A few years back, Rob Delaney, a comedian with 1.25 million Twitter followers, tweeted at Sharon Horgan, star and writer of the BBC's award-winning Pulling; the pair had instant chemistry. Shortly after their first in-person meeting, Amazon's comedy series Catastrophe was born out of their shared personal experiences. The brutally honest and wickedly hilarious series is a critical hit in both England and the States. It features strong supporting work from the indelible Carrie Fisher, whose notable comedic talents have long broken her out of the Lea mold once cemented by her Star Wars fame.
Fisher brought her internet-famous dog, Gary, along to the Tribeca Film Festival to join Horgan for a lively conversation with Vulture editor Alex Jung, as part of the inaugural Tribeca Tune In program. "This is the weirdest interview I have ever done," began Jung, in light of the precocious dog on stage that wouldn't sit still in his chair and eventually settled into a comfortable lying position on the floor. Gary is an Instagram sensation and follows Fisher everywhere, including the Star Wars: The Force Awakens red carpet; Boston, where Fisher just received an honorary degree at Harvard; and on screen in Catastrophe. Fisher teased that they both slept with Sharon to get their roles. "No sex," she jokingly clarified. "Just sleeping."
Fisher plays the hilariously clueless and "awful" mother-in-law to Horgan's character, who's also named Sharon. "We still can’t believe you said yes," exclaimed Horgan, who recalled how she and Delaney were "fangirling" Fisher on set when the Hollywood veteran shot her initial scenes. "I loved the show," explained Fisher. "I wanted to play a horrible person instead of talk to Harrison [Ford] and carry guns all the time."
Writing appears to have saved both Horgan and Fisher, particularly in light of the dearth of strong female roles available in their industry, which worsens after a certain age. Fisher insisted Horgan play a Star Wars villain, specifically the only one she would allow Leia to be killed by, to which Horgan responded, "I'm too old." "There are not a lot of choices for women past 27," added Fisher. They have to write the roles themselves in order to play them, and both said they preferred writing female stories. "I wouldn't know how to write for men," said Fisher.
Yet Catastrophe is a collaboration between Horgan and Delaney, and they don’t divide the writing along gender lines. "We sit side by side and start talking," said Horgan of their process. They tell each other “horrible stories” and “love writing for each other.”
The audience was treated with a snippet of Catastrophe's second season, what Jung called "the boner clip," in which Horgan's character refuses to have sex with Delaney’s, leaving him with an erection that remains throughout their argument. "It's hard not to write a sex joke," said Horgan. "We're not judgmental. It wouldn't be fun if we had prejudices." Another crucial factor in writing effective sex jokes: "not trying to be sexy."
While much of Catastrophe is based on Horgan's and Delaney's personal, albeit separate, experiences as married parents, "listening to people on the street" and her "friends' stories" provide some of the show's best material. Jung praised her for writing a female character unconcerned with being liked. "It's a British thing, but people are less scared here now," Horgan explained, qualifying, "I don't want to watch a show about assholes. You need to write something else" to add layers to a character.
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The first audience question addressed the differences between Horgan and Delaney and their on-screen characters. "They're much nicer,” she said, which drew some laughter considering they're not very nice at all. "Rob's wife tells him he’s nicer on screen than in real life." Personally, she's more reticent to verbalize her problems and talks things out, which makes up the bulk of what we see on Catastrophe.
On how she broke into the entertainment world, Horgan said, "I tried to act for years, and it didn't work." She then decided to attend college and received a degree in English. From there, she embraced her love of writing and "was naturally drawn to comedy" before establishing herself as "an actor who wrote and could create her own stuff." "If you stick around long enough,” she reasoned, "someone will give you a sitcom." Being as bitingly funny and unflinchingly open as Horgan is might also do the trick.