Am I the only kind of person who doesn’t do things the easy way?
Whether it’s choice or circumstance – please make it difficult. And make anything that needs to get done take the maximum amount of time.
Ahhhh. That’s better.
It’s not like it’s a choice. It’s my brain that makes everything so hard. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it.
Exhibit A – something I really really love – comedy writing.
Yes, it’s a cliché to say “I’ve been OBSESSED with comedy since I was a kid.” But it’s true. Being autistic, I am a lover of special interests and woo boy was encyclopaedic knowledge of comedy my thang.
Marx Brothers. Monkees. In Living Color. Your Show of Shows. Monty Python. Repeat ad infinitum.
My entire life, comedy has been my brain’s default. So you’d think with that head start I’d have been elbow deep in Emmys by the time I hit retirement age in LA. Which is 33 years old.
But no. Didn’t get my start till I was 40. And no, it’s not because that’s when I had finally reached the personal trauma threshold required to make sweet, sweet comedy.
(I hit that threshold much earlier.)
It’s just that it never occurred to me that comedy was something I could actually do as a profession. So the academic life it was for me!
I was doing a PhD in Medieval Catholic sexual mysticism (as you do), but dropped out because well it’s a very long story involving 6 original medieval languages and oh god I’m boring myself just writing about it hezzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
So yeah, I dropped out. At 32ish. With no idea what to do.
Ever been lost with no idea what to do next?
Behind me was a string of a million failed jobs – waitress, bartender, secretary, dry cleaner, grocery store checkout girl, McDonald’s cook, medical transcriber, legal researcher, office temp, matchmaker (yes matchmaker!) ….
If there’s one thing neurodivergence brings, it’s varietyyyy.
So at this enormous crossroads, there was one logical choice. To go with an obsession. TV Comedy. It hit me oh my God wait a minute I can start writing comedy.
Like – BAM! – That’s just how it works, right? So easy.
Here we get into the difficult and maximum amount of time references mentioned at the beginning.
Even back then when I was undiagnosed my flavour of studious autism is undeniably strong, like a gorgonzola (which ironically is a cheese I can’t eat because it’s too strong a flavour).
Research! The best book on getting a job in tv purchased! Studied! Notes taken!
Emails sent to producers! Gift mugs bought because the book said producers like biscuits on set and these mugs had little storage spaces for biscuits!
And then – meeting set up with comedy producer. This was the beginning, baby! It was all gravy from here on out.
Except, this comedy producer at one of the biggest comedy Indies in the UK took one look at my academic stuff and proclaimed that comedy was not for me. That I should do documentaries and she put me in touch with a friend of hers who was working for the Religion and Ethics department at the BBC.
So I had that next meeting. And got my first job in telly as the person who answers the letters sent into Songs of Praise. It’s the only job I ever had that my Nana took the piss out of.
Then moved on to documentaries proper.
You might be thinking are you crazy never let anybody come between you and your dreams blah blah blah.
But that move was so good because documentaries are a great teacher of storytelling. They needed all my uber-autistic research skills and info dumping. Though I didn’t fit in with most people, it gave me amazing friendships. It taught me how TV works.
For those FOUR YEARS OR SO I was on the 5th floor of the BBC and all the cool kids and comedy people were on the 4th floor making shows like We are Klang and Ideal. I tried to volunteer for everything. Please, for the love of God, let me help. But no bites, no nothing.
You know when you just want to hang out with people who are doing super exciting things? But you can’t? No matter how hard you try you can’t get in? That.
Eventually the BBC comedy department had a series of talks about how to make it in comedy. Here was the chance!!!!
It was a moment of truth.
The last session, I’m sat with my arms crossed at the back and
I raised my hand and stood, very frustrated, and said look I’ve been trying to write comedy. But I can’t even get a volunteer position with you. What is it you want? How do I show you I’m serious about this??!?!!?
He looked right at me and had the AUDACITY to suggest actionable steps.
“Show us you’re serious. Do stand up. Run comedy nights.”
So that’s what I did. Brain kicked into high-methodical-mode again, because in my mind, that dude had given me a clear formula for being a comedy writer.
First, stand-up. The world was amazing. Learning joke writing was such a rush. Doing standup itself? Not so much.
In fact, an absolute nightmare. The nerves. The mental space that it took up like before gigs. The crying after each gig, even the good ones. Then, I ran a comedy showcase. That was better and super fun because I didn’t have to do standup. I was just the puppet-master.
That was another TWO YEARS. And then the break finally came. Not a mental break (that comes later), but an industry break.
Somebody saw me perform and recommended me to an Executive Producer. The same Executive Producer got in touch with me and asked me to send my five best jokes. Next thing I knew I’m in my first writers’ room.
Feels like the fairytale happy ending, right?
Hold on now. I do things the hard way and take as long as possible, remember? So I started making a lot of mistakes.
So please join the next instalment where I try and fail over and over to make people in the industry love me for the next 7 years. So fun! Wheeee!