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24 August 11
Tom Phipps: Abandon all hope all ye who enter here...
The looming blank page of writer's blockOh my god I have writer’s block already. I’m staring at the page and the page is staring back at me and no words are being written and I’m starting to think that BAFTA were wrong to ask me to write a blog about my experiences as a ‘young comedy writer’ going to the NYTVF. Stupid BAFTA. “We’re sending you to New York,” they said. “All you have to do is write a blog about it! You guys wrote a whole script, it’ll be easy to do a few blog posts! We know you’ll be great!” Well, I’ve written nothing and the deadline was two days ago. Shows what they know.
Today was definitely going to be the day. The day of the blog. The plan was simple: make a sandwich, eat the sandwich, write the blog. I successfully made the sandwich then accidentally dropped it on the floor and my dog nicked it, then instead of writing anything I watched Breaking Bad, then I made a cup of coffee, and now I’m writing something totally irrelevant and vaguely meta about the act of writing about writer’s block. Everything is going wrong. My chest is tightening. I’m getting a migraine.
That’s just a taste of what it feels like to be an amateur comedy writer! Now take that taste, increase it tenfold, stretch it out for a year, apply it to an actual script, and you’ll start to appreciate just how impressive it is that MAYFLOWER INVESTIGATIONS (our pilot) got written in the first place. Thank god for Pete, that’s what I say. Pete (r Bowden) is my writing partner; he and I spent the last year of unemployed graduate life goading each other into writing a script, something I suspect that both of us are far too neurotic to achieve individually.
See the picture on the left; I’m the boss-eyed blonde one with the dumb side-swept hair and the smile of somebody humouring a senile relative, he’s the out-of-focus short one lurking in the shadows behind me like some comedy Darth Vader. Hullo Pete! Pete will contribute to later blogs. Not to this one, though, because he apparently has “more important things to do” and has thus left me to fend for myself, like I’m a newborn baby deer abandoned in the middle of the forest by its stupid mother.
Student news with a satirical twistPete and I met at university, where we co-edited ‘The Oxymoron' which is like the British student version of ‘The Onion’ . After we graduated, we co-edited the first and only issue of ‘Animal Rabbit’ , which is like the British student version of ‘some jokes written in biro on the wall of a public toilet’. Then we realised that we’d been wasting our lives. To hell with magazines, we were gonna do what we’d always dreamed of: writing the sitcom about sassy private detectives. And so MAYFLOWER INVESTIGATIONS was born, written, argued over, rewritten, finished, deleted, rewritten a dozen times, edited down to twelve pages, submitted to the BAFTA/Rocliffe New Writing Forum, and nominated for a final round interview.
Our interview was memorable. Twenty minutes before we went in, a bird pooped on Pete’s head. Twenty minutes after it finished, the pub we were sitting in started boarding up the windows because they’d heard rioters were on the way. During the interview itself, I babbled incoherently about narrative serialisation until Pete asked me to be quiet (joke’s on him though - he may have been eloquent and charming, but he still had guano in his hair). As we left, I fully believed that we’d blown it, and had prepared my “eh, didn’t want to go to stupid New York anyway” sour-grapes comments accordingly. So imagine my surprise when I got the phone call telling me we’d be hitting the Big Apple ! I was pretty surprised.
Since that call, life has taken on the bizarre tint of the fever dream. The playing field has changed. I’m reminded at this point of something George Meyer (writer/co-creator of The Simpsons and general comedy hero) said about starting out in comedy writing. ‘When I was young, I wanted to be a priest, then a ballplayer, then a Bond villain… I didn’t even think about writing for television until long after college. It was like saying “I’m going to be a professional sweepstakes winner.” It just didn’t feel like a real career.’ This is all still true for us. Objectively, we’re no nearer to having actual careers than we were a fortnight ago. But still, everything feels just that little bit closer - where once we were two little men in a room typing jokes, trying to ignore the crushing futility of arguing over character arcs for episodes that’d probably never get written for a sitcom that’d definitely never get made, now we are two little men sitting in a room responding to emails from producers and directors and actual human beings who have actual opinions about that thing we wrote. It feels like something may FINALLY actually really seriously be happening. It’s exciting. Very exciting.