Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
I’m a producer of television comedy by day, comedian by night. (Not every night. I’m trying to create the impression of a scandalous double life here).
What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?
The typical day varies massively depending on which phase of production you’re in. Pre-production is about working with the writer(s) on script development, casting, and collaborating with locations, design, the director and others on the creative decisions that will determine whether you bring the scripts to life, or kill them stone dead (you’re aiming for the former). Filming is working very long hours, trying to make sure you’re filming the best possible version of the scenes, and trying to plan the upcoming days in the gaps between ‘cut’ and ‘action’. And the edit is sitting in a tiny room with the director, editor and often the show’s creator to argue about things like whether that pause should be one or two seconds long, and usually, by some kind of magic, finding a version that works for everyone.
What’s great about your job?
It’s all about collaboration. (That’s also the worst thing about it, if things aren’t going well). You get to work with seriously talented people making stuff that’s sometimes so funny it makes you spit your tea out. Which is fine, because tea on set often tastes faintly of fish, I’ve never understood why... Something to do with the urns. (I digress.) There’s something thrilling about a team of people of such diverse skills, whether it’s costume design, camera operation or pulling stupid faces, all coming together with the same aim in mind: to make a great show.
And what are the things you don’t like or find challenging?
Getting up when it’s still dark. Resolving other people’s arguments. Fishy tea.
What has the highlights of your career to date?
There are scenes from every show that stand out as memorable to film. Creating a Les Miserables parody on The Windsors. The finale of Cuckoo season 5, with Greg Davies trying to stop a plane taking off by holding the tailfin. The infamous Dobby and Mark stationery cupboard scene on Peep Show. On Toast of London, filming with John Hamm and Brian Blessed, in the same scene but very much on different planets. Doing a cameo in Harry & Paul, as Sarah Lund from The Killing, speaking pretend Danish and wearing THAT jumper. Oh and winning a BAFTA for Harry & Paul is up there too.
How did you get into producing? What was your career path to this point?
In a very roundabout way that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. Four years directing fringe theatre and script reading; two years directing radio plays for the BBC; four years directing live comedy, producing comedy shorts and developing scripts that didn’t get picked up until I finally backed the right horse and got my break: a sitcom called FM that only got one series (it deserved more IMHO) and started me off on the TV comedy path.
Outside of producing comedy, you’re also a comedian yourself. Your debut show, Polite Club is heading up to Edinburgh. Can you tell us what it’s about?
It’s about the downsides of politeness. When being ‘too polite’ can lead you down a path of reckless tolerance that affects work, relationships and your own self-respect. Someone told me I’m ‘addicted to politeness’, and I was furious (silently). I invite the audience to come with me on a journey to prove I can be not just assertive, but gloriously rude.
What was the creation process like for the show?
When I started writing and performing comedy on the live circuit, people told me I come across very polite. That was news to me, because I thought I was a wild and dangerous rock chick, but I thought I might as well make a feature of this apparent civility. And then I realised how many stories from my life involve me falling on my face because I’m running too fast away from conflict, or because I automatically act like things are fine when they really aren’t. It was then just a case of trying those stories out on audiences to see what people identified with and laughed at. Also reading about ‘politeness theory’. Which is a thing. Who knew? (Politeness theorists knew).
Does your job as a comedy producer lend itself to writing comedy?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the finest comedy writers in the country, so I hope a little bit of their genius has rubbed off. But it’s also important to spend time with funny people outside of work, friends who make you laugh and who you can be an idiot with. Sometimes it’s hard to juggle the time required to produce a TV show, keep my hand in performing live comedy, and have a life as well. I’d recommend only attempting two of those three things at the same time.
What have you enjoyed most about the show?
Hearing other people’s stories of when they’ve been too polite. Everyone seems to have one of these stories. It’s an epidemic. People come up to me after my previews and tell me about times they’ve allowed themselves to be mugged out of awkwardness, or apologised to someone who’s run them over, and much worse.
You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?
Hi 16 year old Izzy. Don’t be embarrassed about what you don’t know. Ask questions: people will always be flattered that you asked, and your conversations will be so much more interesting than if you pretend to know it all. Beyond that, just do what feels right, make the mistakes you’re going to make, and learn from them. Oh and I have a short list of names here of people you shouldn’t work with and people you shouldn’t date. It’s in this sealed envelope. Open it later.
Do you have any advice for young people interested in either performing or producing comedy?
If you want to perform, there’s no substitute for just getting up and doing it. Audiences are your best teacher. But if you can find a stand-up course to do, that can really help you get over the fear of that first time, and can help you work out that first five minutes of material that’s entirely you. Find other people who make you laugh and see if you can collaborate with them.
I’ve never met a young person who wants to produce comedy, because no-one knows what a comedy producer does (including me, before I did it). So my more general advice is if you want to work in TV comedy, don’t decide too early what role you want to work in. Get work experience however you can, because through being around a TV set you’ll learn what jobs there are, and what suits you. And in the meantime, make silly short films with your friends, write sketches, watch a lot of comedy. Anything that makes you laugh is useful. And if it isn’t useful, at least it’s made you laugh.
Izzy Mant’s debut stand up show ‘Polite Club’ will be at the Underbelly Dairy Room at 2.50pm for the month of August for tickets go to www.edfringe.com