I used to co-run a comedy club called Schnitzel Comedy Club. It was a great place. When I look back on it, I think of it as legendary. Of course, hindsight is often full of shit. But it was a fun time filled with great experiences. We had an enviable list of headliners play the show. Some of my actual favorite comedians from the world. Genuine favourites. And we always knew what we were doing. We always hosted comics that we knew about, that we were fans of (or on very rare occasions a big name just get some money in to make up for the losses we made on truly excellent, non-big-name comedians).
We had no other options and we were out of time. We booked them and we crossed our fingers (that’s just an expression, we didn’t cross our fingers, we still had work to do).
Somehow we got a pretty good crowd on the night. It was due to our good track record. Our audience trusted us. Which was both exciting and terrifying. We might have just thrown all that trust out the window. The audience didn’t know who Tony Law or Alun Cochrane were, we knew that. But we knew that anyone who came to those shows would be suitably impressed and they would talk about these great nights at Schnitzel.
Of course, on this night, we told people that Diet of Worms were great. But we were lying through our teeth; we honestly hadn’t a clue. I used to MC the show, so I did all my bits in the first half, had a support act do twenty minutes, asked people where they were from, etc.
I didn’t really ask people where they were from, I wasn’t that kind of comedian. I think it would have gone like this:
Where are you from?
That’s nice. What about you, where you from?
Anyone here from Kildare?
Yeah me too.
Then we had our interval, during which we always gave out free milk and cookies. Then the second half. The dice was thrown. I introduced Diet of Worms to the stage and I sat on a step in the audience (I couldn’t find a seat).
I’m not lying or being hyperbolic when I say that it was one of the best shows we ever had at Schnitzel. The whole room was in hysterics, people talked about that show for months. We knew then that Diet of Worms were something special. They became the headline act to play Schnitzel the most times. We couldn’t get enough of them. And, as expected they went on to bigger and better things, culminating, eventually, in a new sitcom on BBC2, The Walshes, which they collaborated with Graham Linehan (Father. Ted, Black Books, The I.T. Crowd) on.
The Walshes starts on BBC TWO on Tuesday 11th November at 10 pm.
Amy from Diet of Worms who plays Ciara in The Walshes was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Who are Diet of Worms and how did they come about?
Diet of Worms are five people who used to be in their early twenties but have aged to become two women and three men in their early thirties. Shane held the least wide-searching audition known to man to find cast members for a sketch comedy show he had written and was making with friends from college. And now it’s eleven years later and we’re about to be on BBC2. Madness altogether.
Do you remember that first time you came down to play in Schnitzel Comedy club? Did I seem nervous about your show?
Yes, I remember the Schnitzel gig because it was the first time I was in Limerick and because it was one of the most fun gigs ever. I think it came quite quickly after a terrible gig we had done in a student union in Cork, so there was certainly trepidation, but boy-oh-boy did we enjoy ourselves. I don’t remember you seeming nervous at all so well done for not showing it.
You’ve been making a sitcom and a few web series’. You’ve also done a couple of plays and bits and pieces for the radio. You’re able to do it all, but what do you prefer to do? Is the live sketch show a thing of the past?
Oh gosh, em, well now here’s the thing: I think we probably all have our own favourite medium to perform in. I’m a big fan of making TV/web based things.
The Walshes was shown on BBC FOUR earlier in the year. What is the reason for it being shown again, this time on BBC TWO?
I think after the initial broadcast, the powers that be at the BBC realised that The Walshes wasn’t very well suited to BBC FOUR. It’s a reasonably broad, accessible show and maybe it didn’t fit in with that particular audience. But we’re very lucky to have massive support from the Head of Comedy, Shane Allen. He and our producer, Richard Boden, pushed for it to get a run on BBC TWO. They both felt it would reach its more natural audience there.
I assume you would like to make a second series, but what does it take to make that possible? Are there numbers you need to hit, and how hard is that?
Yeah, I guess a second series would be OK. That was be being sarcastic. We would LOVE to make another series. We’ve been writing ideas, bits of dialogue and episode outlines in the hope that we get a re-commission. I think that viewing figures definitely matter. But that’s kind of out of our control now, really. We would love people to watch it and like it so hopefully they will.
As a group of writers, comedians and actors, working with Graham Linehan on your first TV show must be like a band working with Rick Rubin on their debut album. Can you tell me a little about how that happened, and what it was actually like. Be honest, if it was shit, please tell me. We want the dirt.
I’m sorry to say I have no dirt. It was a fucking amazing experience. Am I allowed swear? Graham is someone we all looked up to for years. We approached him at a gig, and swooned and fawned and told him that we “made videos”. Lo and behold he watched them, liked them and got in contact. It’s been a long process to get to where we are today with The Walshes. I still sometimes don’t believe we did it. There were times on set when you’d be waiting to shoot, sitting in the fake life-size house, with dozens of crew-members buzzing around, all of which was made because of words you wrote. And you’d just go – “Fucking hell, what am I doing here and when am I going to get found out?” I can swear, right?
Did your lives change in anyway after The Walshes was first aired on RTE and BBC FOUR? Were ye spotted on the streets? Being papped?
HA! No. Well, not for me anyway. I think Niall might have gotten a free cup of tea in a bar once. Oh! Rory got a bip-bip from a taxi driver!
When you’re making a TV show in the BBC, do you get free biscuits and coffee?
Alan, the best part of making a TV show with the BBC is the food! So here’s a daily run down; we’d get a huge fry or healthy option (yeah right!) first thing in the morning and then a three course lunch, then copious amounts of afternoon sandwiches and biscuits. We shot in December, so on the last day on set we all sat down and had an actual Christmas dinner!
There is a runner on set who is always really busy doing things for everyone but is still meant to get you teas and coffees. We were all far too Irish and uncomfortable to indulge in that kind of carry on though. I mean, we’re not Lindsay Lohan. She’s probably really sound but her name was the first one that came to mind, sorry Lindsay.
Have any of you mistakenly called another of you by their character from The Walshes‘ name? And who of you would do it the most?
Well, poor Rory doesn’t have the luxury of a character name. It think it started as a joke years ago that everything we ever wrote, Rory would play a character called Rory. Sometimes Graham Linehan calls Shane, ‘Graham’. That got rather confusing.
I found that some of the UK people on set had problems with the name Ciara and referred to my character as ‘Key-ara’, but I didn’t mind as I thought it sounded fairly glamorous and exotic altogether.
Do you write all together, or do you come up with a story arc and then write for your own characters? And what is Graham’s role in the writing process?
Even after eleven years, I think we are still figuring out how to write together. If we’re at the very beginning of a project, we’ll try to all get in the same room and chat and act the ham a bit. Lots of little character traits or ideas come from us just being messers. When it gets down to actual script drafting, we split up and write in pairs or individually.
Having Graham write with us was a real education. We’d send him outlines and then first drafts and subsequent drafts (of which there were loads). He’d give us loads of notes and suggestions. Then towards the end of the process, he may take a pass or two on the script as well. We had to write a couple of scenes on set, I remember. I think we were about five minutes short for the third episode when we started shooting. I wouldn’t recommend doing that, but we got there in the end.
What is your favourite moment from Graham Linehan’s back catalogue of work? Perhaps a certain scene in one of his shows sticks out for you?
Episode one of the series two of The IT Crowd (‘The Work Outing’) is the closest thing I’ve seen to sitcom perfection. The way everything comes together in the end is just wonderful. I mean, that moment where Moss is revealed serving drinks behind the bar. Amazing. I wish I’d written it.
What else are Diet of Worms up to these days? And where can people keep up with your goings on?
We are all trying to write and act as much as we can, both as a group and individually. We’ve got a few TV projects in that super-early, preliminary stage. And we’re writing a pilot script for a BBC Radio 4 sitcom which we’re very excited about. I’m also currently appearing as a temp receptionist in various offices around London.