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20 February 2015
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Star Interview: 1 of 2 Tim McGarry
Tim McGarry
Job: Comedian & Writer

Name: Tim McGarry
Click here to listen to this interview
Quote: 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.
Tim McGarry

How did you get to where you are?

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.

What do you need to do your job?

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.

What’s the money like?

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

repeated 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!

What skills do you need?

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 it.

Any advice?

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 job.

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!

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