Across the Pond with Rob Delaney
Based solely on his Twitter feed and standup comedy, it would be easy to brand Rob Delaney as a foul-mouthed American dad with a flare for the perverse. Take this tweet for instance: “Don’t be embarrassed; the sound of my toenails clattering across the floor makes all the nurses moist.” But in Catastrophe, his new show with co-writer and co-star Sharon Horgan, Delaney hones his humor into something much more poignant. Originally created for the U.K.’s Channel 4, Catastrophe follows two adults as they navigate an accidental pregnancy that resulted from a weeklong overseas fling. It’s a raw, hilarious, and often touching look at an unusual middle-aged relationship. The show was picked up by Amazon and as of late last week, American viewers can stream the entire six-episode first season. I talked to a very jet-lagged Delaney about the show, drawing from his own life experience, and the power of Twitter.
How long are you going to be in the States?
Just 48 hours to promote the show.
How much time are you spending in the UK now?
I live there full time. I didn’t own a house in Los Angeles. I moved to London with my family and now we pay rent there instead of LA. The kids go to school there now… or nursery, rather… they’re little people.
How did your family adapt to the change of locale?
I think my wife and oldest son didn’t like it at first. But now they like it a lot. My younger kids don’t care. I thought it was great out of the gate. I immediately started working as soon as I got off the plane. So, for me, what’s not to like? For them it was hard, though.
How would you describe your life in London versus your life in LA?
London is more child-friendly. There’s free nursery for three year olds. So that’s pretty cool. NHS is better than American health care. You can just go to the hospital there instead of having some crazy expensive health plan. That’s amazing. The winters are awful because we’re at a higher latitude. The sun doesn’t come out. It’s dark all of the time. But culturally, it’s hopping. There’s a lot of history. It’s just as exciting as a New York or LA.
You’ve been doing standup primarily in the UK now. Are you getting back to the US for any dates soon?
I did a show in Brooklyn last night, but that’s it for a while. We’re getting ready to start pre-production on Season 2 of Catastrophe.
Your humor, especially what you’ve done character-wise on Twitter, has a specifically middle-aged American male feel to it. How is that translating to the British audiences?
Pretty well. They have exposure to American comedy. I don’t think it’s a huge leap for anyone to take in order to absorb my comedy moisture.
Catastrophe is coming to America June 19th, via Amazon. The first season aired earlier this year on Channel 4. What prompted the move for Amazon to pick up the show and make it available to American audiences?
I can’t in good conscience make a show that isn’t easily viewed by American people. Sharon didn’t want to do that either. We made sure that we got a great American partner. Amazon definitely fit the bill. What was so cool was that we decided to do it with Amazon and not long after, they released Transparent. We were like, “Whoa. We definitely made the right choice.” That show is amazing.
Did you shop it to any major networks?
Not any big networks like ABC, NBC or CBS. We talked to some cable networks and premium networks, but Amazon wound up being who we wanted to go with.
How did you and Sharon start working together?
I was a big fan of hers. I saw that she started following me on Twitter in 2010 or so and I just wrote and introduced myself. We became friendly and started hanging out. She’s a very cool person with a cool husband and two cool kids. Our spouses became friendly and we had a lot of fun. We were comedically turned on by a lot of the same things, so we decided to do a show together. We’re both parents, spouses and comedians and we wanted to make a show about that stuff.
It’s unbelievable what a tool Twitter has been for you. You ushered in a era where comics began to realize how powerful it could be in helping to gain exposure. You met your current creative partner there. What changes have you noticed in social media? Is it still just as effective for you as it was a couple of years ago?
I spend less time on it now because there are only so many hours in the day; three kids, a wife, and a show. I still think Twitter is cool. It’s a great way to get a joke out to a million people by hitting a button on my phone. It remains of high value to me, especially in promoting my shows.
A lot of relationship comedies tend to center on the 18-34 demo. You and Sharon are being very true to the age group that you both represent. Would you consider this to be a show just for grown-ups?
It’s funny, the exact demographic that you mentioned we did very well with in the UK, which was cool because we made the show for ourselves. Of course, we want as many people as possible to enjoy it. But you can’t really think that way or your show will be hot garbage. But people in their sixties stop us and tell us they love the show; young people too. We were pretty specific about the things we wanted to address. I think people recognize it as being and feeling true, even if they haven’t been through that stage of life yet.
It’s clear that you’re writing from experience. What things that have specifically happened to you made it to the show?
I’m married. I started with two kids and now I have three. That stuff is really fascinating to me. It’s not boring. It’s not drudgery. That doesn’t mean it’s always fun, or that I always enjoy it. But it’s interesting to me. I felt like sitcoms just gave short trips to what a real marriage felt like. They don’t show the jagged edges, the horror, the fear, the dread. They also don’t show the lust, fever and emotion you feel for each other. We wanted to show that as honestly and nakedly as possible.
The show is about sex and love. We watch you navigate a growing relationship that came about by happenstance. One thing I found interesting was that, as the relationship develops and deepens, the characters consciously avoid saying the loaded phrase, “I love you.” It created a tension for me, a will-they-won’t-they kind of thing.
We actually wrote a scene where they say that they love each other. We threw it out. We would rather show it than say it. You know that they love each other. You can feel them falling in love. We didn’t want to say it.
Is that going to be a thing you withhold as the series progresses, or could there be a moment when both characters let their guards down and say the words?
I don’t know. They might say it. But it would never be as satisfying as seeing it.
When you do a show like this, where you’re drawing from your own personal experiences, I have to imagine that the people in your life are pretty patient and accepting. How do you navigate the things in your art that stem from interactions with the people that you are close to?
I try not to ask for permission. It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. My wife, for example, is the only person that I would care if they felt a certain way about something. She is very funny. She loves comedy and a good story. She would rather that I tell a good story and be honest about it than do something that rang false. She’s wonderfully supportive.
If you could offer one piece of relationship advice, what would it be?
Be kind. That’s it. The end.