fun and easy.

For the pilot, we talked a lot across the Atlantic, and then I was in America working again, and we grabbed what time we could. And then we went back and forth over Skype.

Did you find that you each tended to write more for your own characters?

I don’t think it did pan out like that. Maybe a little bit initially. What we did end up doing was rubbing our corners off a bit. If I’d write something that sounded a bit harsh, for either character, he’d give it a bit of California sweetness. And if he wrote something that I thought sounded too warm and American, I’d write a bit of Irish acerbic into it.

Judging from the trailer, your character isn’t going to have the most pleasant pregnancy. Is that partly based on your experiences?

It wasn’t just mine that we based it on. We used mine and Rob’s wife’s experiences, we mixed it all in. Any shit that happened to me, we multiplied by two.

But you ask any woman who’s been through it. There won’t be too many rosy stories in there. I got knocked over by my dog and broke my knee. My pelvis parted, so I was on crutches for most of it.

My second one, my ribs felt like they were splitting because My baby was so massive. A lot went wrong – the same with Rob’s wife – which is why we were able to throw that all in there. I know there are women out there who loved being pregnant, but that wasn’t my experience.

While you were filming, did you have to wear a bump that grew steadily bigger throughout the series?

Yes. I had three or four bumps over the series. It was good, because it genuinely felt incredibly uncomfortable, especially the really big one. It was really heavy, and it did make me re-live it, because my back was fucked at the end of it, and I remember feeling exactly the same at the end of the pregnancy. But it worked - whenever I needed to be grumpy and fed up in character, I generally was.

The show’s got a great cast, including Ashley Jensen and Carrie Fisher. That must have felt so exciting?

Carrie Fisher’s a legend, isn’t she? We were madly excited when she came down on set. We were all acting like dicks. We were running around like grinning weirdoes. I was going over her lines with her, lying on a bed by her side because she was a bit jet-lagged, and I felt like: ‘Yeah, this is it. I’ve reached the heights now.’ And Ashley is just incredibly funny, and great to be around. She’s a lovely. Funny, warm presence all the time.

In the past, you’ve done a couple of factual programmes for Channel 4. Is that something that you’d like to do more of in the future?

No. I really loved that they asked me to do it, and allowed me to make documentaries on whatever I wanted.But it’s not really something I want to pursue any further.

In your body of work, what are you most proud of?

I’m still very proud of Pulling. It was the first sitcom I ever made, and it was a situation where someone took a leap of faith, and let us have a go. So we ended up making something that we really liked, and had enormous fun doing, with the people that we wanted to do it with.

And Catastrophe, for me, feels very similar. I felt with Pulling that I couldn’t have made it at any other time, and I think with Catastrophe, I couldn’t have made it even three or four years ago. It feels like the perfect thing for this moment, for the stories that I have to tell. I guess we’ll have to wait and see now what people think, but it was an enormous pleasure. I felt as emotional at the end of filming as I did at the end of Pulling.

Rob Delaney

Where did the idea come from?

Sharon and I are friends – we’re both married, we both have two kids each. We’re both happy, but we’re at similar points in our lives, where we’re trying to maintain a marriage, trying to maintain parenting, trying to do so with a modicum of grace from time to time. Our show, which is crazy, is not as crazy as the things which we come in and tell each other each morning when we go to work, the stuff that happens in our families.

Anybody can raise kids – not well, but the biological imperative makes you wiggle around and grunt with other adults, and then kids happen. And if you don’t do a passable job looking after them, they’re going to die. But you can just totally run a relationship into the ground and treat another adult like garbage. You have no obligation to be nice to your spouse. Unless you want it to keep working. And the skillset required to do that is harder than anything I’ve ever done. I’ve run marathons, I’ve been in jail, I’ve been in a wheelchair – being married and maintaining it is harder than any of those things by a lot. And we wanted to write about that.

So it’s a show where the stakes of the relationship are high right out of the gate, and we want the characters to like each other sometimes and love each other sometimes and want to kill each other with a hammer sometimes. We wanted to show something real, something bloody and painful, with glimpses of beauty once in a while. Polluted with jokes, of course. We wanted the joke content to be intoxicating and suffocating.

How did you and Sharon become friends?

We met on Twitter a few years ago. I was a huge fan of Sharon, I think she’s the funniest person alive. Maybe Richard Pryor is funnier, but he’s dead. I was crazy about all her shows, couldn’t watch them enough, and I saw she’d followed me on Twitter. I wrote to her and said ‘Maybe your computer has a bug and you followed me by mistake, but I’m a giant fan.’ And she said ‘No, I know who you are, you foolish little comedian,’ and we became friendly.

Why did you decide to give the characters your own names?

At first we just did it because we knew we were going to be in it, and we were writing it, so it was just easy to do that. And initially we thought we’d end up giving them different names. In retrospect, I’m glad that we didn’t, because in writing it and brutally mining our own personal lives – the show is semi-autobiographical for both of us, in some aspects – it just seemed to make it easier to put it all out there by using our own names. And after we’d written it, we kind of went ‘Oh, we never changed our names.’ Maybe when the show comes out, we’ll regret it, because people will think it’s all really us.

Your mum is played by Carrie Fisher…

Just unbelievable. It’s unbelievable that we got her. Even still. We got her, we’re editing it, I’ve seen everything we shot of her, many times, as we edit. But I still can’t believe it. When she came on to the set, we were just agog. What a coup!

You’ve got a huge following Twitter, and you were named the funniest person on Twitter by Comedy Central. That’s some achievement.

It’s weird, Twitter is such a crazy, big, powerful tool. It’s like a bulldozer: It can clean up hurricane damage at an amazing rate, but it can also run over a family having a picnic. It’s such a big, weird thing, but I’m glad people have embraced the manner in which I use it. I’m happy I fell into a groove with it.

I would never downplay the role that Twitter has played for me. Sure, I might have been writing and performing for years before Twitter, but it has opened a tremendous amount of doors for me.

Is stand-up still the purest form of your art for you? Is it something you want to stick with?

Yeah, stand up makes me very happy. I have a dream partner with Sharon, because we have so much fun, and we get to make something bigger together. We get to collaborate and bring the best out of each other. So doing this show has been magnificent.

But I think, for me, the purity of getting onstage with a mike and just going… I don’t know how to live without that. It brings me perfect peace. I have the stand-up’s sickness that when I get on the stage with a mike, it feels to me the way a normal person feels when they get into a Jacuzzi. Something’s aberrant with my brain. I have to do stand up, so yeah, I’ll keep doing it.

How did you find it working on a British show? Do we do things differently here?

What I love about British sitcoms is that generally one or two people write every episode of the series. If people like the show, that’s so great for Sharon and me. If people like a show in the US, that’s still great, but you have to divide that by 13 staff-writers. That’s an aspect of British television that I really like. That’s why this has been the most gratifying television experience that I’ve ever been a part of. By many multiples.

I don’t know if people will like the show. Enough people have seen the first episode and liked it that I’m optimistic about people liking the first episode, but there’s still quite a few more after that. But we’ve made the show that we wanted to make. We did capture the feel and the tone and the character, and espouse the ideas and beliefs that we wanted to, so we’ve made what we wanted to make. So if people don’t like it, they’re saying they don’t like us, and who we are as people, on a molecular level.

Do you think there’s a difference in the British and American sense of humour?

There’s a higher value placed on comedy, culturally, in the UK. If you sliced a British person in half with a sword, you’d find that they had a more developed comedy organ in them than the average American. That doesn’t mean that incredibly funny things don’t come out of the US. But here, the guy who comes over to fix your boiler in the UK, there’s a higher likelihood that he’ll say something funny than his American counterpart. I think British people recognise comedy as a vital lubricant to any human transactions.

• Catastrophe starts on Monday January 19 at 10pm on Channel 4

Published: 7 Jan 2015

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