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Funny Peculiar
by Katy Darby

A TV studio, set up for an interview. The presenter, ANGIE, is talking quietly into her earpiece.
ANGIE: Hang on – he’s here now? He’s definitely here? Thank God for that. What’s his excuse? Didn’t say anything? Does he? I thought he was in AA? Fallen off, huh? Well, if he’s already had a few, one more won’t make much difference. Better than him throwing a tantrum anyway.

Turns to director, offstage
OK Bob, he’s backstage, we can go.

ANGIE turns to the audience and speaks as though to camera.

ANGIE: Good evening and welcome to Bleeding Edge. My guest tonight is a comedy legend in his own lifetime. Ever since he burst onto the scene in 1991 with his contentious one-man show Die Laughing, his meteoric rise has been unstoppable. Despite being dogged by controversy, including the break-up of his marriage, drugs allegations and rumours of a homosexual affair with the bad boy of black comedy Chris Morris, each fresh crisis has seen him emerge stronger – and funnier – than ever. In 1994 the Sun newspaper launched an appeal which raised 1.2 million from outraged readers who were willing to pay him to leave the country. His forthcoming autobiography Read It And Weep is shrouded in secrecy and although it hasn’t even hit the shelves yet, it has already pre-sold over 100,000 copies. He’s been called sick, brilliant, an arsehole, and Britain’s foremost satirist – and that’s just by his agent. Please welcome Ben Woodrow!

Huge applause. BEN enters, kissing ANGIE on both cheeks and playfully smacking her on the arse. He has a London (Streatham) accent.

ANGIE: Ben, thank you for being here.

BEN: Pleasure’s all yours, Angie.

ANGIE: (laughs indulgently) Absolutely. Now Ben, we’re very lucky to have you tonight because you’re famously antagonistic, especially towards the press. Do you think they’ve given you a raw deal over the years?

BEN: Well, I give as good as I get, to be honest, Angie. Every performer knows that the press is a many-headed beast that demands human sacrifices and the juiciest morsels are the people at the top.

ANGIE: But you haven’t always been at the top, have you?

BEN: No, no, I started off in Streatham.

ANGIE: But it was in Edinburgh that the drama critic of the Daily Telegraph discovered you?

BEN: Yeah, Jamie Benson. We still send each other hate mail.

ANGIE: (Dutiful chuckle) But he famously dubbed you "the country’s funniest man", so perhaps in a sense you owe your success to media championing of your talent?

BEN: I think I’ve got what I deserved.

He takes quarter-bottle of vodka out of his pocket and swigs. Angie ignores it professionally.
ANGIE: Now, I’d like to talk about your debut, a comedy about a man who discovers he has terminal cancer and decides to go on – well, I suppose you’d call it a shooting spree.

BEN: (Gun fingers) Bang on.

ANGIE: Since then you’ve starred in four very successful series of your own show on Channel 4. You’re famous for pushing the envelope, but what made you want to write that breakthrough hit?

BEN: I wanted to challenge people’s perceptions of what could be funny. And if they didn’t laugh, I wanted to be able to tell them to fuck off.

ANGIE: And you did.

BEN: Frequently. Jamie was in the front row and I told him to fuck off several times.

ANGIE: But he was enjoying it?

BEN: Oh yeah, he was laughing his head off. I just didn’t like his face.

ANGIE: After Edinburgh you toured the show …

BEN: Yep, I took it to hospitals up and down the country.

ANGIE: Specifically cancer wards …

BEN: They say laughter’s the best medicine.

ANGIE: In ‘92 Die Laughing transferred to London where it won an Olivier Award, and secured you a record-breaking film deal – did that assuage your anger against society?

BEN: Not at all. I was actually quite disgusted that so many people would find someone’s descent into madness, murder and eventually suicide amusing.

ANGIE: But not surprised?

BEN: People are bastards.

ANGIE: … which of course became the title of your long-running series.

BEN: (Shrugs) It’s funny cos it’s true.

ANGIE: During the second season of PAB your wife Sonia divorced you, citing mental cruelty and infidelity with your collaborator Melissa Banks.

BEN: That’s right. We’re still in touch, though.

ANGIE: In fact, you live next door.

BEN: We agreed it would be best for the kids. They come over every other weekend.

ANGIE: Yourself and Melissa parted company in ’98 after a protracted legal battle that you turned into the hugely popular satirical musical See You in Hell – do you include that episode in your book?

BEN: I do set the record straight.

ANGIE: And you’ll also be spilling the beans about the Chris Morris affair?

BEN: (Grin) Unless he comes across with the hush money, yeah.

ANGIE: I can’t wait to read it. People are suggesting it’ll knock the thirteenth Harry Potter off the Christmas no. 1 spot.

BEN: I hope so, I’ve got a grand riding on it at William Hill.

ANGIE: Of course, your gambling addiction’s been well-documented. In interviews you’ve talked about your upbringing in a children’s home, your time living rough on the streets of Streatham … your involvement with hard drugs and of course the spell in prison where you first read Aristotle’s Poetics – which inspired you to try your hand at comedy. A lot of critics claim that your extraordinary experiences give you your unique and blackly comic perspective on society.

BEN: Maybe, but that’s not the whole story –

ANGIE: In fact some have pointed out that your notorious private life has contributed significantly to your iconic status.

BEN: I don’t think that’s quite –

ANGIE: Comparisons have been made to other troubled comedians: Sellers, Cook, Hancock … you must be sick of hearing the phrase "tortured genius".

BEN: Oh, I never get tired of it.

ANGIE: Would you say pain is the inevitable price of fame? Do you think there’s always a catch in any prominent career?

BEN: (Solemnly) There is a catch, yes.

ANGIE: (Paydirt!) Wow! And you talk about this in your book? There are revelations the public has never heard before?

BEN: They’ll have read a lot about me, but this will knock them sideways.

ANGIE: What’s the catch, Ben?

BEN: Well … the catch is … that it’s all bollocks.

ANGIE: What is?

BEN: (Happily) The whole tragic brilliance, tears of a clown thing. It’s all nonsense.

(Ben’s voice is slowly becoming more RP as he speaks)

ANGIE: Your ex-wife might disagree –

BEN: Sonia? Don’t be silly, she’s watching at home with the kids. (Waves at the camera) Hello Frankie! Hi Poppy!

ANGIE: At … which home?

BEN: Oh, it’s just the one house now. We had it knocked through years ago but we kept it quiet.

ANGIE: You reconciled?

BEN: We never split up! The whole thing was a set-up. I love my wife very much.

ANGIE: But surely your drinking problem must have divided you?

BEN: No, no, that was all made up. Here, taste.

She tastes the vodka.

ANGIE: Evian?

BEN: Volvic. Sorry, I’m a bit of a water snob. I’m really a complete lightweight, I just have the odd sherry at Christmas. Which is a good thing, because you can’t drink on the Atkins diet.

ANGIE: And the affair with Melissa …

BEN: Oh, she’s a close friend of ours. She babysits for us all the time. And her tiramisu is to die for.

ANGIE: But … er … the – what about the gay fling rumours?

BEN: Oh, I spread them. Chris suggested it though. He’s such a giggle.

ANGIE: So … your unhappy childhood?

BEN: Parents are alive and well and living in Richmond.

ANGIE: The prison diaries seemed so authentic …

BEN: Did a bit of TIE in Brixton just after leaving RADA.

ANGIE: (Disbelieving) Are you saying that you’ve kept all this secret from the British press for nearly fifteen years?

BEN: No, I’m saying they didn’t want to find out. TV’s Woodrow Is Teetotal Nice Guy – not much of a headline, is it?

ANGIE: But why did you spread vicious lies about – yourself?

BEN: My agent suggested it. He said the public are suckers for tortured comic geniuses so I’d better find something to be tortured about. It’s all in the book.

ANGIE: Is it?

BEN: Yep. I wanted to change the title but my agent said Read it and Laugh wasn’t as catchy.

ANGIE: So the true price of fame is marital bliss and a really nice house?

BEN: For me, anyway.

ANGIE: Er … well … on that bombshell, let me thank my guest, formerly controversial comedian and well-adjusted family man Ben Woodrow.

BEN: Can I just say something?

ANGIE: Of course.

BEN: Thanks. (Turns to camera, earnestly) Mum, if you’re watching – sorry about the swearing.