Comic Potential: Interviews

This is an interview with Alan Ayckbourn about Comic Potential from 2002 held in the Ayckbourn Archive. No other details relating to it are known.

Archive interview with Alan Ayckbourn

Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

Simon Murgatroyd (1998)
Archive Interview (date unknown)
How did you come to write Comic Potential?
Alan Ayckbourn:
I guess I've been building to it. There have been the big social plays like A Small Family Business, A Chorus of Disapproval - to a certain extent - and certainly Man of the Moment. One of my recurrent themes, of course, is sci-fi. It happened in Henceforward… and it certainly happens in the kids' work that I do. I'm always interested in the future, but I hope in the way that the best sci-fi is; only in the way, in so far, it is in the present. I mean, what current trends would present if they were left to run.

So I combined three of my interests: the nature of the future, the nature of what makes humans unique and that continuing fascination with our attempt, for the first time in our lives, to create something which is potentially, if not emotionally, but certainly intellectually and logically superior to us.

Then within that I identified two things that always strike me as peculiarly human. One is, of course, our ability to fall in love; which, apart from the courtship rituals, is fairly unique. Our love has got quite sophisticated surviving very often courtship and sex. Many people often enjoy each other's company long after that hot passion has disappeared.

It is also our ability to laugh and I think the two are often alive in the lonely hearts' columns of the papers. You often see this phrase GSOH - Good Sense of Humour - and even people with absolutely no sense of humour of their own are always desperate to meet man/woman with GSOH which somehow seems to be a special quality we all seem to want.

And it ties in with all those advertising clichés of people, of a couple dining together and suddenly laughing together, then suddenly going very serious, that laughter in love leads to sex and all that. That, combined with everything else, decided I wanted to write a story about an artificial brain that first develops a sense of humour then belatedly a sense of love.

I was able to incorporate two of my favourite bete noirs like the world's worst sitcom where they have now been so minimalised that they just have mechanical actors doing it. And my other great love is that it is great this technology in sci-fi books but most of it doesn't work! We spend our time hammering our fists against computers because the things have hidden a day's work within them and refuse to reveal it. I always loved the Ridley Scott option when he writes and films sci-fi in Blade Runner it is all bashed up technology.

So they were the parts coming together. I then just needed to set it and the natural place, initially, was a television studio. The robot, the actoid, was fairly established. Always when you're writing unfamiliar worlds like that it always makes sense to introduce someone in the cast that is also unfamiliar with it. Otherwise you face the extraordinary prospect of all sorts of people who have lived there for years explaining everything to each other which never quite rings true: 'So explain to me Douglas just how do you switch on the television set?'

In your future, television soap operas are generated and performed by robots, does this reflect your view on them?
I think the ones I'm really against are the endless soaps. The daytime soaps particularly. There are good ones but a lot of them are dreadful. Badly played, under rehearsed and quite just awful. As I say you have to accept there are some good ones but certainly in America they are appalling with sets falling over.

Is it true you fan of silent movies and they, in part, inspired Comic Potential?
What I liked about the silent era was that it was new. People were able to come into it fresh and able to work before the studio system kicked in. You read about Buster Keaton making a film and actually stopping because he didn't know where to go next and playing baseball in the back lot with the company crew and actors. Then someone would shout: 'The Guv'nor's got another idea' and they would go back for another ten minutes, you know. Can you imagine that happening now on a multimillion pound budget? In a sense, if you're shooting
Star Wars, fair enough but comedy does require a little air around it or it just gets swamped and that's why I argue there are potentially few good comedies coming out of Hollywood. They make good other things but comedies are usually overkill. You need to blow up a building just to get a small laugh.

One of the most interesting characters is the media mogul, Lester Trainsmith, who talks via a ‘speaker', Marmion. What are your thoughts there?
He's a bit like the Wizard of Oz. He's very happy, the mogul, to be most of the time, if not invisible, at least low-key. I worked once, very briefly, with an American producer who hated actors. He never used to see them at all, if he could avoid it. Sometimes he couldn't avoid it but he hated contact. He would always make contact through other people because he was a complete recluse, almost!

I found that most peculiar that you had gone into the theatre presumably because of the joy of theatre, you finish up not wanting to see the most essential ingredients of it in any form, not even in performance. He took me to the theatre to see one of his shows. He said ‘Did I want to see it?' I said ‘Yes'. He said ‘I'll walk you down there and get you a ticket'. I said, ‘Are you coming in? He said 'No I never go further than the Box Office. I only want to see what's in the till. That's all I'm interested in.'

Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.
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