Last time saw our heroine sending off her script to BBC Three’s The Last Laugh, a televised sitcom-writing competition. We rejoin her as she films the first stage of the televised judging at the Ark in London in front of a panel consisting of Ash Atalla, Adam Chase, Dara O’Briain and, er, Natalie Casey.
Writers aren’t happy about their appearance. That’s a given. Why else do you think we stand downwind of a camera or skulk in the wings, silently mouthing words we’ve given to other people? We write things down so we don’t have to say them ourselves, because that would make people look at us and then we’d feel funny and have flashbacks to the time we were bullied at school for knowing the difference between its and it’s.
Yep, I thought as the nice make-up lady with the rough hands painted my face orange, there’s no getting away from it. A programme about writers is doomed from the start. And then Dara O’Briain walked into the room and all I could think to say was — nothing, naturally. I did, however, manage to squeeze out a small mind stool running along the lines of, “What unfortunate looking kids we’d have. A Sontaran and a f**king Oompa-Loompa.” And the nice make-up lady smiled at me in the mirror and proceeded to apply a lipstick that made my teeth look yellow.
Because the problem didn’t lie with talking about my script. I was quite prepared to whiffle on about breaking the fourth wall in front of the panel (once Ash Atalla told me what that meant, shut up). I just didn’t want anybody watching me as I did so. I mean, it’s embarrassing, right? With or without yellow teeth.
Up until the point when I was sitting in that chair, my face being bronzed to the hue of Katie Price’s denuded mons, I hadn’t thought much about what writing for a television programme about writing television sitcoms would mean. It means being on television. Yes. And I bet the producer wished he’d stayed longer under that particular thought shower too.
Writers are trapped on an unending Möbius strip of analytical misery. Oh, I expect there are a few authorial souls banging out words of wit and wisdom and still leading productive and happy lives. The bastards. But generally speaking, people who like words live internal lives, only looking out so they can better describe it on paper. It creates a hideous self-awareness.
“Oh, get over it,” you’re thinking. “Boo-hoo, wah-wah, diddums-widdums, lickle, ickle … erm … shit.”
Sorry, did I say self-awareness? I meant an all-seeing awareness, like God but with limited smiting capability. So we see what a big, fat fake everything is — including ourselves, especially ourselves — and hate it, while at the same time bringing it all to bear to write, uh-huh, comedy.
Unsurprisingly, an abhorrence for fake doesn’t sit well with an industry capable of dreaming up such a bloody awful artifice as Lauren Goodger. Worse, experience was soon to teach me that wilful obstructionism in the face of bullshit makes for a seriously crap sound bite.
SCENE 1 — INT. THE ARK. DAY.
PRODUCTION ASSISTANT: So then, Trudy, what’ll happen is that you’ll walk up there, then stop. The panel will ask you questions, you’ll answer them and turn around and come back across here. We’ll stop you and ask you about how things went. Okay?
ME: Christ, I feel sick.
PRODUCTION ASSIST: You okay?
ME: This is worse than giving birth.
PRODUCTION ASSIST: Yes! That’s brilliant. Just like that, say something exactly. Like. That.
SCENE 2 — INT. THE ARK. DAY.
FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER …
PRODUCTION ASSIST: So Trudy, (WINKING) how was that?
ME: Yeah, all right.
PRODUCTION ASSIST: Oh. (STARES) Good.
By the end of the day’s filming, the four judges looked desperate. O’Briain’s grin had become a scientific study of parabolas, and Adam Chase wasn’t looking half as jolly as when he’d worked on Friends. My fellow contestants and I had drained them of the will to live through sheer dint of not giving good telly.
At last, I heard my name read out as a semi-finalist.
“Bloody hell!” I blurted, feeling terribly rock ‘n’ roll.
O’Briain practically fell to his knees in gratitude.
“Finally!” he said. “That’s the first normal reaction we’ve had all day!”
And to this day I swear his eye glinted with a small, unshed tear of happiness.
[Next time: How a Pat Sharp look-alikey deserved to die on The Last Laugh industry day]