‘Succession? I thought, I don’t want to write for a load of white men who are evil’

A career working on Succession, Veep, The Thick of It and other hit TV shows has given Georgia Pritchett a taste for finding the humanity in even the worst characters

  Succession:  Georgia Pritchett says the the fun and challenge of writing for this series was digging deep into the characters and trying to find compassion and understanding for the way they behave.

Succession: Georgia Pritchett says the the fun and challenge of writing for this series was digging deep into the characters and trying to find compassion and understanding for the way they behave.

 

You may not be familiar with Georgia Pritchett, but you’re certainly familiar with her work. As a comedy writer, she has written for television shows like The Thick of It, Veep, Succession, Smack The Pony, Not Going Out and Have I Got News For You, not to mention films like Spice World. She has collaborated extensively with comedians Tracey Ullman and Miranda Hart.  

Having spent the bulk of her career writing for other people, she has now written her own book. My Mess is a Bit of a Life is a memoir that details Pritchett’s so-called “adventures in anxiety”. Told through short comic vignettes, it’s a funny, engaging and poignant read that sees Pritchett reminisce on a life defined by worry, insecurity and anxiety. 

At the beginning of the book, Pritchett explains how she was at a low ebb with her mental health and decided to see a doctor. Unable to vocalise how she was feeling, the doctor suggested that she write down some of the things that were worrying her. At first, she was reluctant to follow through on the advice. 

“Being British and not good at talking about feelings, people had often said, ‘well, you know, you should write them down then’ and I always thought that’s a terrible idea,” she says. “That’s my job. If I was a dentist you wouldn’t say: ‘What will make you feel better is doing a lot more dentistry.’” 

But she gave it a go and started writing about her childhood, which she found illuminating. “It’s always fascinating to try and sort of step outside of the mess that is your life and look back,” she says. “I think you feel quite a lot of sympathy for yourself.”

At the behest of her agent, she kept going. “I remember my agent suggesting that I do this and I told her in no uncertain terms that the last thing I would ever be doing would be writing a memoir,” she says. “I put my foot down very firmly about that.” 

She attributes her change of heart to “lockdown madness”.

Georgia Pritchett has written for many hit television shows, including The Thick of It, Veep and Have I Got News For You, and has just published a memoir. Photograph Antonio Olmos
Georgia Pritchett has written for many hit television shows, including The Thick of It, Veep and Have I Got News For You, and has just published a memoir. Photograph Antonio Olmos

“[It was] some sort of crazy lapse in judgment because I love writing for other people,” she says. “And I love other people saying my words but to suddenly write about myself is a whole different thing. It’s harder to hide.”

From London, Pritchett grew up in a creative household. Her father was a journalist with The Daily Telegraph while her mother wrote books. As a little girl, she was a worrier. In the book, she describes being fearful of everything from the tooth fairy to speaking aloud in the classroom. At secondary school, she failed all her exams. She enrolled in teacher training college and quickly decided it wasn’t for her. After working an assortment of jobs, she started contributing jokes and sketches to Weekending, a satirical current affairs radio show. This set her comedy career in motion and she soon graduated to shows like Spitting Image, The Real McCoy and Have I Got News For You. 

Outside of television, she wrote for comedians Lenny Henry, Ronnie Corbett and Jo Brand. In the book, she recalls suggesting to Brand that she lean away from making jokes about her weight and appearance, by then a signature feature of her stand-up routine. Brand then explained that if she didn’t make such jokes, an audience member would likely shout something abusive at her and so it was better to pre-empt them. 

More unlikely writing gigs followed. She contributed to Spice World, the 1997 film starring the Spice Girls. She wrote for S Club 7’s children’s TV show. While working on the animated satire 2DTV, she got to work with George Michael on his video for Shoot The Dog, which famously portrayed Tony Blair as George W Bush’s lapdog.

In the meantime, she settled down with her partner, Catherine Bailey, affectionately referred to as The Moose. The couple have two sons, both of whom were diagnosed with autism as young children. Pritchett writes movingly about her family life and specifically the experience of parenting non-neurotypical children. “There’s very little anywhere on TV or in literature about what it’s like to have a child that has any kind of difference,” she says. “There’s something like a billion people in the world with some form of disability and yet we never see their lives or the lives of their families kind of reflected. So I felt that was important.” 

In the 2000s, she was brought in by Armando Iannucci to write on The Thick of It. She subsequently worked on Veep, the award-winning comedy series starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the vice-president of the United States. It was on Veep that she first got the opportunity to write with other women. Prior to then, she had always been the sole woman in the writer’s room. 

‘Pathetically validating’

“I feel sort of embarrassed to say it but it was so incredible,” she says. “To sit opposite someone who kind of looks a bit like you, dresses a bit like you, has similar life experiences and frames of reference and attitudes. It’s so pathetically validating. It makes such a difference. And it must be what it’s like to be a white man every minute of every day. To turn on the telly and just see yourself everywhere sort of reflected back at you must do such incredible things for your self-esteem. It really blew my mind to be with other women and made me realise what I had been missing.”

She says the US is far ahead of the UK when it comes to hiring women. 

“It’s taking a long time to change over here,” she says. “I think there are more women stand-ups now, which is great. And there are female writer-performers now like Miranda Hart or Sharon Horgan or Phoebe Waller-Bridge. But just to remind ourselves, that happened because they felt no one was writing good parts for them. They’re actually performers who took to writing. Hopefully things will continue to improve and maybe at a faster pace.” 

It was on Veep that Georgia Pritchett first got the opportunity to write with other women. Photograph: Colleen Hayes/HBO
It was on Veep that Georgia Pritchett first got the opportunity to write with other women. Photograph: Colleen Hayes/HBO

Writing on shows like Veep has meant that Pritchett has come face to face with some of the most powerful people in the world. In the book, she recalls meeting Joe Biden while filming a sketch in The White House. Upon copping that she was English, he told her about how much his mother, an Irish-American, had hated the English. He then gave her a tour around the vice-president’s residence. 

“When I look back to sort of being in Obama’s White House with Biden, it just seems like a different era in such a wonderful time,” she says. 

The Trump White House helped put an end to Veep, she says. “Because our fictional president was a sort of horrible, ruthless, venal, corrupt, lying, bastard,” she explains. “But she had a sense of shame and she got punished when she did those things. And then suddenly, that seemed very quaint and twee because reality had kind of outdone us.” 

Now that Biden is back in The White House, she is hopeful that he can restore stability to the country post-Trump. 

“He’s in charge and I kind of think, thank God,” she says. “He’s like the sort of political equivalent of a sweet cup of tea that we all need to get over the shock and trauma of the last years. He’s a safe pair of hands and he’s a decent human being with a moral compass and with respect for his fellow man, which suddenly seems like such a treat to have in a leader.” 

People who work in the political sphere have often told her that shows like Veep and The Thick of It are very true to life, a revelation that can sometimes be rather dispiriting. “You think you’re exaggerating for comedic effect and then it turns out you’re basically writing a sort of realistic documentary and that wasn’t the aim,” she laughs. 

Now she writes for Succession, a show loosely inspired by the travails of the Murdoch family. The third season is in post-production and due to air later this year. Like Veep and The Thick of It, it gives her the opportunity to write for characters who are decidedly immoral. 

‘Soft spot for Roman’

“Succession was interesting because when I was first asked to do it, I thought, ‘I don’t want to write for a load of white men who are evil and ruining the world’. And then actually the fun and challenge was digging deep into their characters and exploring their psyche and trying to find compassion and understanding for the way they behave. I’ve really enjoyed that. It’s a good challenge to try and make people feel for characters that you might not really have any sympathy for normally.” 

Does she have a favourite character to write for in Succession? 

“I’ve got a little secret soft spot for Roman,” she says, referring to the young, cocky son played by Kieran Culkin. “I’m a bit of a champion of his ‘romance’ with Gerri.” But the entire ensemble is remarkable, she says. “It’s just wonderful when you write something and then it’s sort of realised by actors like that who take it to a whole level that you weren’t even anticipating.”

Next up is The Shrink Next Door, an Apple TV+ show based on the acclaimed, chart-topping podcast of the same name. It explores how a psychiatrist manipulated and exploited his patient over the course of several decades. Will Ferrell plays the patient while an against-type Paul Rudd plays the malevolent shrink. 

Pritchett adapted the series and served as the showrunner.  

“I wanted to try to find compassion and understanding and work out how did this happen? How did this psychiatrist take over this man’s life for 27 years?” 

“Will Ferrell gives a very straight, incredibly moving performance. And of course, Paul Rudd doesn’t get to be the baddie very often so it was perfect in that part because he’s so charming. 

“It was quite a good way to spend a pandemic. With these incredibly talented people making something I hope that will not be what people are expecting from a Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell project. Something a bit more thought-provoking and profound than they might be expecting.”

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