Sian Harries is a comedy writer and performer who has recently worked on television shows such as Man Down and Never Mind The Buzzcocks as well as writing and performing in the radio sketch show Here Be Dragons. Sian is currently working on a new sitcom project with her husband, comedian Rhod Gilbert, and has recently announced that a third series of Man Down is also currently in the works.
To gain insight into the career of a comedy writer, I asked Sian a few questions about her work…
What is the biggest perk of being a comedy writer?
Getting to laugh a lot every day with some of my favourite people. My husband Rhod and I are writing a sitcom together and last Friday we were in a meeting discussing it with Henry Normal when he said “isn’t it wonderful that it’s Friday afternoon and we’re laughing about dirty underwear and this is our job?”
It also means I am never bored as I can find the funny in anything. I think it was all those years spent going to church as a child and being forced to sit and do nothing but be in my brain for an hour. I’d make up relationships between the vicar and the old ladies in the choir stalls; affairs, scandals, you name it. By the time it was over it was like I was watching an episode of Dynasty.
How was your experience writing for Man Down?
Writing a sitcom is hard. I think Greg once described it as “trying to do a jigsaw designed by Satan” and I’d take it one step further and say it’s like “trying to do a jigsaw designed by Satan, that you’re trying to finish in record time as your mother hoovers around you.” There were days where I thought I’d be sick with laughter making up hosts of funny characters and acting them out with Greg and Steve; other days where all we’d done was drink far too much coffee and written down the phrase “oh Bobby!”
Rik Mayall dying was such a shock. We’d written for him on the first series and he was our childhood hero. The day of his funeral we all abandoned our work and drove to Brighton, in a car with no roof, playing The Smiths very loudly, got smashed and went on a log flume. I don’t know why but it seemed rebellious and a bit Rik-like I suppose. It was extra difficult because a few weeks later Greg’s real life dad died as well. So that Christmas Special episode was incredibly poignant for us and we knew we had to address Rik dying. You can’t not mention the king is dead. To us he was irreplaceable.
Are there any unexpected differences you have found between writing for TV and writing for radio?
I love writing for both TV and Radio. With TV I love how you can have a small visual gag happen in the background to undercut something a character is saying e.g. in the first series of Man Down I wrote a scene where Dom the guru is giving a motivational speech whilst in the background several ornaments are being knocked over by his enormous bottom.
Radio however, is far more freeing, you aren’t limited to what can happen within that little space. The audience have to use their imaginations so you can set radio comedy pretty much anywhere you want without spending any money. Furthermore, because less money is being spent, it also means there are fewer people in nice jackets telling you what you can and can’t do.
Would you rather be performing or working behind the scenes?
I think the dream for me is to write something I think is hilarious and then to perform it the exact way I imagined it being done. Although there are plenty of times I’ll write for someone else and I’m blown away with how funny they make it themselves. I have no interest in doing stand up. I far prefer it when I’ve learnt a scene off by heart and I’m working with people I find funny and I can mess around with. I would hate to be recognised in the street like Rhod is, it’s not for me. I enjoy leaving the house looking like shit too much to go back to having to think about my outfits. It’d be like being a self-conscious fifteen year old again. I also love eavesdropping too much, listening out for funny bits of dialogue or exchanges, and you can’t do that if you’re recognised.
Who would you most like to write a role for?
The ideal person I would write for would be Judy Dench as I think her comic timing is impeccable. I saw her in a brilliant play called The Vote and I think she said the F-word and it brought the whole house down. She reminds me so much of my wonderful late grandmother and it’d be a dream to have her play a character I’d based on her. There are so many women I’d love to write for though; Julia Davis, Jennifer Saunders, Emma Thompson, Celia Imrie, Alison Steadman, Sharon Horgan… far too many to list.