Ashley Storrie has a sitcom pilot Conundrums My Dad Says transmitted on BBC Radio Scotland at lunchtime tomorrow.
She has a bit of previous.
She got her first acting part at the age of three as ‘the wee girl in the metal tea urn’ in the movie Alabama.
At five, she was playing the lead child in a TV ad for Fairy Liquid soap powder – directed by Ken Loach.
By 1996, aged ten, she was cast in the lead role of the independent film Wednesday’s Child, which screened in the British pavilion at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.
She was a stand-up comedian from the age of 11 to 14. She performed her first ever stand up comedy routine at the International Women’s Day celebrations in Glasgow and went on to perform stand-up in London supporting the likes of Omid Djalili and Donna McPhail
In 1999, still only thirteen, she wrote, produced and performed her own show What Were You Doing When You Were 13? at the Edinburgh Fringe, becoming the youngest ever stand up in the history of the Festival. She was guest presenter on the Disney Channel that same year.
She was offered a chance to appear on the Jay Leno TV chat show in the US, but decided she preferred to go on a school trip to the Lake District.
Then she decided she did not want to do stand-up any more.
But, just under two years ago, she returned to stand-up and, just before that, started writing for radio and TV.
“Why,” I asked, “did you call the sitcom Conundrums My Dad Says?”
“Everything I ever write,” she explained, “has a hidden reference to William Shatner in it.”
“William Shatner?” I asked. “Conundrums?”
“He had a show called Shit My Dad Says.”
“Ah!” I said.
“It’s not meant to be a blatant, shout-out William Shatner reference,” said Ashley.
“No other references to William Shatner in it?” I asked.
“No. It’s about a man and his son and the dad has got Asperger’s. It’s about their relationship and his relationship with other people.”
“Your dad,” I said, “has got Asperger’s.”
“How did the pilot happen?” I asked.
“The BBC had a commissioning round,” said Ashley. “I put in two pitches and I tried to make one of them tick every box I thought they wanted. I knew the demographic for Radio Scotland was mainly older men, so I wrote a comedy about fishermen, about a small fishing village in Scotland and a woman turns up to take over a boat and, you know, they don’t believe women should be on boats because it’s bad luck. So I submitted that, but I also had this thing I had kind of worked on when I was younger – I probably wrote the original treatment about six years ago – it was about a man with Asperger’s. And that was the one they picked. No-one really liked the proposal about fishermen, apart from me.”
“Why did you write about fishermen?” I asked.
“I really like programmes about fishermen. I watch a lot of Deadliest Catch and Wicked Tuna.”
“Didn’t you get the hots at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago,” I asked, “for some group of young men dressed as fishermen, roaming round the streets singing sea shanties?”
“That was in Adelaide,” said Ashley.
“Wasn’t it Edinburgh?”
“They might have been in Edinburgh as well… Bound. They were called Bound. There was a woman with a squint eye who really liked them and she kept going: I looov Bound! Me and Bound have been owt! She didn’t refer to them individually; they were just Bound.”
“But,” I said, “Conundrums My Dad Says is not about fishermen but about a father with Asperger’s Syndrome.”
“The whole point,” said Ashley, “is that the father is the one with a syndrome but he is probably the most normal person in his circle, even though he’s the one with autism. He sees the world more clearly and that’s important to me and I think it’s important especially in this day and age where so many people – because Asperger’s is such a ‘new’ thing – so many people who for years thought they were strange or socially abnormal or couldn’t make friends – they’re all just autistic.”
“You’re in it but not in a major role,” I said.
“I’m in a supporting role.”
“Because I wrote it about a man and his son. I thought it would be more interesting to see the dynamics between a man and his son rather than a man and his daughter. I think that would have been a completely different story.”
“Would that have been too autobiographical?” I asked.
“A wee bit. I didn’t want it to be This Is Your Life in a radio show. When I handed in the first draft, that was questioned a lot.”
“That you had not done it as a man and his daughter?”
“Yes. I genuinely just thought the dynamics between two men would be funnier. As a female, there is a certain amount of… especially on screen and in the media… women are always more understanding and have a little bit more compassion… and it’s harder. When you see women on TV and in films who are less compassionate and colder, they’re less well-received. I wanted there to be that friction of somebody not quite being able to deal with their dad and I think that comes better off a man. I just think it’s funnier. Especially as that man is his role model.”
“So,” I said, “it’s more of a comedy drama than a traditional sitcom which is there simply for the laughs.”
“It is not gag-gag-gag,” said Ashley, “but I don’t think it could be. I don’t think you would do Asperger’s any service by just being gag-gag-gag. It’s warm and its loving and it’s funny. It’s not dark. It’s the least dark thing I’ve ever written.”
“If it were a traditional sitcom,” I suggested, “you would be laughing at them rather than with them.”
“Yes,” said Ashley. “And this is more subtle. I want people to feel warm. You remember old sitcoms? They had a warmth to them, especially in British sitcoms. They weren’t like The Big Bang Theory which is joke-joke-joke. I wanted that warmth to be evident in mine. A lot of people have Asperger’s and it should be discussed and it should be accepted. We should be able to laugh about it. But not at it.”
“Have you 15 other sitcom ideas lined up?” I asked.
“I’m always jotting shite down and telling mum, then watching her stare blankly at me as I tell her my idea of a sitcom set in space or for a drama about people who make clothes for animals.”
“Is that a real one?”
“Are you going to have your own solo show at the Fringe next year?”
“On the Free Festival?”
“Do you have a title for the show yet?”
“Well, it’s easy with my name. I’m spoiled for choice. I could have Never Ending Storrie…or The Storrie of My Life Featuring One Direction.”
“You own a toy action figure of William Shatner,” I said.
“The Storrie of William Shatner?” I suggested.
“No,” said Ashley.