‘Peep Show with female losers? Bring it on!’ Sam Bain on why comedy needs diversity
When he moved to Hollywood, the writer made a decision to think his way into the minds of characters who werent white and male
Im in a huge, fake cavern in a huge, empty warehouse in the huge, boiling New Mexico desert. Im part of a film crew shooting the climactic scene of the first US film Ive written, Corporate Animals. Its a comedy about a group of co-workers who go caving on a team-building trip and end up trapped underground with no food or water.
The crew has downed tools as the actors, producers and director perch uncomfortably on polystyrene rocks. Weve stopped to have an impassioned debate over racial politics specifically over how much racism is too much to put in one characters mouth. The debate revolves around where the line is, between something that is provocative and shocking enough to make the drama work, and something that is so provocative and shocking that its just horrible.
When the conversation ends, all eyes turn to me. I walk away, laptop in hand, knowing that somehow Ive got to rewrite the scene to address all the issues weve discussed, in the full knowledge that every minute the crew sits and waits costs the production thousands of dollars. And, by the way, it would be nice if the scene was funny. Its a comedy, after all.
I grab a doughnut. On second thoughts, this might be a two-doughnut problem.
Ever since I was a teenage film buff reading up on Hitchcock, Ive dreamed of writing Hollywood movies. Making TV with my compadre Jesse Armstrong in particular, nine series of Peep Show, about the inner life of a pair of losers kept me rooted in the UK for years. But the week we finished filming the final series of Peep Show, I flew to Los Angeles to pitch Corporate Animals.
Even bigger than the challenge of starting afresh in another country was the question of whether, after 20 years collaborating with Jesse, I would be able to cut it on my own, or instead be exposed as Andrew Ridgeley to his George Michael. Without realising it, I had a big advantage the internet. Thanks to streaming, almost every Hollywood producer I met was familiar with Peep Show. I managed to find a home for Corporate Animals. Emboldened, my wife, Wendy, and I took the plunge and moved to LA. Writing original comedy films is impossible to do full-time in the UK; the economics of the British film industry just dont support enough of those movies being made.
And thankfully, despite us being a continent apart, my partnership with Jesse is still going strong: we co-own a production company, and a new comedy feature weve co-written is in pre-production in the US. It turned out Wham! didnt have to split up after all.