Cult Q & A: Emma Kennedy

❉ This week, it’s Stevenage’s finest, creator of The Kennedys and Celeb Masterchef champ. She doesn’t lend out her records.

Which record wouldn’t you let out of your sight?

None of them. People are thievey fuckers. I NEVER get ANYTHING back. Sue Perkins is the absolute WORST culprit. I would never let go of my Muppet Christmas Album. Not even if lives depended on it.

“I was SHIT at cooking before Masterchef and now I am AWESOME.”

What were you like at school?

Very sporty, very enthusiastic. I loved school. I used to volunteer for everything. I think because I was an only child, school was my playtime and I couldn’t bear to miss out on anything. I loved learning, I loved making friends. I was very sociable. My mother, who was the naughty one in the family was forever trying to get me to bunk off. I was having none of it. She was a teacher. Not at my school, thank God. I loved school so much I used to wear my school blazer AT THE WEEKENDS (with the collar turned up).

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Didn’t have a clue. It didn’t dawn on me that I could have a job I liked until I was 28. I was a washer upper, a chambermaid, a gardener, a waitress, I worked in a launderette, a shop, a hotel, a publishing firm and then became, almost inexplicably so, an actual lawyer. Ludicrous career path.

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

Go and start writing as soon as you leave university and don’t become friends with this list of people. *hands teenage self a piece of paper with some names on*

What are your best and worst qualities?

Best – I am fiercely loyal. Pathologically so. And I’m very generous.

Worst quality – I will forgive but by god, I will never forget. If you cross me, you’re dead to me.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Sorting underwear at a launderette. It was biblical.

Who were your heroes growing up?

French and Saunders, Wood and Walters. Fact I have now become good friends with one of those people is really quite something.

“Q made me feel chaos was to be embraced.”

What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?

Oh this is hard. Drama: Brideshead Revisited had quite the impact on me. For comedy: The Day Today. But best ever? Tiswas or Q. Both made me feel chaos was to be embraced. Oh wait: Ripping Yarns’ Tomkinson’s Schooldays is a masterpiece.

Monty Python: Is it funny?

Only some bits. Don’t ever be tempted to watch it again. The films are brilliant but just bask in the happy memories of the sketch show. Don’t scratch that itch.

What was the last film that you watched?

Frozen. I had an enormous Sunday lunch and needed to lie on the sofa and think about nothing. Yes, I sang the song. It’s impossible not to.

What film could you watch every day?

American Movie. I still don’t believe it’s a documentary.

What’s your favourite film soundtrack?

The Royal Tenenbaums OR The Draftsman’s Contract

Which four actors would you like to see in a film together and which genre?

Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Juliette Binoche and Kate Winslet in a film called Turn and Look Sad. I bloody LOVE crying at films. When these four cry on screen, it’s like the sun has gone in forever.

Which film, book or record last disappointed you the most?

La La Land. Fuck me, it was dull.

Which record would you recommend and lend to a friend?

Steady on. If they had never heard it, I’d recommend Dusty Springfield’s Dusty In Memphis. Lend it? Are you having a laugh?

Which record wouldn’t you let out of your sight?

None of them. People are thievey fuckers. I NEVER get ANYTHING back. Sue Perkins is the absolute WORST culprit. I would never let go of my Muppet Christmas Album. Not even if lives depended on it.

Which book would you save if your house was on fire?

My copy of the Codex Seraphinianus. It only took me 30 years to get one.

What’s your definition of what makes something cult?

It has to be niche. It has to be borderline unpleasant. It has to be vaguely incomprehensible. And there probably needs to be facial hair.

What are you reading at present?

Bobby Baker’s Diary Drawings.

How did you come to write your first book, How To Bring Up Your Parents?

I was asked to turn my blog into a book. So I did. It’s a bit rubbish. You can tell it’s a mangled blog. It was good practice though.

Your second book, The Tent, The Bucket and Me, about your childhood growing up in Stevenage in the 1970s, was published in 2009. Six years later you adapted it as the TV series The Kennedys. Can you tell us a little about how you came to turn the book into a TV series, what was the process like?

The BBC contacted me and asked to buy the rights. Then we entered into a long development process turning what was a book about holidays into something that could be a returnable series. This is vaguely hilarious to me now because that process took three years and then they cancelled it after one series. HA HA HA.

You started your comedy career as a writer and performer at Oxford, working alongside the likes of Armando Iannucci, David Schneider and Lee & Herring. The comedy world has always been predominantly a boy’s club; have you encountered much misogyny or sexism in your career and how did it affect you?

Not with those boys I haven’t. Richard Herring is the greatest feminist I know. I have experienced sexism. I was in a R4 show for a long time and the producer was just awful. He told me to “shut up, you’re just the girl”. I stood up to him after he told us we couldn’t mention a massive political event that had just happened and he sacked me on the spot. He wouldn’t have dared do that to one of the boys.

Who are the female comedy writers/performers that have inspired or influenced you over the years?

French and Saunders, Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Sharon Horgan, Julia Davis, Jessica Hynes. And recently I have been very impressed with a newcomer Daisy May Cooper. Keep your eye on her. She’s going to be super.

You’ve appeared in a number of TV serials, from regular roles in People Like Us and This Morning With Richard Not Judy to the Jonathan Creek episode Miracle in Crooked Lane, where you had to lie in a bathtub full of porridge – what are the highlights and lowlights of working in TV, and how do you feel watching yourself on TV?

Highlight: For sheer joy, it’s been everything I’ve done with Richard Herring. We just cry laughing all the time.

Lowlight: being woefully miscast in an episode of Casualty. Dear God, what were they thinking?

In terms of watching myself – I’m critical in the sense that I will watch it to learn. What did I do wrong? What can I do better?

For the past three years, you’ve starred in the animated CBBC series Strange Hill High. What’s it been like? Can you tell us a little about it?

Oh, I LOVED doing this. I adore animation. It’s so liberating. I became involved after the creator was watching me chatting to Tracey Thorn on Twitter. Apparently I made her laugh. So she contacted me and asked me if I’d like to be involved. I sent a sample script in and Josh Weinstein of The Simpsons read it and hired me. That was a sharp thrill. I love The Simpsons. Then, at the writers meetings I was tasked with bringing Becky Butters to life and we all very quickly realised that I was Becky Butters and that was that.

What has been the most rewarding project in your career so far – and why?

In terms of a life skill – Masterchef. I know I won it and everything but I was SHIT at cooking before it and now I am AWESOME.

Creatively, The Tent the Bucket and Me. I’m proud of that. It’s a good book, that.

What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?

Never give up. (Mrs Graebe, 1986)

Who has had the biggest influence on your career, and how has that person changed your life?

Richard Herring probably. He was the person who has consistently asked me to do stuff with him. We just get each other. I proper love him too. Like, properly love him. He makes me laugh in a way no other single human being on the planet can. Yesterday we filmed a sketch where I was dressed as a Welsh woman dressed as Abraham Lincoln who had apparated into his living room to try and have an affair with him in front of his wife. It was fucking ridiculous. We’re almost 50. If it wasn’t for Richard, I’d never have pursued a creative life.

Do you think it’s true that you should never meet your heroes?

No. I met one. And I loved her. She let me wander round with her holding her hand too. It was magic. (Emma Thompson)

What would you like to be your epitaph?

She was no bother.

We are at a bar, what are you drinking?

I’ll have a glass of Chablis thank you.

What are your three favourite cities?

Rome, San Francisco, Venice

What do you do to chill out?

I’ve just moved to the country. IT IS SO EASY TO CHILL OUT. Potter round the garden, walk the dogs, chat on Twitter (I LOVE CHATTING ON TWITTER).

As a writer, what element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?

Fixing a problem. I love collaborating with producers and script editors. When you’ve collectively cracked it, it’s a great feeling.

What are you working on at the moment, do you have any upcoming projects?

I have a drama for BBC called Love Again. Proper big fuck off drama. Grown up shit. That’s about to go up to the big Controller. I’m writing a new series for CBeebies called Woofy the Wonderdog. And The Kennedys has been picked up by 20th Century Fox so I’m about to start on that.

Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to talk to us!

My pleasure!

❉ You can follow Emma Kennedy on Twitter: @EmmaKennedy 

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