Myself and my two colleagues, Damon Quinn and Michael
McDowell are failed lawyers. We all did law until we were in our mid-twenties
and I was a solicitor. But all during that time, myself and Damon and Michael
were writing jokes, doing bits and pieces on radio and doing stage shows.
We are fairly successful – we’re probably Ireland’s most
successful sit-com writers, we’re very well known as actors –
but it’s been a long hard slog. It’s been about ten to twelve
years to get where we are today, partly because we were working full-time
in proper jobs as lawyers and things. Since we’ve given up our jobs,
things have taken off. We were doing full-time jobs and then coming home
and writing jokes of an evening and then doing stage shows and then doing
bits and pieces for radio. So when we finally gave up our jobs we had no
money for a bit, but it was great.
I’m a writer most of the time. I mean, today
I’m sitting writing an episode of ‘Give my Head Peace’.
Most of our working life is writing the actual scripts. We then spend two
or three months performing the scripts. You don’t need any formal
qualifications, you don’t need any GCSEs. You need two things: you
need to be funny and you need to be lucky. And you’ll know you’re
funny when you stop making jokes in front of your family and friends who
think you’re funny and will tell you you’re funny, and you
do it in front of strangers who aren’t afraid to tell you that you
aren’t funny and that you’re wick.
The only two rules to writing are write to the brief
and write to the deadline. In terms of acting, it’s very strict.
You have to be on time, you have to be in the studio when you’re
supposed to be in the studio, you have to be in the rehearsal room when
you’re supposed to be in the rehearsal room and you have to be on
location, dressed and ready to go, because there’s an awful lot of
money riding on these things.
The earning potential of comedy is potentially very
good – Patrick Kielty’s a very rich man! We’re doing
very well I have to say, but we’re quite unusual. The number of people
making money out of comedy in Northern Ireland I would say would be about
half a dozen – and we would be three of them. Well, there are a couple
of stand-up comedians who do the circuit, who go out every night of the
week and they’re doing quite well. We’re doing fairly well
in terms of we’ve written 54 episodes of a sit-com, which is virtually
unprecedented, and once they’re
we get repeat fees and we get acting fees back again, so it can be very,
very lucrative.Somebody like Patrick Kielty, because he’s on network
television, would be extremely rich. The number of people who are earning
that sort of money, though, is very, very small. Don’t think if you’re
going to be a comedian in Northern Ireland that you’re going to be
a millionaire, because you’re not!
We’re quite unusual because I’m part of
a three-person writing team, myself, Damon and Michael, and we have different
skills. It took a long time for us to conquer IT, but it is important to
conquer IT in terms of word-processing, just being able to send scripts
off and being able to write it in the right format that producers and directors
are going to look at, and send it off quickly is vital. Confidence is very
important. You need sell yourself to producers and commissioning editors.
You need to give them the confidence that you’re funny and you’re
not going to spend an awful lot of their money and waste an awful lot of
their money. You need to be funny – that’s the bottom line.
You have to be consistently funny and you have to work at it and work at
Be prepared to take rejection in terms of people behind
the scenes saying it’s not funny and you need to work at it and work
at it until you’re absolutely confident with it. And also you need
to be very flexible. The job is flexible – it’s not a nine-to-five
How we started off in broadcasting was, we did a show
in the Group Theatre. We kept inviting people from the BBC around. We knocked
on the door of Talkback and said ‘Look, we’re quite funny,
would you like us to write some scripts for a Friday afternoon and we’ll
come in and do them for you?’ Forget about the money, just and push
and push and get yourself on and once people realise you’re funny,
the work will flow from there.
My advice to young people is to start early, keep writing,
and don’t be afraid to fail, don’t be afraid to experiment,
don’t be afraid to fall flat on your face. But if you’re really,
really interested in comedy and you’re really good at it, talent
will out eventually – and I would say go for it!