Coronavirus: a great British farce – Interview with writer Mark Daniels

Before his absurd comedy, Coronavirus: a big British joke, coming to Birmingham for one night on November 26e, I spoke with writer Mark Daniels about his weird and wonderful thoughts on foreclosure, tackling sensitive topics through comedy and Covid’s impact on the arts.

First, could you explain the premise of ‘Coronavirus: A Great British Joke’ and its main themes?

The main character is alone in his apartment as many of us were locked out and he listens to one of those government briefings that we’ve all watched a lot. He responds to the person speaking and they respond until he sort of strikes up a conversation with the politicians, with the scientists, with whatever sources of information come their way. She expresses them all and he tries to understand them by answering, which doesn’t get him very far. It starts with a bit of gibberish and descends into chaos at the end. She becomes his plant at one point in the room as he starts talking to everything around her as he gets a little crazy and lonely in his apartment. She’s everything from Boris to Chris Witty to her friend on Facebook to her factory and her refrigerator. So that’s pretty weird!

It starts with a bit of gibberish and descends into chaos at the end

Great, it’s very creative! How did it feel to share your inner weird and wonderful thoughts while in lockdown with the audience?

The first time we did it was in August in London, shortly after the theaters reopened, and I was petrified. The first night of Everything You Still Thinking is going to be good because it’s a very personal thing to put there. This time, I was petrified, and I think the director too, the actors too. I was like ‘what have I done? Why did I write this thing? It’s very personal, it’s very weird, will people understand? Are people ready to watch something on Covid? Do people want to laugh at something so sad? Are they going to think that we have found the right balance of comedy without questioning the trauma and the tragedy? ‘. It went incredibly well. I can’t even explain – people were really laughing from the first few minutes. The director and I were in the audience and we looked at each other from across the room as though we were banging our fists. We were both like ‘wow, if you laugh now in the first couple of minutes it’s not even the funny moments, just wait for what will happen.’

I was petrified […] it’s something very personal to put there

We were, however, incredibly nervous, I was even nervous to go to the rehearsal room to show the full script to the actors we had chosen. This is something that has affected people in a lot of really negative ways so hopefully it deals with the comedy and the pathetic and that we don’t feel like we’re just laughing at each other. of “oh, isn’t it funny that loads of people have passed away and we all have mental health issues now. Luckily it’s really gotten stronger and stronger. We’re still a little nervous all the time. evenings because people are laughing in different places, maybe because it’s a little weird and there are no light punchlines. Since it has darker parts, sometimes it takes longer for the energy goes up. Sometimes people even laugh through the dark parts, which is just as fascinating and a real challenge for the actors to perform with that energy. Different songs resonate with different people, and all it takes is one member of the audience with a very loud laugh to keep everyone mo nde feel comfortable. It has been scary, fascinating, enjoyable and constantly changing.

Great, looks like it’ll be cathartic to be able to laugh at something so serious. There is, however, a fine line between comedy and trauma – where do you think that line should be drawn? Are there things you would say you can’t laugh at, or do you think when approached in the right way you can write a comedy about anything over time?

Personally, I wouldn’t say it’s a good idea in the arts to exclude anything, even if I’m not saying I would go write a play about absolutely anything. It just happened with this coin. As long as you knock or knock on the side or on yourself, and don’t knock, I think art can surprise you and allow an audience to find catharsis from traumatic experiences. I get up at the end of the show and give a two minute speech explaining that this is a comedy but there are serious issues with loneliness and sanity just in case anyone thinks “It’s just a ridiculous comedy” and that’s all they took of it. We partnered with charities to get their message across and spoke with local charities in every city we visited. As a creative team, it made us feel more comfortable knowing that if someone looks at this piece and feels like they are reliving a horrible trauma and not finding it at all useful, we have a message. for him.

I agree, it all depends on how you frame it and how to make sure things are done right. Do you have any other tips on how you approach sensible ideas in comedy?

On this piece, we partnered with charities and we really asked them. Basically we said to them, “We made this piece, we’re going to do it, is there something you think is important to the way we deal with themes and is there a way? that we can use this part to help you? I think it’s good to include moments of sadness or darkness and not pretend that stuff isn’t there. If you say to someone, ‘Come watch a play about coronavirus, containment and loneliness, it’s going to be a really depressing monologue’, who’s going to watch that?

Comedy invites people to approach a topic in a way heavy drama can’t always reach.

If you tell people ‘we have this weird surreal comedy about loneliness during lockdown and it’s funny because the narrator is trying to have a logical conversation with something that is impossible to reason with, much like you do. ‘maybe felt’, then people come in, and they don’t feel lectured on the subject. They might think “Wait, my friend lives alone and I haven’t really talked to them, maybe I should check with them”. I think we can only achieve this with a little lightness to inform people who are not initially interested in these topics. Charities said it was good to make comedy about these things, but “if you can say a message at the end, it might increase the average person’s empathy for those in pain.” Comedy invites people to approach a subject in a way heavy drama cannot always reach.

It’s awesome. I think the arts can do a lot for the well-being of people, but on their own they are not always enough, so the fact that you also have practical help available is amazing. Moving on to something lighter, of all the weird and unpredictable circumstances we’ve all experienced during lockdown, how about you found the strangest?

There was a point where I wiped a lot of my groceries and tried not to use wet wipes to be eco-friendly, but I bought all those wet wipes and cleaned tangerines and boxes of beans and then looking at my hands like “Wait if it hit the packet of wet wipes…”, trying to figure out how germs spread and realizing how little knowledge I had. I also talked a bit to my fridge as it is incredibly loud. I mean, we didn’t make a friendship or anything, but I certainly yelled at it a few times. Many people said they also started talking to inanimate objects in their apartment, like plants or teddy bears. The other thing I found in my lockdown logs that influenced the show’s first draft were pages about when it snowed. I’m usually not that concerned with snow, but I was so fascinated to have some time to look at it and see some of the beauty of the world. It made me laugh because it got really poetic out of nowhere, going from “you know, I’m really fed up and I want to get out”, to contemplations on the gods’ gift of this heavenly snow.

Daniels concluded with some tips for anyone interested in writing a comedy. He said it’s best to forget about the big picture of writing a long, low-budget play for a certain audience and just write the first page. A page is a page longer than most people. He recommends taking inspiration from people who watch in everyday life, paying attention, for example, to strangers on a bus.


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