Burnistoun. Image shows from L to R: Robert Florence, Iain Connell. Copyright: The Comedy Unit


  • TV sketch show
  • BBC Scotland / BBC One Scotland / BBC Two Scotland
  • 2009 - 2019
  • 22 episodes (3 series)

Robert Florence and Iain Connell write and star in this BBC Scotland sketch show based around the residents of a fictional town. Also features Allan Miller, Richard Rankin, Kirsty Strain, Louise Stewart, David Allan and more.

Robert Florence interview

Burnistoun. Image shows from L to R: Robert Florence, Iain Connell. Copyright: The Comedy Unit
Burnistoun. Robert Florence. Copyright: The Comedy Unit

During the first series Michael Park interviewed Robert Florence, who co-created Burnistoun with long-term collaborator Iain Connell...

Hi Robert. Who are your comedy heroes?

Iain and I both like a lot of the same stuff. We love Fry and Laurie. Reeves and Mortimer. Spike Milligan. Morecambe and Wise. We both love Mr Show, which is probably my favourite American comedy show. Tim and Eric need to be mentioned here too. Two beautiful monsters.

If you had to pick a favourite, what would be your all-time favourite sketch?

This is actually an easy one for me to answer...

It's The Story of Everest, from Mr Show. No question. It has everything. Brilliant slapstick, amazing timing, pathos, funny lines. The lot. I just think it's an incredibly funny and incredibly brave sketch. It's a sketch that just takes a funny idea and absolutely wrings the maximum comedy from it, without staying around too long, and with it all getting increasingly funny. And they must have known from the get-go that this would be a stand-out sketch. A big centrepiece sketch.

It's something we tried to do with Burnistoun - make things unpredictable, take ideas into new, funny areas as they develop, and try to get some big stand-out sketches in there.

And your favourite comedy character?

From Burnistoun? It isn't really a show with a great deal of returning characters. Most characters are one-offs. So, I have lots of favourite sketches, but no real favourite characters. Paul and Walter, the ice cream van guys, are a lot of fun to perform, though.

More generally: Harold Steptoe. Or John C. Reilly's character Dr Steve Brule, from the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim sketch show Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! (YouTube clip)

Burnistoun. Image shows from L to R: Iain Connell, Robert Florence. Copyright: The Comedy Unit

What do you do when you're looking for inspiration? Is there any particular place you go to, film you watch, book you read etc?

Nope. If anything you try to avoid stuff, because you're always fearful you might accidentally lift something from somewhere. When you've got hundreds of sketches to write, you need to shut things out for a while and just focus on the task at hand. Most sketches come from either personal experience or flights of fancy.

What would you say is the hardest stage of the writing process?

Re-drafting. I hate it. I do it, but I hate it. I love that initial period of getting the ideas down, and going crazy with them. When you get to the redrafting, that's when reality intervenes. Luckily, I write with Iain, and he loves to redraft. The sick f**k.

Is there anything on TV at the moment that you look at and think 'Man, I wish I'd written that'?

Always. Brian Limond, of Limmy's Show, is a good friend of ours. He has a character in his show called Falconhoof, and I think it's just a brilliant creation. I definitely thought "I WISH IT WAS ME!" when I saw that one. I think when you see things you wish you'd written, it's because those things are your kind of thing, if you know what I mean. They're things you could almost imagine having written yourself. It's part of the thrill of realising that other writers are on your wavelength, and find the same things funny. A nice wee kinship thing.

Would you say that Scottish comedies rarely make it to UK-wide broadcast because of the humour doesn't 'translate' to the wider market?

Burnistoun. Image shows from L to R: Kirsty Strain, Iain Connell, Robert Florence, Louise Stewart. Copyright: The Comedy Unit

Scottish comedy does translate, though. Look at Frankie Boyle. A brilliant comic. Scottish. Iain and I had a sitcom called Empty that went straight to network, and was set in Glasgow, with Scottish actors. Rab C. Nesbitt is back, and is still unapologetically Scottish. And there's Scottish influence everywhere in comedy. Take The Thick of It, which is some of the best comedy out there right now - Armando Iannucci is from Glasgow, as is Peter Capaldi.

I think it's all a bit of a myth. If a show is good enough, it has a chance of pleasing a wide audience. There's a lot of good things happening in comedy up here right now, and I'm sure people beyond the border will start to notice if things keep going as they are.

Do you think, or even hope that your show will manage to bridge the gap?

Here's the thing. If I'm commissioned to create a show for BBC Scotland, to be broadcast in Scotland, then I'm going to do everything I can to make sure a Scottish audience enjoys it. That's who the show is for. I wouldn't knock the edges off the accents or worry about references being "too Scottish" in order to please an audience that doesn't yet exist.

I'm proud of being Scottish, and proud that I have the opportunity to do a comedy show for other Scottish people. Having said that, I don't think that Burnistoun is parochial at all. Iain and I aren't very parochial writers, I don't think. Our only concern is that the BBC Scotland audience enjoy the show. That's the focus. If people outside Scotland like it too, then that's a bonus.

Burnistoun. Image shows from L to R: Richard Rankin, Kirsty Strain, Robert Florence, Iain Connell. Copyright: The Comedy Unit

Do you think there's a reliance on stereotyping in Scottish TV comedy?

Nah, man. I think a lot of criticism gets levelled at Scottish comedy that is undeserved. And I think it's often a class thing.

After the Burnistoun pilot went out, I went online to see what people thought of it. One thing got stuck in my head. A guy on a forum said that Burnistoun was trying to get laughs by having characters talking in a 'ned' voice. And claimed that it had actors putting on 'working class' voices. And I was just deflated. Iain and I are working class. The way we speak in Burnistoun is the way we speak in life. And yet here we were, getting that age-old Scottish comedy criticism, that we lean on working class characters for laughs. It's who we are.

Maybe people are actually suggesting that they don't believe people from working class backgrounds can possibly be doing what we do. Scottish comedy is full of people from working class backgrounds, thank f**k.

Thanks for your time Robert.

You can follow Robert on Twitter: @robertflorence

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