How not to work on famous TV shows and what to do if you want to build a decent career in stand-up comedy

I think it may be my Scots Presbyterian upbringing. When people have screwed or tried to screw me over money, I have always tended to tell them, “Fuck you!” and flounce off. This is not necessarily a good career move.

In my time, I have been nicknamed John ‘Difficult’ Fleming because, when people did not pay me as they had agreed to pay me, I got uppity. They tended to see this as an example of me being difficult. I tended to see them as cunts. Or – if I was feeling wildly generous – as incompetent, unprofessional wankers who deserved to have their throats ripped out.

Frankly, if you are lying in a hospital bed with a broken leg and fractured pelvis having been run over by a truck, it does not really matter if the driver intended to run you over or if it was an accident. The end result is still the same. You have a broken leg and a fractured pelvis.

Call me old-fashioned but, if people don’t pay me as agreed, I take it with much the same good humour as the Russians did when Nazi Germany invaded.

I almost worked on the seminal TV variety/alternative comedy series Saturday Live. Why I did not is an interesting tale of TV bureaucracy.

Although screened on Channel 4, it was produced by the ITV broadcaster London Weekend Television.

Immediately before Saturday Live started, I had worked for LWT on a series of Surprise! Surprise! and, because of previous problems at more than one company, I had a contract which specified I would be paid weekly in arrears.

When I had been working on the series for three weeks and still seen no money, I queried this – I think not unreasonably – with the Wages Dept. I was told:

“Ah! Your contract says Payable weekly in arrears but it doesn’t specify exactly when the first of those weekly payments will be made. Really, if we wanted to make the first of those weekly payments a month after you finished your contract or even in five years time then, provided we paid you weekly from that first payment onwards, you would be being paid as it says in the contract: Weekly in arrears.”

They were logically correct.

So, when I was asked to be a researcher on Saturday Live, I insisted that I had to have a contract in advance of starting work on the show and that it had to specify I would be paid weekly in arrears with the date of the first payment specified in the contract.

LWT felt I was being unreasonable. I felt they were being unreasonable. They refused to give me a contract with any specific date on which I would be paid. I refused to work without one.

So I did not work on Saturday Live.

I later did work with the producer of Saturday Live at Noel Gay Television. After working perfectly happily on several shows, I again left when they would not give me a contract in advance of starting work on a particular pilot show. They thought I was being unreasonable asking for a contract in advance; I disagreed. So I did not produce a Malcolm Hardee pilot called Lose Yer Shirt! It was produced for Channel 4 who rejected it. I have never seen the show, but I’m told that Channel 4 showed good taste.

Yesterday, a young-ish comic I know had to make a work-related decision. In a spirit of up-my-own-arse pomposity, this was my advice…

By and large, there are no right or wrong decisions because, if you take the ‘right’ decision, it can lead to bad consequences and, if you take the ‘wrong’ decision, it can lead to good opportunities. So life is anarchy. Showbiz life is even more anarchic. You can never tell what the ultimate outcome of taking the ‘other’ decision might have been, so you can never know, even in retrospect, if you took the right or wrong decision. You can only guess your best and never look back, only forwards.

I hate to quote that ghastly and utterly wanky Californian saying “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” but, erm, even Californians can get it right sometimes.

After anything you do, you are at the starting point of what happens next not at the end point of what you did before.

So just do what you think is best (with some calculation of the financial cost, as you have to eat!) and then don’t worry about whatever consequences follow as the inevitable and unavoidable result of what you did; it’s the ground zero of whatever you do next – always look forwards not backwards.

And don’t be impulsive.

I always have been and look where it didn’t get me!

Worry away about what you should do right up to the point at which the decision is made. Then it’s in the past. You can’t change your new starting point. You can only change the future not the past. You cannot un-destroy the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Ultimately, you and I are both going to die within this century and, a bit later on, the sun expands and the Earth is totally destroyed. Everything you see around you becomes stardust. We are stardust.

Of course, the alternative to this advice is to suck cock and, ultimately, that might be far better for your career.

I’m surprised no-one’s written a song about it.

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Filed under Comedy, Television

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