Rob Delaney on Channel 4 sitcom Catastrophe and the creative magic of working with a partner

Collaborating not only yields better results – it's a laugh, as Rob Delaney has learnt with his hit show 'Catastrophe'

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The Independent Culture

I'm listening to Black Sabbath on headphones while I write. I listen to Black Sabbath frequently when I write. If not Black Sabbath, then one of the numerous sludgy, drony, groovy space-rock bands they spawned, like Fatso Jetson or Queens of the Stone Age. I listened to Black Sabbath incessantly when I was writing Catastrophe, the sitcom that Sharon Horgan and I have on Channel 4. Or rather, I listened to it when I was writing by myself, as Sharon would have booted me out of our third-floor office window if I'd tried that on her watch. Then she would've made a smoothie. Such is the nature of our partnership.

The basic facts of it are these: I can write alone, cranking Sabbath, farting without interruption and have the product be mediocre, or I can write with Sharon, the only sound our musical voices as we read aloud what we've written, holding in farts until I walk to the Tube that evening, and have the product be 2,200 times better. I don't think 2,200 times is an exaggeration either; when you work with a good partner or partners, the work you do isn't twice as good, it's exponentially better. Why is this? Maybe a brain scientist could tell you exactly why, but like a stupid child or evangelical preacher, I'm satisfied with the answer: "Magic."

I must now mention that I wasn't sure if the above paragraph was funny, so I showed it to Sharon and she laughed out loud twice, thereby providing me with the motivation to continue writing. In 2012, when I was writing a book (by myself; YUCK) I would hear from my editor that something was funny – or worse, not funny – about once a month. Insufficient! As a man who can charitably be described as a needy clown, banging away at a typewriter in a dusty orphanage basement is no way to live.

Perhaps I should also add that to get Sharon to proofread this, I had to pull her attention away from a large monitor which displayed my thrusting naked ass, as we were editing the fourth episode of Catastrophe, which opens on a sex scene whose stage directions describe our characters as "having athletic sex, making noises farm animals would find repellent". We keep watching and rewatching it and looking at different shots of the thrusting action because we're worried that viewers may be able to see into the terrifying canyon that is my butt crack.

I know most readers are thinking, "That sounds like the greatest job in the world", and you're correct. But we don't have the luxury of getting lost in my ass; we've got a show to make. If we catch each other, or anyone else in our post-production team getting lost in my ass, we pull them out, because that's what teammates do.

When I was a senior at New York University in 1998, a friend recommended that I and go see an improv group called the Upright Citizens Brigade do their weekly show, ASSSSCAT, in their tiny eponymous black box theatre. I did, and it knocked my filthy, mismatched socks off.

I returned every Sunday for a year. Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh were joined most weeks by Tina Fey, Horatio Sanz and Miriam Tolan. Perhaps, 17 years later, you've heard of some of those people. While I'd loved stand-up since I was a kid, seeing funny people make it up on the spot made my serotonin cannons fire wildly, coating my skull's walls in hot, happy goo. The idea that adults could do make-believe at such a gloriously high level of skill that other adults would gladly (and repeatedly) pay to see it just about reconfigured my molecules on the spot. I was a new man, albeit still a man who ate mayonnaise with every meal.

I'd learnt that collaboration was not only a beautiful thing, but that it granted you access to seemingly limitless power. Not that we human beings can't do great things on our own; examples abound: Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Joni Mitchell's Blue, or even my Masturbating in My Volvo on My Lunch Break. Surely none will argue with the vitality and beauty of the aforementioned works of art. But I think I speak for Melville, Mitchell (and let's throw Toni Morrison, Patrick O'Brian and Arundhati Roy in there for fun) when I say that we have a much better time when we're sitting around making up jokes about homeopathy with Sharon Horgan.

I'll still do stand-up and I'll still write things on my own, despite Catastrophe's immeasurable global success (truth be told, we've even had fan mail from the International Space Station [Hi Tim & Jekatarina!]) but I just learn too much and have too much fun when I'm working with others to ever fully surrender to my inner despot's occasional urge to hog all the glory for myself, like Hitler or Steve Jobs.

Now if you'll forgive me, we need to get back to watching me thrust.

©Rob Delaney 2015. 'Catastrophe' is on Channel 4 at 10pm on Mondays comedy

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