A Gloomy, Awkward (But Ultimately Lovely) Interview With Twitter’s Favourite Comedian Rob Delaney
"What would you call the movie of your life?" "Just 'A Bag Full of Garbage', or something."
Rob Delaney is tired and cranky. With three kids under five and a successful TV show it’s understandable that he’s “barely” coping. “You know, it’s super, super hard,” the American comedian says on the line from London where he lives with his family. “Work is hard. Home is hard. Everything is hard right now.”
Delaney is heading our way as part of The Interrobang: a “festival of questions” hosted by Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre and in the opening night session he’ll be discussing, well, a bunch of random shit. At least that’s what can be gleaned from an event called “Are cockroaches attracted to human tears, and if so, why?”
With 1.2 million followers, Delaney is best known for his Twitter presence — he was even the first and only recipient of Comedy Central’s ‘Funniest Person on Twitter’ award. This makes him a great fit for the event and he’ll no doubt be complemented by co-host Ben Law: the much-loved local writer whose stinging wit and predilection for joking about poop matches Delaney’s regular schtick. But speaking about it all today, he’s lacking that signature style of humour.
“Well, we’re just going to be fielding crazy questions from people, so we’re going to try to do it all in an entertaining manner,” he says in under 140 characters.
Is This Going To Be A Catastrophe?
It’s difficult to reconcile the subdued voice on the phone with that of the same actor who’s so effervescent and charming in Catastrophe, the anti-rom-com rom-com that aired on the ABC earlier this year. The second season commenced on the UK’s Channel 4 recently, with Sharon (Sharon Horgan) and Rob (Rob Delaney) picking up where they left off… sort of. All I’ll say is they’re pregnant and bickering.
The first season of Catastrophe follows Sharon — an unsatisfied teacher — and Rob — an unsatisfied ad man — after a week of predominantly unprotected sex in London while Rob’s on a business trip. As the tagline sums up (“One week. 25 times. Two condoms”) Sharon accidentally falls pregnant and the pair commence a relationship. Their oh-so-charming escapades and filthy mouths crafted by an incredibly funny script co-written by the show’s stars, make Catastrophe one of the best shows of the year. The comedy is so tight and the relationship between Sharon and Rob is so convincing that it feels like Horgan and Delaney had been working on the project for many years. Delaney corrects this assumption.
“I think we met in 2010. We wrote the pilot at the end of 2012, then we started it. So, yeah, not too long really,” he explains (in 112 characters).
Apparently Delaney and Horgan originally bonded on Twitter through their shared sense of humour then decided to work together. This wasn’t revealed during our chat though; like much of Delaney’s story, this little factoid was sourced elsewhere.
Delaney does however respond graciously to compliments about Catastrophe and his excellent performance. He acknowledges that the allure of the show, for viewers and for him as well, is how well the lead characters mesh. When asked about whether he foresees Catastrophe lasting beyond its current two seasons, he’s slightly, slightly optimistic.
“I think what I like about the show isn’t what’s happening to the characters. It’s more how Sharon and Rob deal with things, so I do feel like it could have life for quite a while. I think people tune in because of how they are with each other. That’s my suspicion.”
When questioned if Sharon and Rob’s offspring will feature more as the show goes on, he seems unconvinced. “I don’t know how you could have children actors playing roles of any giant significance in a show that I personally want to watch,” he says. The irony here is that Delaney is so clearly all about his family in real life. While he seems aloof about practically everything we touch on, the biggest thing that comes across during our conversation is just how much his kids mean to him.
“They have a massive, immeasurable impact on the show. They’re why I make it and living with them — being with them — makes me capable of writing with any kind of authority about parenting and marriage.”
Behind The Cynicism
Delaney’s career has gone from strength to strength since his widely-reported battle with alcoholism and mental illness — one which, in 2002, resulted in a pretty serious car accident and a stint in jail. Now Delaney is a sober family man just like Rob in Catastrophe, and has actively worked to destigmatise mental health. In 2010 he wrote a terrifically honest blog post about his personal battles with depression and when asked about it now he’s both generous and humble.
“It’s really important because depression kills people every day, you know? I can’t let that happen if I have any means to combat it,” he says, opening up. “I have to share what I’ve learned in living with my own depression with other people, so it’s incredibly important. It’s indispensably important. I have to do it because I know how painful that stuff is, and I know how fatal it is… Shame on me if I don’t share that at every opportunity, you know?”
Soon after, in an attempt to lighten the mood, I bring the conversation back to The Interrobang Festival. Much like the random questions he’ll be answering on stage, I throw him a classic dinner party conversation starter: what would you call the movie of your life?
“Oh God, who knows,” he says. “Just A Bag Full of Garbage, or something.” He sighs dejectedly. “Hopefully something stupid and, either something really pretentious or just scatological or embarrassing, something that my kids can see and say, ‘Wow, that’s really a shame, Dad’.” His strained monotone disguises the comedic effect; the cheat-card question didn’t work.
Delaney tells me he’ll only be in Melbourne for two days because, given his current lifestyle, “that’s responsible, right?” While the whirlwind trip won’t give him much chance to explore, he seems to be looking forward to our food culture: “I love to eat almost as much as I love to breathe oxygen, so we’re going to have at least seven or eight meals a day. And get a little sunshine.”
So maybe, on a better day, when he’s basking in the glow of our sunny skies and feasting on some Aussie treats, Delaney will decide his biopic should be called something more earnest or hopeful. Because, while he self-deprecatingly declares he’s “just some guy”, he’s actually Rob Fucking Delaney and for the most part he’s using his popularity for good, no matter how crabby he was today.
Stephanie Van Schilt is editor of The Lifted Brow, co-host of The Rereaders podcast and former TV columnist for Kill Your Darlings. Her writing has featured in various local and international publications including Crikey, The Big Issue and Cineaste. Follow her Twitter on @steph_adele.