Interview: Stuart Laws

stuart laws interviewStuart Laws is not only an acclaimed stand up, with Time Out commenting “Laws is on top form at the moment, talking nonsense of the highest order…A chronically funny stand up” and Fest saying “”You’ll struggle to find a comedian with a better jokes per minute rate… like a one-man episode of Arrested Development”, but he’s also a script writer, playwright, and director. Plus on top of all of that he’s one of the people behind Turtle Canyon Comedy, the company responsible for the acclaimed web series Content (with two episodes airing on London Live each week from Thursday night), Cuts, Hope You Come Up Here and James Acaster and Ed Gamble’s Just Puddings, as well as a number of fantastic stand up specials, so he’s responsible for a huge amount of amazing comedy hitting our screens. Here Stuart talks about those series, how Turtle Canyon Comedy came to be involved in making them, the way they may develop in the future, and how he hopes to be England’s goalkeeper for Euro 2021.

Comedy To Watch: The new sketch series Cuts launched this week, how did you become involved with it? Did you approach series creator Pierre Novellie, or vice versa?

Stuart: I’ve gigged with Pierre for years now and we share a taste in comedy and have been looking for something to do together so when he approached me with some sketch ideas I knew they would be good and Pierre would be up for making something interesting with them. I was quite keen to not just make some one-off sketches but to package them up into a cohesive show. Matt Riley who is a fantastic director of photography came on board early on and he really helped to tie it all together.

CTW: Can we expect to see new episodes soon? And if so, what can you tell us about them?

Stuart: Well, the global pandemic has put somewhat of a stop to any larger scale productions but it’s definitely something we’d love to do – the world that Pierre and his co-writers Jonny Lennard and Theo Chester created is really compelling. It also has so much scope, with recurring jokes and ideas possible but the unpredictability of each sketch – very difficult to predict where they’re going.

CTW: Content was one of our favourite web series of 2019, but how would you sell it to someone who had never heard of it before?

Stuart: Oh you are very, very kind and I also 100% agree with you! There’s an increasingly large percentage of the world creating ‘content’ that’s inspiring or shocking or funny or cute and more and more people trying to jump on that bandwagon, like a wild west of creativity. Content is a sitcom about a bunch of idiots who run an agency that has missed that bandwagon and are desperately running to catch it up but getting tripped up by each others shoe laces. I love ensemble comedies and getting a great group of characters to thrash their stupid ideas out so that’s what Content is, along with their failed plans and terrible content.

CTW: It was created by Yiannis Vassilakis, but how did it come about, and how did Turtle Canyon Comedy become involved?

Stuart: Even though we’re a small company we regularly do calls for new writers and talent to give new talent a chance and to expand our horizons, we’ve ended up working with brilliant people we’d have never met otherwise. Yiannis was someone who we worked with a few years back and when he applied to a writer scheme I turned him down because I knew him but asked him to send over anything he thought would fit well with Turtle Canyon. When he sent the first draft of what is episode two of the final series I thought it was great but I also sensed it was in such an early form that it could be moulded into something slightly different and larger scale. Luckily Yiannis agreed and we got to make a great show together!

CTW: The show used a writers room, something the majority of US sitcoms do but which is rarer over here in the UK, can you tell us a little about why you decided to do such a thing, and what the process of writing the series was like?

Stuart: Once commissioned, a writers’ room was the first thing I wanted to set up. I think that getting a group of talented, funny people together and throwing ideas around is a great way of writing comedy, especially if you can get a good mix of people together. We only had two days together and spent the majority of the first day developing the characters, working out their traits and how they fit together and how they came to work at the agency. Then we mapped out each of the main episodes’ plots and how we would make them work within the ten minute timeframe we were working with. The second day was a bit looser, throwing around dialogue ideas, working out running jokes and building up the wider world of the show. It was really important that this world felt big, that there was stuff happening outside what we saw in each episode.

CTW: There was also a number of spin-off’s accompanying the series, how were they devised?

Stuart: I remembered that between series The Office did some spin-offs based around the accountant characters and I liked that element of the show as it developed – everyone had their own storylines that would shift in and out of focus. Also, because the show is about content and trying to make good content I thought it was a good, sensible idea to create extra content that existed within the world – shorter sketches between episodes that explored a throwaway line or sub-plot in more detail, and not necessarily in the same style as the main episodes. It was also a good chance for the writers to throw their own ideas in: Lorna Woolfson wrote the spin off for episode two and that came about from a stupid discussion in the writers’ room about how Alex is so determined to have everything run smoothly that he won’t even stop his wife having another lover.

CTW: Was there anything you wanted to do in the first series that you weren’t able to? And is a second series planned?

Stuart: A second series would be great, there’s so many ideas we didn’t get to use – exploring Jam and Taylor on a date, seeing the villainous company DDV’s headquarters, A-A’s home life as a vlogger etc. We wanted to make a really in-depth spoof making of episode that would explain some of the weirder moments of the show. So the character of Anton McCrae, the deranged cinematographer, is only in the sitcom because he insisted but he’s actually the cinematographer of the show. That’s why he’s just in the background of one of the episodes for no reason – that was going to be explored in the making of. It turns out that scripting over 100 minutes of sitcom, sketches, vlogs and podcasts, then filming and editing them is a big job and then throwing a meta-show on top of that and making it not destroy what the show is was just too complicated in our timeframe.

CTW: And do you have any other web series lined up in the near future?

Stuart: Well, we just made a new episode of Just Puddings, the series we make every now and then with James Acaster and Ed Gamble – Ed is a T1 diabetic so he gets James to eat and then describe desserts to him. It’s very silly and always fun to make, this one was done during lockdown so Ed self-filmed, James had his pen pal Jason McKenzie film him and I directed it over FaceTime. At the moment we are just waiting to see what happens with the world before making any big plans, though it has been a chance for me to read some of the scripts that we’ve been sent over the last few months. Hopefully will make a new series of Hope You Come Up Here too, a travel show we made with the very funny Ian Smith – our plans for the second series takes it in a very different direction and I’d love to be able to make it.

CTW: You’re also a critically acclaimed stand up, producer, director and writer, but apart from what you’ve already done in the comedy world are there any other areas you’d like to tackle?

Stuart: I’m also a goalkeeper so I’m hoping the postponement of Euro 2020 to 2021 might give me the chance to make a late run on the number one shirt. Aside from that, now that Edinburgh is cancelled I’m going to be focusing on a short film I’ve been planning to make for a while now, along with working with my business partners Al & Nick to keep Turtle Canyon running and making great stuff.

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

Stuart: What do you want for your birthday on April 7th? To beat my 5K PB of 22:59.

Alex Finch.
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Related Links:
Turtle Canyon Comedy’s Official Site.
Stuart’s Official Site.
Turtle Canyon Comedy’s Youtube Channel.
Our review of Cuts Episode 1.
Our review of Content Episode 1.
Our review of Content Episode 6.

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