Ariane Sherine has had a busy week. It’s her birthday.
And she released the first episode of her weekly podcast Love Sex Intelligence.
And she has published her first novel, Shitcom, about two male TV sitcom writers.
JOHN: Why’s the new book called Shitcom?
ARIANE: It’s a novel about two comedy writers on a sitcom. One’s extremely successful and an arsehole. The other one is extremely unsuccessful but very nice… And they swap bodies.
JOHN: So it’s a cosy little comic romp…
ARIANE: No. It’s got racism, misogyny, homophobia, extreme swearing, graphic descriptions of violence and a short rape scene. The villain calls his mother a jizz-lapping old whore and calls his step-father a fisting spaffmonkey. He is obsessed with his penis because it’s only 2 inches long.
JOHN: You wrote it in 2004, when you were…
ARIANE: …a sitcom writer for BBC TV.
JOHN: So it’s all semi-autobiographical?
ARIANE: It’s ‘loosely based’ on my experiences. But all the characters are fictional.
JOHN: The plot is a body/identity swap story.
ARIANE: There IS a body swap and Neil – the nice guy – inhabits Andrew’s body and is able to get his sitcom idea commissioned, but he then realises fame and success are not all they’re cracked up to be.
Andrew is trapped in Neil’s body and there’s a hilarious/outrageous and disturbing turn of events which sees him end up homeless and having to have sex with a guy for money so that he can buy a gun.
JOHN: Why are fame and success not what they’re cracked up to be?
ARIANE: Because nobody treats you normally. It’s a very hyper-real/surreal type of existence. Most of the famous people I’ve met have been very nice, professional and reliable. They treat people really well. But I would not personally want to be famous. I don’t think it makes you any happier and you never know if people like you for you or just because you’re successful.
JOHN: You famously created and ran the Atheist Bus Campaign and got shedloads of publicity.
ARIANE: I experienced the slightest distant glimmer of fame in 2009/2010 and it was quite disorientating. You don’t feel like yourself because people have this impression of you which doesn’t tally with your own impression of yourself. It’s confusing and I personally wouldn’t really want to be wildly famous.
JOHN: You wouldn’t want to be successful?
ARIANE: I think there’s a difference between having recognition for what you do and being a megastar where it’s so out-of-proportion that it’s ridiculous.
You really wouldn’t want Fred Bloggs accosting you when you’re trying to take the bins out – thrusting a camera in your face, demanding a selfie or an autograph.
JOHN: Alas poor Chris Whitty. You don’t want to be famous at all?
ARIANE: I wouldn’t mind a bit of recognition, but not being followed around by paparazzi wherever I go.
JOHN: Why did you not publish the novel in 2004 when you wrote it?
ARIANE: I had always wanted to write novels and I was putting the finishing touches to it in 2005 when I was violently assaulted by my then-boyfriend when I was pregnant with his baby. I had to have an abortion which I didn’t want to have. I cried every day for a year and I shelved the novel because I thought: I don’t want to focus on comedy! I’ve just been through hell! I don’t want to be focusing on jokes when my baby is dead.
JOHN: Wouldn’t focusing on comedy be cathartic in that situation?
ARIANE: I just didn’t feel I could write it successfully and, instead, I wrote a memoir of what had happened. That didn’t get published and I’m very glad it didn’t get published because it was so raw. It had a lot of scenes from my childhood and my dad was still alive and I think it would have got me into a massive mess.
So I sort-of lost interest in Shitcom. I shelved it and then a little later I started writing for the Guardian (until 2018) and I think I made some tweaks to Shitcom in 2008, but, as a Guardian columnist, I didn’t want to put out a book with an incredibly racist, sexist, homophobic male character and a ton of racial slurs in it. That felt like it might be a bit of a faux pas.
JOHN: And the Covid lockdown happened last year… That had an effect?
ARIANE: Yes. I was going to do a 100-date book tour for my last book How To Live To 100 but then the Covid lockdown came in, so the tour got shelved.
But I have a Patreon account and one of the subscriber tiers is my Writing Tier.
Subscribers to that tier get a sample of my writing every week.
I came across Shitcom again and I thought I would send them that chapter by chapter. As I was reading it again, I realised it was hilarious and I loved it. So I thought Why don’t I just put it out rather have it languish on my hard drive?
I didn’t even try to get it traditionally published. Nobody in the publishing industry has seen it and, in this age of ‘cancellation culture’ I don’t think any publisher is going to be too keen on it.
JOHN: Have you thought about also publishing your ‘too raw’ memoir which you could now look back on objectively?
ARIANE: If I ever did write a memoir, it would probably be at the end of my career. I have so much left to do; and also my mum and brother are still alive and I wouldn’t want to hurt them with what’s in it. It might be something I do in 40 or 50 years.
I am aiming to write 100 books in my lifetime and I see Shitcom as the first book.
My next book – traditionally published by my publisher Hachette – is called Happier and will be my fourth traditionally-published book.
JOHN: You’ve said you consider Shitcom your first book but you have published three books already.
ARIANE: Well, they are all either co-writes or they contain a ton of contributions from other people. I think they are very enjoyable and I love my publishers, but I also want to put novels out – and, by self-publishing them, people can read them for just £1.99 each.
JOHN: So what’s your next solo book?
ARIANE: I’m Not In Love, another novel.
ARIANE: Partly. It’s about a girl who’s not in love with her boyfriend. He smells of banana. He does not eat or like bananas, but he has a strange banana smell.
JOHN: This bit is autobiographical?
ARIANE: Yes. It’s based on a boyfriend I had who is a comedian and writer and actually quite successful now. I don’t know if he still smells of banana, but I do feel sorry for his wife if he does. Also (in the book) he wears these terrible slogan T-shirts like While You Are Reading This, I Am Staring at Your Tits… And she falls in love with another man, but he’s engaged to be married and one of her unscrupulous, amoral friends says to her: Why don’t you just keep this guy that you’re engaged to around as insurance and date other guys behind his back?
So that’s what she does. But she is in her 30s and is aware that time is not on her side if she wants to have kids. So it’s a rom-com.
It’s already written, the main character is really acerbic and funny and it will be out before the end of the year.
Shitcom is out now, though, for just £1.99. Buy it!