TV comedy writer, director and producer Armando Iannucci (The Thick Of It, In The Loop, Veep, I’m Alan Partridge, Time Trumpet) talks about how he chooses comedy collaborators, explains how US-style group-written shows work, and identifies the vital qualities a comedy writer needs.
> > ARMANDO I’m Armando Iannucci. I’ve worked in comedy for the last twenty or so years.
. I started off as a radio comedy producer and I did On The Hour Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge, which became The Day Today. I’m Alan Partridge on television.
. Since then, I’ve done shows like Time Trumpet and The Thick Of It and I’ve just finished a series for HBO called Veep. Endless patience.
Commitment. , Not being scared of the blank page or the blank word. File.
Um… and belief really you’ve got to believe what you’re writing is funny. , Don’t try and write what you think someone else finds funny but which you don’t find funny, don’t sell yourself short. , I dunno.
Sometimes it’s a very instinctive thing. You can see someone who maybe not has done very much but who is instinctively funny. I mean sometimes…, For example, Chris Addison.
I had him in mind for this character Ollie in The Thick Of It. Just because I saw his stand-up. And I felt his character was a bit like Ollie’s and we cast him and he was fantastic in it.
It’s only afterwards. I discovered he hadn’t done any acting before [ laughter, ], So you’re sort of identifying an inherent quality in his personality. .
I had someone who was my assistant when I was at the BBC, who just happened to contribute the odd idea to Time Trumpet. . He was really very funny his stuff, so I asked him to become a writer on The Thick Of It.
. That’s Sean Gray, who’s written on The Thick Of It and Veep. Um, there’s no hard and fast rule it’s…, I’m just looking for people who have a comedy brain.
. I think that’s it it’s difficult to categorise it’s not so much that they write or they perform or they act or they do stand-up it’s just that they have a comedy brain. And then it’s finding the right outlet for that brain.
. Well, that’s strange because all the writers on Veep were actually my Thick Of It writers, so we use the exact same process, But I suppose The Thick Of It actually employs a slightly more US-style process anyway, in that it’s a team show. , I have individual writers.
Writing. Maybe the first draft of a script, but then we swap the scripts around and everyone has a go on everyone else’s script and then I swap them all again. .
So what you’re looking for in that environment is because it’s more collaborative is people who are not proprietorial who are not fussed. If someone is going to come along and change a line or improve a line or delete a line. , I always believe that if you make something as good as it can be, then everyone will get the credit.
, So it doesn’t really matter. If you know your scene got cut or whatever. If you’ve been involved in that process from the start, then you’ve provided the idea that then someone else built on that, then a performer has improvised around.
You’re still as equally valid a part of that process. .