Jason Cook started writing jokes to escape the daily grind of the Merchant Navy. Yet when his BBC2 sitcom Hebburn was given the green light for a full series earlier this year, Cook found himself back working 16 hour days, this time in the writing room. Producing the North East sitcom has taken up the past year of his life, but now the series is done and dusted – with an October air-date in sight – Cook is back doing what he loves most: stand-up.
Andrew Dipper sits down with the man behind Hebburn to talk about his time working on the sitcom, returning to stand-up for a special charity show on Saturday 15th September, and what’s next for Jason Cook…
AD: Hi Jason. First thing’s first, what can you tell us about the Stand Up For Cancer Support fundraiser on Saturday 15th September?
JC: I lost my dad to cancer, and I think the Macmillan people do an incredible job of supporting sufferers and their families. They’ve managed to get some great comics (myself excluded) for the show, and it’s going to be a seriously great night for a wonderful cause. It’s strange as a comedian because we don’t actually do anything tangible, so being able to help out with my daft jokes and stories seems like the least I can do.
AD: Any idea what kind of material you’ll be doing? Will you be bringing back some of your older material (from My Confessions) about your dad?
JC: I don’t know yet. I’m working on some new material at the minute for a new show in 2013 – and some telly stuff I’ve got lined up – but I couldn’t leave out my dad as it’s because of him I’m doing the gig. It should be nice to do those stories again; it’s been a while since I’ve done a few of them and they are some of the best stand up I’ve ever done.
AD: Have you played the Tyne Theatre before?
JC: Yeah, a couple of times. It’s a great room for comedy, and the acoustics are amazing – you hardly even need a mic at all. But it’s a big venue so we need a lot of support to fill it, so, if you’re reading this and can’t make it to the show, then please tell someone and hopefully they can come in your place.
AD: How have you coped with the fact your live work has had to take a back seat this year in favour of writing/editing Hebburn? Are you looking forward to getting back on stage?
JC: I’ve still been gigging, sort of. When we were filming we were working 16 hour days so I just didn’t have the chance; but as we got into editing and the final stages of the sitcom, I went back to live work. It’s much more enjoyable for me now, after the intense experience of writing and re-writing, and doing tiny little edits on the day when we were filming. The quality of the language in my stand up seems to have gone up! Thank God, I was worrying I was starting to sound like a drunk Jimmy Nail…
AD: How did Hebburn come about then?
JC: I’ve always told stories about family and where I grew up on stage. Then Channel X, a TV company, approached me to write something and out came Hebburn. It was a chance to put a lot of the stories I’ve done on stage on to telly, and that’s not a chance you get very often. Once we had a script ready, we were given a chance to do it live as part of the Salford Sitcom Showcase at the brand new MediaCity development the BBC has just opened in Manchester.
There were six sitcoms on show and they picked up two of them, Hebburn and Citizen Kahn that debuted the other night. That was in October and they commissioned a second script almost immediately, then we started to get the cast in place and by January we had the go ahead for a full series.
AD: What can you tell us about the cast? Is it easier or harder to work with your friends (Cook worked on Hebburn with pals Chris Ramsey and Steffen Peddie)?
JC: On this project, no. Everyone is so invested in the show that we have worked very, very hard on it. We’re a little family of our own now and whenever I am in London, Manchester or Newcastle we are always meeting up for (too many) drinks. It’s an incredible cast though, so very talented; as a writer they were so easy to write for; we’d just run a scene a couple of times then if I felt we could get some more gags in they just poured out. The frustrating thing was not being able to write them down fast enough…
AD: With less than two months until the show airs, are you starting to feel the pressure yet?
JC: Of course. This is a huge thing. Not only for the careers of some of the lesser-known cast, myself included in that, but it’s also the first Geordie sitcom in 32 years. And it’s set in my hometown. I don’t think you can get much more pressure than that.
AD: Finally, what’s next for Jason Cook?
JC: Loads of stuff – some I can talk about, other stuff is still very hush, hush. I’m working on a radio series at the minute, and there’s a couple of movie and new sitcom ideas I’ve got in development. I’m recording an episode of John Bishop’s new stand up show tomorrow, which should be fun, and there are a few other telly stand-up things on the horizon.
Oh, and I’m going to the gym lots. Nothing makes you want to lose weight more than seeing yourself on a massive screen in an edit studio for a couple of months.
BBC2 sitcom Hebburn debuts on Thursday 18th October. More information on the Stand Up For Cancer Support fundraiser at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle, can be found here.