Patrick Marber co-wrote and co-starred in The Day Today and is one of the creators of Alan Partridge. He went on to achieve acclaim with his scripts for stage and screen. Here he talks to IdeasMag about being distracted by comedy, writer's block, and documenting his 20s…
When I was 18 and got into Oxford I decided that I would spend the three years writing a novel. I didn’t even get started because I fell in love with being a performer and I got sidetracked into doing comedy. I was on the stand-up circuit for four years and then I did lots of TV and radio comedy and in about 1993 I’d had sufficient confidence-boosting to get back to doing what I’d always wanted to do, which was to write plays and movies.
Going to university was beneficial in that I met lots of people who I then worked with later in my career; I met Armando Iannucci at Oxford, and Rebecca Front. Armando produced The Day Today and On the Hour – that was really my break in showbiz. In terms of being the kind of writer I am now, I would say it wasn’t of great use. I learned how to become a playwright by writing plays.
As a writer, I’m in a period of doubt at the moment and have been for about three years. I feel I’m just coming out of that period and I’ve no idea why I’ve been blocked. I don’t know what it is because I’d never experienced it before, I just didn’t have anything to say – I can’t put it more succinctly than that. It was due to lack of confidence; it was a lack of desire.
I make a lot of notes before writing a play. My notebook for a play is a play in its rudest, roughest form. It is my private jottings and crazy notions and it’s where I talk to myself about this thing I want to write. It’s a very embarrassing document, it’s not even something I’d ever want to put in an archive because it’s so revealing of how naïve the process is.
With a play, you’ve really got to believe in it because it’s going to be there for the rest of your life. You’re putting this thing out in the world and it has to be well-built because otherwise it falls to pieces in front of an audience.
Closer came from the love lives of myself and the people I knew around the mid-’90s. At the time I wrote the play I was 30 years old and I thought, “Well, I want to write down how it feels to be in my 20s and early 30s before I forget.” I couldn’t write that play now – I’m 48 now – and I can’t quite remember feeling like that about things. I’m a married man now, I live in a different landscape and I was aware of that at the time and I wanted to note that.
The only real directing I’d done before Dealer’s Choice was [when] I’d directed Steve Coogan and John Thomson in a show at the Edinburgh Fringe. Then I directed a workshop production of Dealer’s Choice at the National Theatre Studio; Richard Eyre saw that and let me direct the full production. I hadn’t directed a play, but at the time I was much more nervous about my directing debut than I was about my playwriting debut. But when you direct a play, if you surround yourself with very good people, then they really help you. It was very frightening and I wouldn’t do it now, but I was young and I had bravery and foolishness in the right measure.
What advice would I give to a younger me? Hang in there.
For more articles, jobs and opportunities, visit our Writing & Publishing hub.