I don’t think I’ve learned more or tried more new things (non-drug related) than I have in the last 12 months. At some point while I was making TV shows and throwing myself into strange, new hobbies like yoga, it occurred to me that I had an opportunity to take the favourite parts of the person I was and set fire to the rest on the way to becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be. I think I finally understand what Stevie Nicks meant when she sang about the “seasons of my life”. First came the storm, in the form of the end of a long term relationship, then came the most productive 12 months of my life, both personally and professionally. I’m incredibly grateful. For both the storm and the new growth that came afterwards.
I’m writing this on a Jetstar flight from Auckland to Melbourne. I’m flying home for the weekend to attend the Antenna Awards – Australia’s Community TV Awards. A show I created, Silent Comedy, is nominated for 2 awards: Best Comedy and Outstanding Creative Achievement. Fun fact: 5/6 of the shows nominated in the Best Comedy category were ones I wrote on. I feel very lucky to have had such a great place to learn TV Comedy writing as RMITV/Channel 31. I owe my career completely to those places, as well as a couple of influential people along the way, like Tim Ferguson, who got me started on the right track and always encouraged me to think big. I’ve never been to a proper awards ceremony before, let alone one where I’m nominated for something, so I decided to make the trip. Plus, it will be nice to see the family again and eat some free food.
I’ve made 3 TV shows in the last 12 months. Silent Comedy, Mainland Tonight and Season 2 of Emmylou Loves.
Mainland Tonight cast and crew
Turns out being a showrunner and having a work/life balance are two things that go together like North Korea and every other country. So I ditched the 100 hour work weeks and decided to try living a more balanced life. A friend from high school introduced me to yoga and it’s kind of changed my life. I practice about 6 days a week, but not with any outcome in mind – I just do it because it’s fun. Why do people we went to high school with continue to have such a profound impact on our lives?
Another major step in this search for a better balance was moving to Auckland three months ago.
My bags on my first day in Auckland, outside the LearnCoach office
Despite there being far more comedy writing jobs in Melbourne than Auckland, for some reason, despite never having lived there before, most of my work has been coming out of Auckland for the last 4 years. All I’ve wanted to do was write comedy (since I gave up on becoming a professional golfer almost 10 years ago), so when my friend Dave Cameron offered me a full time job writing funny things for his education company LearnCoach, I thought I’d jump at the chance and make the move. I’m really good friends with his wife and brother too, so knowing I’d have that base to build from was also really important in the decision. I also thought it was about time I got paid properly for what I do. For years, my dad has been appalled by my willingness to refer to 2 minute noodles as ‘dinner’. Which is ironic, because further questioning rapidly reveals he used to live off them too when he was starting off as a graphic designer.
Anyway…I’ve been writing funny things every day for LearnCoach for the last 4 years, because it was fun. And because I had a completely blank canvas to work with. I could just be myself to a captive high school audience that started off as a couple of thousand and has turned into hundreds of thousands. Turns out the stuff I find funny tends to be what students find funny too. 4 years after I started, LearnCoach is now the fastest growing and most used education company in New Zealand and the humour is one of the first things that students, teachers, parents and investors say they love about LearnCoach. I feel very fortunate that my comic voice became the company’s and not the other way around, as normally happens when you’re a writer for hire. Turns out there is an upside to essentially working for free for 4 years! High school students have incredibly good bullshit detectors and I think they can sense that LearnCoach isn’t a company that’s trying to be funny because it’s cool. We’re just funny, because it’s who we are.
It’s extremely gratifying that since I started doing this, a couple of other education companies have also made humour a key part of their brand. It feels great to have played a small part in starting to change the traditionally very stuffy and serious world of high school education. It’s LearnCoach’s mission to create a digital school system for the world, so it would be fun to do this for students the world over some day.
To give you an idea of the sort of things I write at LearnCoach, here’s something I did this week.
While this may be the first time in my life I’ve ever been paid properly for what I do, let it be noted that the first 6 weeks I spent in Auckland I slept on a fold out couch in the office. Once a 2 minute noodle-loving comedy writer, always a 2 minute noodle-loving comedy writer.
So while I spend 4 days a week at LearnCoach, I spend the other one writing for New Zealand’s longest running TV comedy show 7 Days. I’ve also been looking for other gigs that might be fun to do. I had a great meeting with Lewis Road Creamery the other day, the makers of the best chocolate milk I’ve ever tasted. That meeting has been a couple of years in the making. I would absolutely love to do some writing for them. I feel like my voice would fit seamlessly into theirs, plus I could help them out with polishing off any chocolate milk that’s about to go out of date. It’s a service I’m happy to provide free of charge. The diabetes, not the writing, to be clear.
To continue the scattergun approach of this blog post, last night in Auckland I attended the taping of the final episode of the year of 7 Days. It’s the 5th year I’ve written for the show and I feel like it’s probably been my best yet. Writing 30+ episodes a year of a topical comedy TV show is the best job I’ve ever had and the most rewarding. Five years in, it’s just as challenging as the day I started.
Some personal highlights from the show this year:
– The 10th anniversary show at the Aotea Centre, where I got to hear what 1700 people laughing at something I’d written sounded like.
– Getting a NZ sheep fucking joke on the show. An especially proud moment, being the only Australian writer.
– Attending the live taping every week since I arrived in Auckland and getting to know the cast and crew a little better.
I even got to be a part of the cast and crew photo! I’m the one who doesn’t know where to stand for a cast and crew photo.
I’ve always been a strong believer that writers should be obscured and not heard.
On top of all this work-related stuff, I’ve been on some brilliant hikes here in NZ (Bethells Beach was ridiculous) and met some incredible people already. I also made a bunch of new friends in Melbourne before I left. I’ve always wanted to meet people like this and have friends like this and it’s completely overwhelming that these people are now in my life.
I don’t fully understand how or why so many good things have happened to me lately. I have a feeling they’ve always been happening, but I’ve just gotten better at noticing them. Thank goodness for fold-out couches, 2 minute noodles and Jetstar legroom keeping me humble.