The brilliant John Finnemore is currently on tour. We caught up with him between shows...
Hi John. At what point in life did you decide you wanted to become a writer/performer?
I've always loved comedy, but at school it never occurred to me that it was something I might actually do myself. So it was at university, where I had the chance to try, and also where I met other people who seemed to feel it was a perfectly reasonable ambition, that the madness took grip.
Congratulations on all the award wins in recent years! How comes you haven't become supremely arrogant yet?
Because of all the times I don't win. It's always nice to be nominated, of course; but still nothing keeps your ego in check like getting all dressed up and going to an awards do to watch them give it to someone else. I have a tradition now that if I know the winner, I get a photo with them doing the loser sign at me. Here's Sarah Kendall's...
John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme has run for 7 series, so far. It could go on forever?
I mean, why not? Assuming none of us ever die. Which we have no plans to do.
How many hours writing approximately would you say it takes to generate a series? Do you ever regret being the sole writer?
Very hard to put an estimate of hours on it - I'd say a series takes about six months to write, the first three months part time, the second three full time. And the last month involves some very long hours indeed, and often a couple of all-nighters.
But I never regret being the sole writer, because, my answer to question two aside, I AM in fact supremely arrogant.
For anyone looking to write a sketch themselves, what tips would you offer?
Keep it short. I know mine aren't always short, but if you're starting out, they should be.
Don't go with your first idea. Or your second. Rewrite it again and again. Cut all the bits you're hurrying through when you read it back.
Keep it short.
Try it out on actual humans - an audience if that's possible, long-suffering friends and family if it's not. Don't listen to their advice and feedback, though... just notice when they laughed.
Have a punchline. They're not corny and old-school... they're what audiences desperately want.
Know what the idea of your sketch is, and don't change it half way through.
Keep it short.
Some of your Radio 4 sketches would work really well in a visual medium too? We'd love to see some of your 'Since you ask me...' tales in costume. Would you be willing make a TV version, or do you prefer radio?
Well! Since you ask me for a Since You Ask Me tale in costume... I will be doing that exact thing on tour, along with some of the other sketches I always felt would be better in vision, and some new ones which wouldn't even be possible on radio.
I would love to do the show on TV, but no-one wants sketch shows at the moment. I imagine they'll come back into fashion eventually.
Talking of radio... When your hit sitcom Cabin Pressure ended, the destination the characters were travelling to next was Addis Ababa - a reference to the alphabetical nature of the episode titles. Would you ever be willing to bring the show back? Baden-Baden after Addis Ababa maybe...
Never say never, but I would have to have a really good reason to go back, having written an ending to the show which I felt was satisfying. It would be a shame to unpick that - I'd have to get Martin fired from Swiss Airways, for instance.
In their fictional world, what do you imagine the Cabin Pressure characters are up to now?
I don't mean to keep banging on about the tour, but... in it Arthur Shappey gives an exclusive interview to Patsy Straightwoman, in which he catches us all up...
So, yes, John Finnemore's Flying Visit is currently on tour. What can people expect from the shows?
Red trousers, yellow cars, an exciting dog-sledding adventure, Winnie the Pooh coming to terms with his destructive relationship with honey, and the entire cast simultaneously doing something extremely surprising with a Sainsbury's bag, a pair of gloves, and two small sieves...
Some of the other Souvenir gang will be popping up?
I am delighted to say that all four of them will. And I am absolutely loving touring with them (we're a few shows in now) - they are so funny together, on-stage and off. In the bar after the Preston show, they made me laugh so hysterically I was forced to go and change my shirt. I was going to explain why, but I might just leave it at that.
With such a back catalogue of material to choose from now, how did you pick which bits to include?
It was very tough. And as a result, the first show was far too long - sorry Brighton! However, cuts have now been made, and it's now a sensible length.
Your radio shows tend to be family-friendly, and presumably the live show is too? There's no rules on Radio 4 saying you have to be 'clean', so is that a conscious decision you've made yourself?
The live show is entirely family friendly, yes, and it's been absolutely lovely meeting kids at the stage door afterwards.
No, the cleanness wasn't really a deliberate choice, just my natural style, I suppose. Though we have our moments - one of my favourite sketches in the last series was about Freud calling his mother to get her reaction to his new book...
The tour is set to end in June. Any chance of it being extended to more places, if it goes well (as we're sure it will)?
Well, pleasingly the Richmond date sold out very quickly, so we've added a matinee performance on the 3rd June, for which there are still tickets available. Apart from that, I doubt we'll extend this run, but I'm very keen to do another run in the future.
What's next for you after the tour?
My next project, to my baffled amazement and delight, is writing a film with Armando Iannucci. That'll do, pig.