British Comedy Guide

Meet the Writers: Phillip Barron

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David Bussell

  • Wednesday 16th July 2008, 5:37pm [Edited]
  • London, England
  • 9,943 posts

Welcome to the ninth edition of ‘Meet the Writers.' This week's interviewee is Phillip Barron, better known to the BCG as, er, Phillip Barron.

What's your pleasure, treasure?

Well, I've been writing for The Treason Show and NewsRevue for three years, in fact at the end of 2005/beginning of 2006 I was writing about a quarter of each show. I was one of the writers on the second series of Shoot the Writers! - my first attempt at sketch writing which convinced me I might be capable of doing it ... until I actually saw the results. I've had four short films produced, only one of which was a comedy although two of the others are so bad they're hilarious; and five feature films, four of which are comedies and none of which have been finished - including the one already out on DVD. I was also the lead writer for what should have been the world's first internet sitcom/soap show.

I think that's all of it. Of course, I'm assuming you mean writing achievements instead of personal achievements like 'rescued people from a riot whilst wearing only a dressing gown' or 'being sacked for ripping Kurt Russell's head off'.

I read about that Kurt Russell thing. Didn't he throw you off his yacht and wee in your snorkel?

It sounds as though you've suffered a lot of frustration in your career. How close have you come to jacking it all in and getting yourself a photocopier repair job in Wapping?

Never. Well, occasionally. Once a day or so.

It's a frustrating industry, there's no getting around it. Movies in particular are almost a complete waste of time; I reckon over 90% of my work will never see the light of day due to financing falling through, producers going insane or people just generally changing their minds. The politics involved in getting a film made is ludicrous; I just want to write something and hand it over to be filmed - but you end up having to tiptoe through a minefield of egos where the slightest mistake will cause the project to disappear up its own arse.

You eventually reach this Zen like state of mind where nothing really bothers you and you don't get excited about anything. I've slowly moved the goalposts of excitement further and further back. Time was I'd get excited about getting a project read or optioned only for it to come to nothing (my wife and I have had many an argument over what to spend non-existent money on). Then you think 'I'm not going to get excited until the first day of shooting' - but that comes and goes and there's still no finished product. Nowadays I just avoid excitement altogether and refuse to believe anything until the evidence is in front of me. Or better still, in front of others.

Your life makes me sad.

What's it like to have been such a major contributor to The Treason Show and News Revue over the years?

Initially, weird. I've never thought of myself as a sketch writer and I'd never given it much thought. A friend convinced me to have a go, so I submitted a few sketches to The Treason Show and NewsRevue as an afterthought.

The response from The Treason Show was immediate - they invited me to a writers' meeting and performed seven of my sketches that month. For a while after that I was averaging 10 or more sketches each month and the show was jokingly referred to as 'The Phill Barron Show' in meetings. One month I introduced myself to a new writer who'd not only heard of me but had studied one of my sketches at a 'How to write sketches' seminar. Turns out it was run by Mark Brailsford (the director) but it was still a bit of a shock. Another time, someone asked me if I was the legendary Phill Barron? To which I had no reply, other than to pretend I hadn't heard.

NewsRevue, on the other hand, didn't contact me at all for months. I kept sending them stuff anyway since it was no extra effort - but there was never any reply. Months later I got an email from the producer as was, saying how much he enjoyed seeing my name in his inbox. When I finally managed to get my name added to the mailing list for the running order I found out they'd been using even more of my sketches than The Treason Show for nearly a year.

Sadly, those days are all over now - I just don't have the time to commit any more. The problem with both shows is there are no long-term benefits. You write a sketch, it gets performed and at the end of the month it's all over. It's a great experience and incredibly useful to see your work performed ... but when it's all over you're no better off than you were before.

I'm proud to have been a part of both shows and I still write the odd sketch when I can; but I just don't get the time these days.

I too have heard rumours of the legendary Phill Barron. They say he once dropped a hand grenade in a blind busker's hat and jogged off humming "She Bangs!" by Ricky Martin.

Tell us about your involvement with the world's first internet sitcom/soap thing and how that went belly up.

It was a combination of incompetence, theft and prevarication that sunk the project.

The Wow Life was created by a small production company called Pop Productions, based in Walthamstow. The idea was an office based sitcom with six women working in the basement admin office of a major city institution. It was all filmed on one small set, aimed at office workers to watch in their lunch break and the idea was to charge people a tiny fee to watch it. There was going to be five x 10 minute episodes each week.

At that time, there wasn't much Internet content around and it seemed quite feasible. Nowadays, no one in their right mind would pay to watch a series online when there's so much available for free. If we'd managed to get the whole thing up and running in a few months then it might have worked out ... maybe. But it took so long to get going with so many delays due to general lack of funds and other commitments that we missed our window of opportunity. The biggest kick in the nuts was after the first week had been filmed, someone broke into the production office and stole all the computers with all the edited footage on. They had to start again from scratch, which was the final nail in the coffin.

It's a shame really, since we (the writing team) worked really hard on it for nearly a year. We plotted out fifty five episodes and scripted the first twenty; but only the first five were filmed. The real tragedy is we didn't hit our stride until the second week, so what we do have on tape isn't really representative of where the series is going.

It was another great experience for me though, as the lead writer I was involved in hiring the writing team, casting, promotional stuff and was even consulted on set design. The producer insisted the writing team be mainly women (I'm still not sure why), so I spent the best part of a year locked in a room with four or five very funny women while we all tried to make each other laugh. I'm still friends with everyone now and we're even talking about maybe starting it all up again; but this time with a different business model (sponsorship) and some better door locks.

You make me laugh. What makes you laugh?

Top Gear. I'm running a campaign to get it recognised as a sitcom since I reckon it's the funniest thing anyone in Britain has produced for years. Apart from that: Peep Show, Mighty Boosh, Spaced, Monty Python, Blackadder ... the usual stuff.

If you mean on a more specific level, I like seeing people and small animals get hurt; and swearing is still the funniest thing around. That's one thing I have learnt from The Treason Show - no matter how well crafted your dialogue, no matter how poignant your characters or clever your set ups, nothing gets a bigger laugh than a well placed swear word. The ruder the better, as long as you don't overdo it. At the screening of The Wrong Door the other day, the biggest laughs corresponded exactly with the most inventive swear words.

Some people might think that's a sad indictment of modern Britain ... but they can go f**k themselves.

Personally, I don't think you can beat a woman getting punched in the crotch for yuks.

What does the future of comedy look like?

Five foot eleven, fourteen stone, blue eyes and ginger in the wrong light.

Phillip is a writer for BBC Three's The Wrong Door - due to air this October (ish).

Meet the Writers will now take a two week holiday while I swim laps in a giant pot of tea.

Last week's ‘Meet the Writers' was with Martin Baum

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Gavin

  • Wednesday 16th July 2008, 6:02pm
  • Wales
  • 22,778 posts

Brilliant! Brilliant!

Another good interview mate thanks Phillip and Dave another good interview very intresting.

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Sofa Matt

  • Wednesday 16th July 2008, 6:07pm
  • England
  • 757 posts

Superb, thanks to you both.

Are there any examples of Phillip's sketches on this site? Particularly those connected with Treason & Newsrevue.:)

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Marc P

  • Wednesday 16th July 2008, 6:18pm
  • England
  • 17,698 posts

Really interesting, totally sympathise re films. :(

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Phill

  • Wednesday 16th July 2008, 6:19pm
  • Eastbourne, England
  • 211 posts
Quote: Sofa_Matt @ July 16 2008, 2:07 PM BST

Are there any examples of Phillip's sketches on this site? Particularly those connected with Treason & Newsrevue.:)

No, since most of them were performed, it didn't seem worth submitting them for critique.

There are a few here: http://phillipbarron.co.uk/Scripts/

And a couple of videos here: http://www.phillipbarron.co.uk/the_treason_show.htm

But the problem is topical stuff is rarely funny after the event.

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David Bussell

  • Wednesday 16th July 2008, 6:23pm [Edited]
  • London, England
  • 9,943 posts
Quote: Griff @ July 16 2008, 2:05 PM BST

Seconded. Nice work Phill and Dave. I love reading about some of the mighty writers on this site, discovering what they do and how they got there. Top notch.

Damn. 'Mighty Writers' should so have been the name of this column.

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Badge

  • Wednesday 16th July 2008, 6:28pm
  • London, England
  • 9,490 posts

I can't help thinking Mr Bussell should be writing a column in one of the nationals. All of these are good reads, as well as being illuminating. Plaudits to Mr B and his subjects.

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David Bussell

  • Wednesday 16th July 2008, 6:29pm
  • London, England
  • 9,943 posts
Quote: Badge @ July 16 2008, 2:28 PM BST

I can't help thinking Mr Bussell should be writing a column in one of the nationals. All of these are good reads, as well as being illuminating. Plaudits to Mr B and his subjects.

They do the writing, I just burp out a question every once in a while.

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Badge

  • Wednesday 16th July 2008, 6:38pm
  • London, England
  • 9,490 posts
Quote: Badge @ July 16 2008, 2:28 PM BST

I can't help thinking Mr Bussell should be writing a column in one of the nationals.

I didn't say in which country. ;)

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swerytd

  • Wednesday 16th July 2008, 6:42pm
  • Guildford, England
  • 7,538 posts

Another top interview. Thank you Phill (and David, I suppose...)

Dan

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ContainsNuts

  • Wednesday 16th July 2008, 6:57pm
  • London, England
  • 2,556 posts

I can't believe you didn't ask the cheese or pickle with ham question.

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David Bussell

  • Wednesday 16th July 2008, 7:00pm
  • London, England
  • 9,943 posts
Quote: ContainsNuts @ July 16 2008, 2:57 PM BST

I can't believe you didn't ask the cheese or pickle with ham question.

Why not both?

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ContainsNuts

  • Wednesday 16th July 2008, 7:03pm
  • London, England
  • 2,556 posts
Quote: David Bussell @ July 16 2008, 3:00 PM BST

Why not both?

You can only choose one. This should be the first question of any interview with anyone.

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David Bussell

  • Wednesday 16th July 2008, 7:06pm
  • London, England
  • 9,943 posts

But surely the only answer can be pickle?

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bushbaby

  • Wednesday 16th July 2008, 7:08pm
  • England
  • 3,508 posts
Quote: David Bussell @ July 16 2008, 2:29 PM BST

They do the writing, I just burp out a question every once in a while.

Don't be so modest...yer brilliant