Interview: Paul Rose

We’ve recently covered two of Paul Rose’s shows on the site, Biffovision and Mr Biffo’s Found Footage, but for those not in the know Paul was one of the writers for Channel Four’s Digitiser teletext magazine which was enormously popular due to the surreal and silly humour found within the pages. Since then he’s gone on to create many successful children’s tv series including Dani’s House and 4 O’Clock Club, along with more adult comedy like the aforementioned Mr Biffo’s Found Footage, which can be found on youtube here. His latest project is an online live Digitiser series which begins this Sunday, and in this interview he tells us all about it, the pilot’s that never made it to screen, how Steve Guttenberg is going to appear in one of his series and how one script he wrote saw a character suckle on a pig.

Comedy To Watch: What can you tell us about the forthcoming Digitiser online series?

Paul: In short, it’s the gaming show I want to see. Well, the one I’d want to see would have a much bigger budget, and wouldn’t have me in it, but I have to work with what I’ve got! I think it’s anarchic and mad and funny, but it’s all about the games at the end of the day. Albeit in a way that doesn’t alienate people.

I wanted to make a fun entertainment show which just happens to be about games. Something we managed to capture is the warmth between the hosts, and everyone on set. We’re all being ourselves, so it feels sort of beautifully genuine. We used Top Gear as a starting point, in that it’s a car show which anybody can watch. Somehow we ended up with something that’s more like Tiswas.

CTW: And how would you sell it to someone who’s unaware of Digitiser’s past?

Paul: Don’t worry about it, in short. If you like games, or if you like laughing, you’ll love this. You don’t need to know anything about Digi. Just give it a chance!

CTW: You’ve mentioned that if possible you’d love to do a second series, would it differ in any way from the first?

Paul: Ideally, we’d have a bigger budget which would afford us to round out some of the rougher edges, polish it a bit more, and pay everyone. Broadly, it’d be more of the same – but we learned a lot of lessons on the first one. Some sections work better than others, and I’ve ideas for how to expand on the ones that do – and some brand new ideas.

We were discovering what the show was as we were making it really, so series 2 would be much more confident.

CTW: You have a very distinct comedy style, what were your influences when you began writing?

Paul: I suppose I started writing when I was at school. I used to write and direct these daft comedy shows starring my friends. Back then it was all about Monty Python and The Young Ones. Anything where the laughs came from juxtaposing two completely random things that shouldn’t go together. Comedy is rooted in surprise, and surreal stuff feels like a pure version of that.

When I first started writing scripts I very much aped the style of Bruce Robinson, who wrote Withnail & I. The screenplay for that is like poetry to me.

CTW: You’ve written on Digitiser 2000 about how Pudsey: The Movie didn’t turn out the way you wished, has this put you off the idea of making other films? And if not, what other movies would you like to make?

Paul: I mainly wrote about Pudsey – and only do so even now – to get in there before other people start pointing and laughing. At the end of the day it was job, I got paid… and that’s the end of it. If anything, I find it funny it was so poorly received. There’s a weird badge of honour to it. And I honestly don’t think it’s as bad as its reputation. Also, it hasn’t done my career any harm anyway. It was a good experience.

Writing a film isn’t something I find daunting, but getting one made is. I think if I wrote one now it’d be more likely to be sci-fi than comedy, or a kid’s film. But really, the sheer effort of getting the thing into cinemas puts me off.

CTW: You also discuss the horrendous tv commissioning process, which I’ve heard many other depressing stories about, do you think it’ll ever change? And if so, what could spur on that happening?

Paul: I work in kids TV because I’ve had a lot of success there. Commissioning can be long and exhausting, but I’ve been lucky that I’m now onto my third co-created show, and I’ve got another in development.

Adult TV is harder, particularly comedy, where it’s rare to be given the time of day if you’re not a writer-performer. Which is a shame, because obviously, back in the 60s, 70s and 80s, some of the greatest sitcoms ever were the product of writers who weren’t comedians.

I think it’s a shame that having a funny face gets your foot in the door, but… I like working in kid’s TV, so for me it’s not really an issue these days.

CTW: As well as Biffovision you’ve created a fair few pilots, some of which you’ve written about on Digitiser 2000, but can you tell us a little about Babyquake, Doctor Doctor, and Biosphere, and what they were about? And is there any chance you’ll return to those ideas at a later date?

Paul: Babyquake was based upon my own experience of being a teenage dad. That came close to being commissioned, but Pramface was slightly ahead of us, and killed it.

Doctor Doctor was designed as a vehicle for Bill Bailey and Jack Dee – about two GPs, one who was uptight and anxious, and the other a complete mess – but that fell apart when Bill decided he wanted to make documentaries. Oddly, he’s actually in this year’s 4 O’Clock Club Christmas special, which I wrote.

Biosphere started out as an idea called Deadbeats – a post-apocalyptic sitcom that was pretty much what Last Man On Earth went on to do. I wanted to explore the upside of the apocalypse! Then BBC3 commissioned a post-apocalyptic drama, and they asked me to rework it, so I moved all the characters into a mysterious bunker. It didn’t really work as an idea. It was too isolated and restricted. I did have one scene I liked, though, where somebody suckles on a pig.

I can’t see myself returning to them. Out of them all, Babyquake was the one I was closest to, but I think all of them – to one degree or another – was me writing stuff in order to get a commission, rather than writing stuff that I really wanted to write.

CTW: You’ve worked on a lot of children’s tv shows, what were the best things about doing so? And what were the worst?

The best thing is just having stuff that I’ve written get made. The thrill of it has never quite left me. I also love writing for that audience. It’s a genuine honour. I love coming up with stories and writing dialogue.

The worst thing is that it doesn’t pay as well as adult TV, so I end up having to take on more work to make ends meet. That can obviously be knackering.

CTW: You’ve worked with a lot of amazing people including Dylan Moran, Mark Heap and Kevin Eldon, but is there anyone left that you’d like to be involved with? And if so, on what kind of project?

Paul: Well, THE Steve Guttenberg is in one of my episodes of 4 O’Clock Club next year, which is an absolute career highlight! I used to love the Police Academy movies. Apparently, he was a truly sweet bloke on set, and was very nice about my script.

I’d love to get Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim in one of my things. They’re the closest I have to comedy heroes these days. I love what Tim has done with On Cinema – the trial from last year, where it was played entirely for real, is just gold.

I don’t know how a collaboration would work, but I’m also a huge fan of the artist and cartoonist Michael Kupperman.

CTW: What were the highlights of making the online series Mr Biffo’s Found Footage?

Paul: The freedom was the main thing. Just being able to do the thing I wanted to do without a producer breathing down my neck telling me to fit it into a certain box. It felt like flying, really. It was a big splurge of almost stream-of-consciousness ideas. I got a lot out of my system…!

I also got to meet and work with a ton of brilliant people – Asperger’s Are Us in particular. I’d seen the documentary about them on Netflix, and was completely freaked out when they contacted me. They’re INCREDIBLY funny men, and I count them as mates now. I hope I get to work with them all again.

That and getting a ton of people involved, sometimes just as cameos – Rufus Hound, Danny Wallace, J.Wilgoose Esq. from Public Service Broadcasting, Iain Lee. And then spending two days in a nuclear bunker to film the finale, with a bunch of brilliant people all pulling in the same direction, which was as ambitious as anything I’ve ever done. That was an incredible process. Plus, having the support of backers, who trusted me to do my thing.

Lastly, I get to work with my wife on all of this. Having the support of somebody at home, who’s at my side through it all, gives me to confidence to push things forward.

CTW: And what was the most difficult thing during the process?

Paul: Running out of time and money on the finale in particular! I really struggled financially last year because of Found Footage. It’s my own ambitions; I don’t tend to do things by halves, but I really wanted to reward the backers with something special. I do tend to throw myself into projects, and go above and beyond. I can’t help it though. It’s a sickness!

CTW: You’re very open about discussing your career on the Digitiser 2000 site, but is there anything you’ve ever regretted writing about?

Paul: Not really. I’m pretty cautious as it happens, and there are obviously things I don’t mention. That said, I hope the producers and director of Pudsey don’t think I hate them or anything – they were nice people, and I don’t blame anything for the reception of that film other than snobbery.

CTW: If money were no object, what would you like to create?

Paul: Right now, it’d be more Digitiser The Show. I’d love to do a lot more, and go bigger in scale. Much as I don’t really enjoy being in the spotlight – I’m dreading it coming out – I have gotten a bit of a taste for the performing.

We had such a laugh on set, and I think I now know how to present a TV show in a way that fits with me. I see it like writing, really – it’s still about constructing something, albeit in the moment, finding the best way to get information across, or to make something funny. I write quite instinctively, from the gut, and I think I learned to tap into that when we were on set.

I’m not a comedian, but I’ve learned – through doing things like Cheapshow live – that I can think on my feet. I can feel myself getting better at it. It’s almost like I’d love to make these things, but not have to show anyone!

CTW: What one piece of underrated comedy do you wish more people knew about?

Paul: I don’t know how familiar people are in the UK with Eric Andre, but his Adult Swim show was just astonishing. In terms of how far you can deconstruct something with editing, and push the tolerance of the viewers, and still make it watchable, it was a big influence on Found Footage. It’s real Marmite TV, and very brave in that respect. It’s a slightly crueller vein of humour than I’d be comfortable doing, but properly funny.

Also, Nathan For You; a comedy documentary series featuring real people. There’s a bit in one episode where he goes to utterly ridiculous lengths to confront this incredibly strange guy who skipped the line at a hot dog stand, and I laughed so hard I pulled a muscle.

CTW: And finally, if you could interview yourself, what question would you most like to ask?

Paul: Oh man. I dunno. I already know most things about myself. Probably: When are you going to have a holiday?

Alex Finch.

Related Links:
You can watch the new Digitiser series on Sunday on youtube here.
The Digitiser 2000 site.
Our review of Mr Biffo’s Found Footage.
Our review of Biffovision.

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