My Comedy Career: Sean Foley

Sean Foley. Credit: Kris Askey

Ahead of the Sky Comedy Rep showcase in Birmingham this week, we talk to the venue's artistic director.

Tell us what you do in your job.

I'm an artistic director at a large producing theatre - Birmingham Rep. I curate the programme and develop new shows to produce. There are about a million misconceptions as to what I do!

How did you first get involved in the comedy industry?

Well, I'm really in the theatre industry, but have always been in the comedy side of that... writing performing, directing and producing comedies.

I had a small scale theatre company in the '90s - the right size - we made funny self-written/devised shows with a lot of physical comedy. Eventually we had West End success with The Play What I Wrote - a show about the legacy of Morecambe & Wise.

For about the last decade, I've mainly been a director of comedies. The Ladykillers with Peter Capaldi; Jeeves and Wooster with Stephen Mangan and Matthew MacFadyen; The Painkiller with Ken Branagh and Rob Brydon; Upstart Crow with David Mitchell. I've also directed comedians' live shows: Joan Rivers, Armstrong & Miller, Catherine Tate.

What key skills do you need to be able to do your job well?

Rigid Organisation. Total Flexibility.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

As writer/performer: The Play What I Wrote.

As director - well, I usually say 'the thing I'm currently working on'... so, Spitting Image Live! (But I love all the West End shows I've directed)

Every show is different. I've learnt very little. My mantra is 'work as hard as you can and cross your fingers'.

Sean Foley. Credit: Kris Askey

And what has been the biggest challenge/disappointment?

I made a film in 2016 - Mindhorn. It was a great experience and people enjoyed it. Then I was going to make another film but it collapsed 3 weeks before shooting. I was devastated. You just have to hold on to the idea that these things will come around again... and now I'm attached to direct another film, so perhaps I'm right.

Talk us through a typical day.

No 2 days the same. Last week I was re-rehearsing Spitting Image Live. And re-writing it. And re-designing some of it. I don't think I have a good life-work balance, so would welcome some tips on that!

Tell us a trick/secret/resource that you use to make your job quicker/easier.

Make decisions as fast as you can. If you get 65% of the way to making a decision - just make it!

How are you paid?

I have a salary. It's the first one I've ever had in my entire working life. (I got this job in 2019)

If you could change one thing about the comedy industry, what would it be?

Access. Make it easier to get involved.

What tips would you give for anyone looking to work in your area of the industry?

Don't take no for an answer.

Published: Sunday 21st May 2023
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