Fast Show star Charlie Higson considers setting up an online comedy channel


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The Independent Online

One of the stars behind The Fast Show is considering setting up an online comedy channel following the success of the show’s internet comeback last year.

Charlie Higson, who has also embraced technology to write an online short story for the UK’s contribution to World Book Day on Thursday, is keen to be at the frontier of TV’s move online, said the idea was in its “early stages”.

He talked of taking it to comedian friends included Paul Whitehouse, Harry Enfield and Steve Coogan, who took his character Alan Partridge online in a series of episodes for the same comedy site set up by Foster’s.

Higson said it would not launch this year. “I haven’t taken it very far,” he continued. “But it is certainly something I’ve been interested in.” In the US, shock jock Glen Beck set up his own online subscription site after leaving Fox News. Comedian Louis CK also grossed more than $1m from a special he put on his website and charged fans $5.

Higson said: “Online TV is growing and will be the future. That’s why we decided to do The Fast Show online; to get in at the beginning of an exciting trend.”

The online Fast Show episodes, on a comedy channel set up by Fosters, have “gone really well. The response has been good,” Higson said. “At the moment we’re just enjoying the ride.”

The sketch show writer and performer has also written a series of children’s books and is keen to use technology to encourage children to read. He is one of the authors participating in the UK’s first online book festival for children on Thursday, alongside Jacqueline Wilson, Neil Gaiman and Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson. It is part of World Book Day, the Unesco-backed initiative marked by over 100 countries around the globe.

The UK is to mark it with “the country’s first online children’s book festival”. Authors will participate in performances that will be streamed online. Higson has written a story for the World Book Dayapp and will be reading extracts at an event on Thursday.

“How do you get kids into books and to find out more about them while they are spending time online checking Facebook? They aren’t on literary blogs,” he said.

Higson wrote fiction aimed at adults during the 1990s including Full Whack and Getting Rid of Mister Kitchen, before his literary endeavours were sidelined by the success of The Fast Show. The comedy series ran between 1994 and 1997, with a special three years later. He said: “I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I loved sitting down and creating something that wasn’t there.”

The Ian Fleming Estate approached Higson out of the blue to write the Young Bond books. The first, SilverFin, was published in 2005. He said his influences include hard boiled American fiction writers Jim Thompson and Elmore Leonard.

The books were shaped while reading the stories to his children. “They loved the action in it,” he said. “If it had been up to them the violence would have been off the chart.”

He continued: “You shouldn’t patronise kids. I wrote the Young Bond books in the same style as I had written the adult novels. I wasn’t writing thrillers for kids, I was writing thrillers where the lead happened to be a kid.”

To avoid being pigeonholed, after the fifth novel Higson moved onto a new series, where a worldwide virus has turned people into a zombie-like state. He has planned a series of six and was “10 pages off sending” the fourth to the publisher yesterday.

So why horror? “It was a good fit, especially with some of my earlier writing. If you can scare the shit out of the kids and get your hooks into their brains they’ll remember your work.”  

He started writing the stories before zombies returned to the current level of popularity. “I’m moving it on because I know the zombie craze will pass. There’s not a huge amount you can do with zombies; certainly not with their psychology. Mainly because they’re brain dead.”

There has been a growing trend for comedians to write children’s books including The Office’s Mackenzie Crook, and David Walliams, from Little Britain. “These people are writers; if you can get kids laughing and tell a good story, you’re onto a winner.”

He said the trend was down to JK Rowling. “Before Harry Potter nobody would admit in public to being a children’s writer. Hats off to JK Rowling, she proved that children will read books and writing them is respectable.”

Higson hopes World Book Day will not only inspire primary school children, “but the tricky thing is getting to those in secondary school. That’s the market we’re targeting with ebooks”.