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When people ask that British breaking-the-ice question: “What do you do?”

On Wednesday night, BBC2 will screen the first in a new series of that extraordinary TV comedy Rab C Nesbitt, written and created by Ian Pattison.

Last week, I asked Ian if there was something he would rather do instead of another series of Rab C Nesbitt.

“Instead of?” he replied. “Why not ‘in addition to?’ I’ve now finished writing my fourth novel and have written a screenplay based on my third. My novels, of course, don’t sell. I advised the publisher of my last book to put Ian Rankin’s name on the jacket on the basis that IR would never notice my sidled addition to his oeuvre as his stuff takes up all the shelves in Waterstone’s and most of the cafeteria.”

I suspect most fans who watch Rab C Nesbitt do not think of Ian primarily as a novelist. And most people who admire his novels do not think of him primarily as a TV comedy scriptwriter.

Pretty much throughout my life, Whenever people ask that first perennial British breaking-the-ice question, “What do you do?” I have immediately got into trouble, because I have never really known the correct answer.

Sometimes I say, “I have bummed around a lot,” which is probably closer to the truth than anything.

I suspect as a percentage, more than anything, I have probably sat in darkened rooms editing trailers and marketing/sales tapes. But, when I have said that, people have thought I was/am a videotape editor, which I never have been – too technical for me – I was called writer or producer or director or whatever the union or company felt like at the time – or whatever I wanted to make up for a nameless job – and, once you get into mentioning “I do on-air promotions”, you open a whole can of befuddled misunderstanding.

“Do people do that?” is a common response.

So, over the years, different people have thought I do different things, real or imagined, depending on what I happened to have been doing – or what they thought I was doing – at the exact moment I first met them.

TV research is one. Editor of books is another. Manager of comedians is one that always amuses me.

This sprang to mind on Friday, when I saw comedian Owen O’Neill ‘storm the room’ as the saying goes at the always excellent monthly Pull The Other One in Peckham.

Most people who see Owen perform comedy, I suspect, see him as “just” a stand-up comic which, of course, is far from the truth. If they know a bit about comedy, they may know he has performed at over 20 Edinburgh Fringes and been nominated for the Perrier Award.

They may know he acted in the high-profile stage productions of Twelve Angry Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Odd Couple.

But I first met Owen off-stage in 2003 when Malcolm Hardee and I were commissioning Sit-Down Comedy for publishers Random House. It was an anthology of writing by comedians – not to be confused with the phrase “comic anthology” because a lot of the short stories are very, very dark (a glimpse, I suspect, of what lurks in many comedians’ minds). The book should have been called Sit-Down Comedians, but publishers’ mis-marketing of their own product knows no bounds.

Owen wrote a story The Basketcase for Sit-Down Comedy: a particularly dark and moving tale. His short film of The Basket Case (which he also directed) won him the award for Best Short Fiction movie at the 2008 Boston Film Festival in the US and Best International Short at the 2010 Fantaspoa Film Festival in Brazil.

Most people who see Owen perform comedy probably do not know this. Most probably do not know his first feature film as writer Arise and Go Now was directed by Oscar-winning Danny Boyle or that his play Absolution got rave reviews during its off-Broadway run or that he co-wrote the stage adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption currently running in the West End of London.

I suspect if a literate alien arrived from Alpha Centauri and looked at the facts objectively, Owen would be described not as a stand-up comic but as a playwright who also performs comedy (his plays are many and varied).

You get typecast as being one thing in life no matter how much you do.

In the last couple of months, comedian Ricky Grover appeared in BBC TV soap EastEnders; and the movie Big Fat Gypsy Gangster, which he wrote and directed, was released.

What do you call people like this?

Well, in Ricky’s case, you obviously call him “Mr Grover” and treat him with respect.

He also wrote for Sit-Down Comedy and I know his background too well!

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Why I was dragged into a cellar in Essex and a gun shoved into my mouth

The first time I met Comedy Cafe owner Noel Faulkner was shortly before I got dragged down into a basement in north east London and had a gun shoved in my mouth while former boxer, hairdresser, comedian and now EastEnders actor and film director Ricky Grover shouted at me, “You’re a fucking cunt! You’re a fucking cunt! I’m gonna fuckin’ blow yer fuckin’ head off!”

He was not a happy man.

In fact, he had ‘lost it’ – his eyes were blazing at me, his voice had gone up in pitch, he was sweating and shaking with uncontrollable anger.

Noel Faulkner was supposed to be directing a documentary at the time, though I think he and the crew were left upstairs when I was dragged downstairs.

Your memory strangely forgets some details when you are being threatened with a bloody death by a large man who knows from professional experience how to hurt people.

In the sadly largely-reviled movie Killer Bitch, I played the part of a charity collector who was, I felt, unfairly gunned-down in the street while collecting money on the pavement for Help For Heroes. I was shot in the face by a rather grumpy character played by Big Joe Egan (although, off-screen Big Joe was extremely charming and I am sure will go far on Irish charm alone).

I am, alas, not in Ricky Grover’s new movie Big Fat Gypsy Gangster – a major casting blunder by the normally spot-on Ricky – but I was in a showreel version he shot several years ago to raise money for the project. At that time and, indeed, until very recently the movie project was called Bulla: The Movie and I played the part of a bank manager who was, I felt, unfairly brutalised by Ricky’s character Bulla.

“Can’t I play a more sexy role?” I asked Ricky at the time. “Is there no dashing romantic role for me?”

Ricky replied with, I felt, unnecessary honesty: “I’ve always thought you looked like a bank manager, John.”

I tried to take it as a compliment.

So that was how I ended up in the basement of a disused bank on some suburban Essex high road in north east London with a gun being stuck in my mouth – I think it might have been Woodford Green.

I have never seen the footage, but I think I carried it off with the style for which I am known.

The character I played is not in the actually-shot version of the film, although there is a brief similar scene in a bank vault towards the end. Perhaps Ricky is saving me for a romantic role in his next film.

But there is the thought lingering in dark recesses at the back of my mind that perhaps he cast me because he had always wanted to degrade me and stick the barrel of a gun in my mouth.

There are worse things which can happen to you in the wonderful world of film making.

Noel Faulkner has been replaced by an American.

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