Dan Clark on âHow Not to Live Your Lifeâ
He may have made it with little TV experience and even less cash, but Dan Clark’s new show could make him a huge star. He tells Time Out how not to make a bad sitcom
Comedian Dan Clark could be on the verge of becoming very famous. So it’s possible that this is the last time I’ll be able to have a coffee with him without people pointing and staring. As we speak, his new sitcom, ‘How Not to Live Your Life’, is about to start on BBC3, CBS are already developing an American version and he’s being courted by Matt Damon’s agent in Hollywood. So how is he feeling?
‘I’m absolutely shitting myself. They’ve brought the series forward in the schedules, which is nice because it means they like it. However, it does feel very much like a lot of pressure is on my shoulders all of a sudden.’
He’s come straight from the editing suite, and has that slightly glazed expression of a man who’s spent too many hours in a darkened room staring intently at a screen.
‘We finished episode one yesterday. Only another five to go,’ he says, twitchily sipping away at his latte. On reflection, perhaps camomile tea would have been a better choice.
I’ve been a fan of his stand-up work for a couple of years, but since he’s been working on the TV show his live work has taken a back seat. How has he found the change in disciplines?
‘In many ways making a sitcom is the polar opposite of live comedy. Before, I could write a joke at two o’clock in the afternoon and test it out at eight that evening. It’s that immediacy that I miss. Now I write a joke in January, re-write it in February, try it a few different ways during script development, then it gets rehearsed and then we film it four or five times. Finally I sit and watch it in the edit for weeks and end up having no
idea if it’s still funny or not.’ He smiles, a little bemused. ‘It’s odd, it’ll be broadcast and I won’t hear the audience laugh.’
So how can you tell if it’s funny or not? ‘You have to keep the faith. You have to remember how funny a joke was when you first wrote it and how much everyone laughed when you first rehearsed it. When you’re in the nitty-gritty of it all it’s so easy to make changes for the sake of it. You might drop a good joke that actually worked just because you’ve got bored of it. The process is just so long. If we could make a programme from start to finish in a day, it would be a lot easier.’
What was his original pitch for the series? ‘It’s a sitcom where every time the central character gets into a dramatic situation you see the various ways he could respond. Like “The Five Things Not to Say After a One-Night Stand” or “The Four Things Not to Say When You Get Fired”. That’s what makes it a little different. The lists that work the best are the ones that people can most relate to. It’s like that thing where you walk away from something and think: Damn, I wish I’d said that. That’s the hook, but essentially it’s about Don, a flawed, morally ambiguous person who constantly says and does the wrong things. When he inherits a house from his grandmother he has to take in a lodger to cover the bills. She’s a beautiful girl with a dick of a boyfriend and the question is, will Don ever win her over?’
Potentially, Dan’s life could be about to change dramatically after the series has aired. What’s the best scenario he can imagine?
‘That we’ll be doing our next interview in my Manhattan loft.’ He grins wryly. ‘Or, more realistically, that people find it, like it and that it gets a chance to be recommissioned.’
He not only stars in the show, he’s also written, produced and co-directed it. ‘I’m pretty hands on with the music as well. I was going to do it all but people were getting suspicious about how many times my name would appear on the credits. I also just didn’t have the time.’ He looks excited but exhausted. ‘I’m in every scene. I’m a bit like the Kevin Costner of sitcoms. Hopefully this is my “Dances with Wolves” period and not my “Waterworld” one though.’
How did he get that level of creative control from the BBC?
‘I would never have pushed for it. The whole thing came about after we did some short ‘Guides to Dating’ for the Paramount Comedy Channel. They had tiny budgets and simply said, “Go away and make them.” So me and the producer did it all ourselves. I’d never even directed before. Then the BBC asked if we’d do a pilot for them and, again, because we were given virtually no money, they just let us get on with it.’
He seems to hardly believe it himself. ‘Something I’ve noticed is, the less money people give you, the less they’ll interfere. If the BBC hand you £20 million, they’ll want to know how every penny is spent, but with the amount of money we had to play with, we were allowed to pretty much do whatever we wanted. When the series got commissioned we thought they’d insist on bringing in some proper TV-makers but they said, “Just do it like you did the pilot, that seemed to work.” ’
No wonder he’s feeling the pressure then. ‘I prefer it this way, really. I would rather know that if someone said it was bad it was all my fault and that I wasn’t being blamed for anyone else’s mistakes. Conversely, if they say it’s good I can take loads of the credit. It’s going to be one extreme or the other.’
Back in the office I watch the first episode. It’s good. Very good. Who knows, it might just get him that New York apartment after all.
‘How Not to Live Your Life’ is on BBC3 on Tuesdays.
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