06 June 2011
Paul Kerensa - Scriptwriter
Paul Kerensa is a scriptwriter for Not Going Out, Miranda, and various other shows. Besides writing, Paul acts, presents, makes voiceovers and performs live stand-up. His work has received numerous awards, among which are the British Comedy Awards 2010 for Best New Comedy - Winner (Miranda), and a nomination at BAFTA 2010 for Best Scripted Comedy (Miranda). Paul trained at Guildford School of Acting and is the only bellybutton-less comedian in the world.
How did you get involved with writing for Miranda?
I submitted jokes for the open-door show of its day, Radio 2's Parsons & Naylor's Pull-Out Sections. That producer moved to The News Quiz and took me with her. One of her successors moved to Lee Mack's Radio 2 show, and took me with her. Lee moved to TV with the sitcom Not Going Out, and took me with him. Miranda Hart appeared in Not Going Out, then got her own show, and took me with her. So the lesson there: jump on as many coat-tails as possible. Then cling, cling.
What is it you love most about comedy writing?
What's not to love about comedy writing? Apart from the loneliness and the sheer fear of facing a blank page with absolutely no ideas. When it goes well though, it's great fun, cracking hours, you can often write from home, and you have a job that involves making people laugh. Any day where your work involves making people happier can only be good. The only other down side? I used to love sitcoms. I grew up adoring Blackadder and Fawlty Towers and Red Dwarf and Joking Apart and Murder Most Horrid and Bonjour La Classe and other obscure shows. Now I don't so much laugh at sitcoms, as see them as work. Rather than 'hahaha', sitcoms illicit from me a 'oh, that's a clever use of the pull-back-and-reveal'.
How does your Christian faith influence your comedy writing?
My faith influences my writing in the same way it influences the rest of my life, and the same way it probably affects most people's work lives. It informs who I am, the decisions I make (especially editorial decisions, what ideas I will and won't entertain), but I wouldn't say I approach every day thinking how I can evangelise with a script. I'm not in the habit of smuggling God into scenes so that every script has a message that we should all become Christians - mainly because that's impossible. I work with producers, who have the last word (or the penultimate word, before the executive producer, the commissioner, or whoever else may be there between me and the audience). So instead it's more about entertaining and informing, which I'll always do from my perspective, as a Christian, as a father, as a ginger Cornishman.
An example: when table-writing (i.e. maybe eight of us around a table, working on a script for which one of us has written the first draft), I've encountered lines that include my saviour's name, being used in a way I feel is inappropriate. I, personally, don't mind the odd swear word, but I shudder at blasphemy, as many Christians do. So what do I do in this situation? Do I kick up a fuss, explaining to the table that as a Christian I feel we should not punctuate the script liberally with JCs and Gs? No, largely because I feel that this will cause the other writers to put their defences up, to treat me as a hurdle. Instead I set about thinking of better, funnier (and yes, non-blasphemous) lines that can replace it. My form of evangelism in the workplace is more often this: trying to do what I think and hope God would want, not by holier-than-thou complaining, but by better-than-blasphemy creating, constructively.
Is there anything about the Bible that has inspired your comedy writing?
In one sense, very specifically, yes. I wrote and performed a stand-up show at the Edinburgh Festival based on the book of Genesis. So that was as inspired by the Bible as it's possible to be. The idea was for it to be the first of 66 annual consecutive shows, culminating when I'm 94. But I stopped, for now. Bit scared at the prospect of getting 60 minutes of entertainment from Micah. Genesis though - I wanted to bring it to a secular audience. The stories are familiar yet undertold. And I felt that the Bible as a whole is more than theology - it contains great history, great literature, and is something everyone should read more. Whatever your faith or lack of it, it's such an important part of civilisation, we all need to know it better. I hope those who read it will be transformed by it. If they're not, they should read it anyway.
In your opinion, was Jesus a comedian?
If he was - and absolutely no disrespect to my Lord and saviour - he wasn't a very good comedian. But that's a good thing! I don't want my Messiah finishing parables with "But seriously...". That said, Jesus was a brilliant communicator, he could improvise, had great imagination with the stories he would relate, and he was willing to adapt what he was saying to whoever he was addressing.
I've always pictured a Venn diagram of comedian, teacher and vicar, with a big crossover in the middle. I think Jesus had more of the latter two in him. All three have an element of crowd control, and consist of trying to get your message across to a potentially bored or uninterested audience. Jesus could certainly play whichever room or mount he was in/on.
Do you see comedy playing a role in transforming society?
It's perhaps too grand to think that my little stage act, or contributions to sitcom scripts, have any effect on society, but I hope it's cumulative, and that the effect is positive. We all do what we do to uplift and entertain. So yes, we want to transform society for the better, whether that means making people think more, or just making them laugh. Society has enough eroding influences - it would be nice to think that comedy can do some good. I'd love for people to walk away from something I'd written or performed thinking: "Comedy can be upbeat and entertaining without being nasty."