Interview: Jo Brand on 'Getting On'

The creator-star of the BBC4 hospital sitcom on Capaldi, comedy and the cuts

Vicki Pepperdine, Jo Brand and Joanna Scanlon in 'Getting On' Vicki Pepperdine, Jo Brand and Joanna Scanlon in 'Getting On'

On nursing…

‘As degree nurses, we were considered too intelligent to have to do placements in general hospitals to learn the physical side of things. Consequently, we were all absolutely awful at it. We’d all run away if a physical emergency happened.’

On workplace comedy…

‘I think in terms of human comedy, you can put people anywhere; an oil rig, an office, anywhere. It’s what the characters are like and how they manage their lives. They’re living out their lives of quiet desperation.’

On the NHS reforms…

‘The problem we had was that we recorded it just before the NHS bill went through. We were trying to predict, really. I’ve got friends still working in the NHS and they told me that loads of stuff had gone through under the radar already. We took a gamble but didn’t do anything too heavy-handedly in case we got it wrong. But there’s the case of [“Getting On’s”] Hilary Loftus for example. He’s now working for a private company doing an assessment. I’ve got friends scattered through the NHS. My best friend is a senior psychologist. She’s so depressed about it all, the cuts, the creation of one new job so that you can get rid of three others, all that sort of thing all the way through to emergency nurses who just want to retire because it’s becoming so awful.’

On comparisons with ‘The Thick of It’…

‘Peter Capaldi directed the first two series of “Getting On”. There are similarities between this and “The Thick of It” although “The Thick of It” is more high energy. But they’ve both got the sense that you could walk into it and think it was real.'

On ‘Getting On’s’ future…

‘In terms of my career I’m Mrs Glass-Half-Empty. It’s better to expect the worst because then you’re not disappointed. So I assumed that it wouldn’t go on for as long as it has and it’s been a really lovely surprise that it’s continued. It probably helps that it’s on BBC4. I always think BBC4 has a slightly subversive edge to it so I really like the fact it’s on there even though it cuts down the number of viewers. The viewers we do have are really committed to it so it’s like sharing a nice secret. It wouldn’t fit with the demands of somewhere like BBC1. Everybody who’s ever seen “Fawlty Towers” has the idea of the 12 show cut-off as being the route to perfection. It could go on but I like to assess it along the way.’

'Getting On': Time Out's verdict

Rating: 4/5
Jo Brand in 'Getting On' Jo Brand in 'Getting On'

In the opening episode of Gareth Malone’s brilliant series ‘The Choir: Sing  While You Work’, reality TV’s Pied Piper visited an NHS hospital in south London. One of his biggest obstacles was getting the medics to let their emotions flow. As one consultant pointed out, if they did that every day, they wouldn’t last a week in such a high-intensity job. Jo Brand’s slow-burning sitcom ‘Getting On’ begins its third series this week.Washed out, naturalistic and underplayed, it offers a less uplifting but much funnier take on this conundrum. What happens when something as honourable and fundamental as saving lives becomes little more than an exercise in ticking boxes, meeting targets and hoping for the best?

‘Getting On’ works hard at avoiding the obvious. You won’t find many gags, at least not in the conventional sense. Indeed, it seems Brand has to work at making it less obviously funny. ‘I have a terrible tendency to do one liners,’ she admits. ‘You know how sitcom characters come on and do a perfectly formed, really complicated joke that doesn’t seem natural? I was trying to do too many of them when we first started.’

That’s not to say ‘Getting On’ won’t make you laugh.