medianet meets: Paul Kerensa, comedian & writer

In the latest medianet meets interview, we talk to Paul Kerensa who is a stand-up comedian and writer for TV shows including Miranda, Not Going Out, TFI Friday and Top Gear. More info on www.paulkerensa.com

How did you get into the media?

My route began with stand-up – it’s like acting but for impatient people, because you don’t have to audition or spend weeks in rehearsals. You phone enough venues, someone will let you perform. You tell your jokes. It encourages you to send topical jokes to radio shows. A radio show eventually invites you in. You bump into a rising comedian who’s seeking a writer (your writing partner is in the toilet so he doesn’t get the job and you do). You write for the comedian, then move with him to TV-land. You meet other people on the journey and somehow get work from them. I’ve had at least two lucky breaks simply because I’ve held off going to the loo. The lesson for me is clear: hold it in.

What’s an average week like for you?

Every week is very different, but generally speaking I do two or three gigs, leaving early to beat the rush, and setting up office at the nearest coffee shop to the venue. I’ll spend three or four days a week working from my local cathedral café or the nearby leisure centre (I can’t work from home with my young kids roaming the house). And I’ll spend the other one or two days in London, having meetings, or at a studio recording, or at Radio 2, or at home reminding my family I exist. More crucially than where I’m working, my laptop is with me at all times, with at least two or three Word documents open. I’m forever alt-tabbing.

 Complete this sentence. My day starts with…

An hour or two of kid-time. Then my workday begins with the dilemma of emails versus creative writing.

If I ruled the world, I would…

…n’t. I’d rather be behind the scenes. But in terms of policies, I’m all for more public toilets the world over, each of which is also a wi-fi hotspot, and the advertising from the wi-fi pays for the toilet. That would work, wouldn’t it? And the British three-pin plug would go international. I can never get those two-pin versions to stay in. Not that we get everything right – I’d change British roads to right-hand-drive. On that one we’re just plain wrong. Finally, I’d outlaw the word ‘sick’ as meaning something is good. It’s chucking up or nothing as far as I’m concerned.

What’s one thing you wish the Church knew about the media?

That the two have A LOT in common: a few rotten apples will always spoil the crop. The vast majority in both are good people setting out to do and make good things. Both church and media strive for perfection but will ALWAYS fall short. The two overlap and can work together more than many think.

If you didn’t work in the media, what would you do?

It’s the sort of job that if you didn’t do it for work, you’d do it for play. So I’d work at something officey… but still play. I’m trying to remind myself in my work-life that it should still feel like play, even when there’s a wage and a deadline.

Which three media personalities – living or dead – would you love to have as dinner party guests?

Victoria Wood, Paul Daniels, David Attenborough. I’m networking fast to try and make a third of this even dimly possible.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

Don’t hold back your best stuff. There’s a tendency to hold back an idea for a later episode, or another show, or a pipe dream that may never happen. Got a great idea or a great line? Put it down NOW. Lead with that. A recent co-writer approached each script line by line. Perfect each line, sign it off, move on. It’s painstaking and differs from how I’m used to writing, where I look at the whole and often work backwards. But who watches a show backwards?

Who mentors you?

I think all collaborators mentor each other in different ways. I’ve learnt a lot about broadcasting from Chris Evans – he might be divisive but he’s a master of the medium, knowing forensically about the perfect camera angle, length of studio links, quantity of audience in shot, and so on. He’s an absolute perfectionist. Equally from Miranda Hart I’ve embraced the sense of fun that can fill a script, and from Lee Mack I’ve learned not to think a joke is good enough until we’ve filmed it. Can the set-up be improved? Is there an extra line at the end of it? He’ll wring every laugh from the flannel of comedy.

What advice would you give to people who want to break into the media?

Commit, and expect to work for nowt, and for all sorts of bosses, for at least a bit. And try and retain that balance between being business-like and being creative. Some jobs are so regimented, it’s easy to forget we’re meant to be creating fun here. Some jobs are so much fun, it’s easy to forget we’re meant to be working…

What’s the most difficult work situation you’ve faced as a Christian?

The stand-up side is tougher than the writing, because it’s easy to get caught up in both backstage banter and frontstage tone of the evening. Keeping true to what you want to get across is important – and makes you grow creatively, rather than trying to fit in with what everyone else is doing. “Be yourself,” said Oscar Wilde. “Everyone else is already taken.”

How can we pray for you?

I’m dwelling more lately on the responsibility of ‘putting stuff out there’ – both creative content in broadcasting, and the words and opinions we all share on a daily basis. I’d value prayer that we all, myself included, consider the weight of our words, stay true to what we want to put out there into the big wide world… and aren’t discouraged if we don’t like what the world says back.

Chine McDonald
c.mcdonald@eauk.org

Chine McDonald is director of communications at the Evangelical Alliance. She is a trustee of the Church & Media Network, which runs the Medianet.