This interview reveals plot points for the first and second seasons of Catastrophe.
Rob Delaney’s Twitter feed and Vice column helped the comedian earn a reputation as one of the funniest people on the internet. Thanks to Amazon, he can also lay claim to being one of the funniest people on internet TV. The online retailer brought Catastrophe—in which a Boston ad exec (Delaney) and a London school teacher (Pulling’s Sharon Horgan) have a business-trip tryst, get pregnant, and then fall in love with one another—to U.S. audiences in 2015. It’ll present the next six chapters in the life of Rob and Sharon beginning Friday, April 8. Though the first season—written entirely by Delaney and Horgan, as was season two—ends with Sharon going into labor on the night of her wedding to Rob, viewers shouldn’t expect the new episodes to begin in the delivery room. The A.V. Club asked Delaney why he and Horgan chose to not to pick up where they left off, while also discussing Catastrophe’s globetrotting writers’ room, being a sober actor playing drunk, and watching the U.S. presidential race play out from across the Atlantic.
AVC: Some time has passed between Catastrophe’s first-season finale and the second-season premiere. Why did you and Sharon decide to go that route?
RD: We wanted to just get into the thick of the marriage and parenting. We’ve seen them get to know each other, and we just really wanted to kick them off a cliff into some more difficult situations. Also, we had the time-travel technology at our fingertips, so we sort of felt it would be a waste not to use it.
AVC: Since the first season of Catastrophe wrapped, Sharon did another season of Todd Margaret and started her HBO series, Divorce. Where did she find time to do this second season of Catastrophe?
RD: Well, I don’t know, you know? We actually wrote some of season two of Catastrophe in her trailer while she was shooting Todd Margaret. And then for Divorce, she left soon after we shot season two. So yeah, I guess we slotted it into a good little window.
AVC: What was it like writing part of the season in that trailer?
RD: Fine. I think our show—it’s not the best television program that was ever made, but it is, I promise, the television show that has been written from the largest number of locations. We have written this show at my house in L.A., at Sharon’s office in L.A. when she had one, at my management’s offices in London and L.A., at various coffee shops, we’ve written it on planes going across the Atlantic—it’s insane. I would say that’s probably what I’m most proud of. People would say [Laughs.] “What are you most proud of? The ratings? The reviews?” No. How many places we wrote it is what is inspiring and should be instructive to the young writer.
AVC: Which of those locations have you found is the most conducive to writing a TV show?
RD: Probably the best is in Sharon’s home office because it has a nice view of a park. Who doesn’t want to look at that? Her regular office office didn’t have windows, so I liked her office that has windows to a park.
AVC: Season two expands the focus a little more: We get more stories from Chris and Fran. We get to see Dave trying to get his shit together and going through a recovery process. What stories for these characters could you tell this time around that you really couldn’t in the first season?
RD: Well all of them, really, because we wrote the whole first series before we cast all the amazing actors that we were fortunate enough to get with the exception of Chris and Fran, who were in the pilot. So, we were so blown away by the actors in season one that we really wanted to do more with them in season two. Like the audience, we didn’t know those people when season one started. Once we did—I mean, you’ve got to explore Daniel Lapaine as Dave further once you get to know him because he’s so amazing. You just want to see him more. We’re not immune to that even though we wrote it. They’re just really good actors, and we wanted to give them some silly stuff to do.
AVC: When or if a third series happens, do you see the focus expanding a little bit more? Do you foresee that pattern continuing?
RD: I don’t know that we would extrapolate further, but we might keep the same ratio. For example, in season one, there was one scene that neither Sharon nor Rob were in, which is insane. That means that one or both of us were in every single scene of the whole show except for one. There are way more in season two—scenes that neither of us are in. I think we’ve got a pretty good ratio of Sharon-and-Rob versus not-Sharon-and-Rob in season two, so I don’t think we would see less of them in a third series. That would be a thoroughly different show.
AVC: Did that ratio make season two a more relaxing experience for you?
RD: Sometimes, if I wasn’t in a scene, I might, for example, take my kids to school. So, that was pretty nice, to very occasionally get to do something like that, or put them to bed. I did enjoy being able to do that. Because when you shoot, you might as well be in Kyrgyzstan. You’re like a zombie when you are home. Any second that you can see your smelly little children, you grab both hands. My wife isn’t smelly, I should stress.
AVC: I hope that this isn’t too personal a question, but—
RD: Ah, I hope it isn’t, too. [Laughs.]
AVC: As someone who has had their own struggles with alcoholism and has gone through recovery, what does it mean to you to tell those types of stories on TV? We get it with Dave in series two, and we’ve also seen it with Rob.
RD: I, a little bit, worried—first of all, the test for “Do you put it in the show?” is “Is it entertaining?” Because we are making a situation comedy for the purpose of entertaining people, and mostly to make them laugh. Can we stick to that? Can we continue to execute that goal with subject matter like that? I think that we can. I think that can be done. That said, was it hard for me to shoot the stuff where I was drunk? Not really, because I have been sober now for 14 years. I truly, sincerely, have no desire to drink.
However, I did have a really hard time shooting the stuff where Dave was in trouble. I guess I’m watching that rather than doing it. When you’re doing it, you can imagine justification for it, for any kind of shitty thing you might do. But with Dave, I was like, “My friend Dave is in pain.” I really hated shooting that stuff. I didn’t finish shooting stuff where I was drinking, and then feel like I personally should, in real life, go get drunk or anything. That was no more difficult than shooting any other stuff, really, other than the technical aspects of seeming drunk onscreen when you’re not drunk, which is an acting challenge.
AVC: It’s so easy to lapse into cliché there—to the stumbling, bumbling drunk. Were there clichés of the alcoholic narrative that you were hoping to avoid in making these episodes?
RD: You just want it to seem real. The classic “When you’re drunk, and other people are around, you’re trying to not seem that drunk.” You want to be acting like you’re actually trying to exert some control over your behavior, and having a struggle. But we all help each other out with that. We have a wonderful director, Ben Taylor. We all know drunk people. And if I did a take where it wasn’t good, we would just do it again.
AVC: How did having the child actors on-set affect production for series two?
RD: It adds time to things. You’ve got to use twins, so each kid is played by two kids. You might have to just stop where you wouldn’t with an adult actor because you just legally have to for kids, and then switch to their twin brother or sister or whatever. So, from a production perspective, it takes a little more time. But the fact is the kids that we had really did a fantastic job, and they had wonderful parents there on-set with them. I was like, “Oh God, this is going to be terrible,” because you hear the cliché of working with kids. In fact, that was not the case. It was actually fun, and I actually enjoyed being around those kids. It was a positive experience for me.
AVC: What was the most surprising thing that you learned acting opposite kids?
RD: In a way, I think working with good actors makes you better, so I’d rather work with a very good actor than a mediocre one. And kids, they’re not even really acting, you know? Our oldest kid that we had on the show was 3, and the other one was 6 months. They really help you let your guard down, and you have to be real with them. I guess it was surprising in that I felt that they helped draw a better performance out of you in some ways.
And that their parents were lovely. I thought that actor kids’ parents would be scary weirdos, but in fact, since it legally has to be twins—it’s funny because I now have so many friends who are parents of young kids, and if you have twins, a fucking bomb just exploded in your life. If you’re a young mom with twins looking for something to do because your life has just been torn asunder by these two tiny little monster people, it’s actually not a bad thing to do. It’s kind of fun. You get to be out and among other people—so I’m actually quite sensitive to the young moms, parents of twins, who are like, “Screw it, yeah. Let’s go be in a show,” because that mom gets to leave the basement cell that she might otherwise be relegated to in rainy London, and go out and have some fun. That was an education for me because I had my small-minded view of what those people must be like, and I was delightfully proven wrong.
AVC: You’re in the U.K. right now: What do you hear from the people who live there about the U.S. presidential race?
RD: Oh God, they’re all horrified. People are like, “Is Trump really going to get the nomination?” People are disgusted, as they should be. I think they might be a little more amused because they’ll have to deal with the reality of Trump being the Republican nominee a little bit after Americans do. Because, sorry, whoever the president or possible president is has an effect on the whole world, so it matters. So, they care, but they’re not as scared as American people with brains are.
AVC: As an American person with a brain, are you glad that you’re out of the country while the election cycle is at peak madness?
RD: I so genuinely am, yeah. George W. Bush I hated from the get go, but I wasn’t like, “Oh, if he gets elected, I’m leaving the country.” No, I’m going to stick around and make a stink, and I’m going to try to improve my country and help it because it will need it with him in the office. I’m not one of those people who is like, “Yeah, whatever. Burn, baby, burn. I’m out of here.” I deeply care, but since it so happens that my work has me over here, and people are likely going to nominate Trump? Yeah, that’s perfectly fine with me that I am here.
AVC: Do you think he has a shot of actually being elected?
RD: A shot? Sure. I don’t think he will be, though. See, the thing is he is not an aberration. The Republican party’s policies—you can clearly see how they lead to him and his popularity. So, as such, they haven’t really known what to do with his offense, but once he gets the nomination—should he get the nomination, which of course is highly probable—then the tide will turn against him. Because let’s say the country is 50 percent Republican. That’s less than 50 percent of those Republicans who like him. But it’s all the Republicans that have spawned him, so they haven’t been able to really fight back against him, because that’s like punching yourself in the face. Once he were to get the nomination, I think that there would be weaponry figuratively trained upon him that he would not be able to withstand. Those weapons would include things like truth, sunlight, dissemination of easy-to-find information that would defeat him becoming the president.
AVC: Would you include comedy among those weapons?
RD: Oh, absolutely. Definitely.