Life & Culture

It’s good news for us when things go bad

We talk to the man behind some of the nation's favourite news quizes


Nothing pleases Dan Patterson more than an MP scandal. An Independence referendum is guaranteed to put a spring in his step, and if someone important does something shocking and no one dies, Dan will be doing cartwheels. Yes, news that bitterly disappoints the rest of us is the lifeblood of Dan's BBC 2 improv panel show, Mock The Week and, ahead of the new series launch on Tuesday, its co-creator was - as he put it - "on shpilkes".

"The worrying thing about the news is that it runs out so quickly," says Dan. "During the six weeks we are on TV, we are reliant on the news and if the news is slow we don't have anything to joke about. Traditionally, the minute we go on air the news turns distinctly horrible and that's a nightmare."

"Horrible" is Patterson shorthand for wars, famine, death or abduction which are all deemed contentious and off -limits in Mock The Week, along with any sort of global epidemic and Isis beheadings.

"We just don't know what we are going to talk about when these things dominate the news agenda," says Dan, who really should be celebrating as the show he created with Mark Leveson is having its tenth anniversary.

That's 10 years of cerebrally- slick show host Dara Ó Briain inviting the UK's top stand-ups to do their comedy best in rounds labeled ''Headliners'', ''Wheel of News'' and my own favourite, ''If this is the answer''.

When Mock The Week launched, Tony Blair was still Prime Minister, Sven Goran Eriksson England's football manager and David Cameron, a little-known Shadow Education Secretary, so they were off to a flying start, and this has continued with viewing figures consistently hitting the mid-millions.

With only the news to worry about, it could run forever, I remark "Let's hope," replies 55-year-old Patterson who refreshingly is still at the "what to do next" stage of his life. "There's no reason why it won't continue as Have I Got News For You has been going since 1990. Our Twitter feeds suggest that those who love the show really love it and I think it improves every series as the panellists have got more comfortable. With any show, it takes time to get to grips with what is working."

Over the years, MTW has had its controversial moments, most notably with panel member Frankie Boyle who pulled no punches and was eventually sacrificed. There were also gripes about a dearth of women on the panels.

"But not any more" defends Dan P reeling off the female roster which includes Sara Pascoe, Katherine Ryan and new broom, Ellie Taylor.

For 20 years Patterson used to go to the Edinburgh Festival to spot new talent, but now there's YouTube and a staff of comedy fiends at his company to go in his place. Fittingly for a man who believes he should be sponsored by Rennie Indigestion tablets, his company is called Angst productions.

"Know thyself," chuckles Patterson who, apart from pushing MTW, is also keen to mention his live comedy improvisation show Whose Line Is It Anyway, which is scheduled to run at The Adelphi Theatre from June 20- July 5.

"I've never had both shows on at the same time, but it is going to be a lot of fun with original host Clive Anderson calling all the shots and a line-up that includes Colin Mochrie, Josie Lawrence, Greg Proops and Brad Sherwood who are reuniting 16 years after the Channel 4 show was cancelled in the UK."

When Patterson took Whose Line to America in 1998, it was a monumental hit. This was good news for Dan, his wife Laura (Marks) and three children, Louis, Sally and Raphi as they loved being in LA where they could live the outdoor life and be members of the fabulously-named Temple Israel of Hollywood.

"It was a brilliant community counting Leonard Nimoy as a member and he did Jonah on Yom Kippur," recalled Dan. "I always thought he would hold up the Torah and say 'I can't hold it Scottie'"

And, says Patterson, "Jewish humour is just humour in a lot of American shows - you know that slightly aggressive, ironic, dark, depressive hypochondria that you see in Seinfeld, Friends, Family Guy…and I enjoy it. Being in America was very good for our Jewish identity and we were much more Jewish when we came back."

Not that he was lacking when he left, as the young Dan Patterson learnt about wise-cracking at Habonim just as did Arnold Wesker, David Baddiel, Sacha Baron Cohen and Mike Leigh.

"I look back at my youth" he says, "and think how lucky I was to have had that experience and been around like-minded people playing around with comic ideas."

Patterson is still playing around with comic ideas and following the success of The Duck House, his 2013 West End farce about the MP scandal, he is now trying to write another play. "I absolutely love doing theatre," he said. "TV is wonderful, but it's nice to do something different and get live feedback, but the writing is taking a while as I am moving slower than tectonic plates at the moment." And anyway, he has Mock The Week to plutz about as summer can be pretty thin news-wise.

"The FIFA story is great for us, so we will be praying to the God of News that it continues," said Dan and its likely that Sepp Blatter will oblige.

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