Life & Culture

Meet a true comedy master (and it's not who you think)

Dan Patterson created the TV satire show ‘Mock the Week’ and ushered in a golden age for stand-up comedians


I have only just turned on my Dictaphone and Dan Patterson is already at it. The creator of TV comedy behemoth Mock The Week fires off the first of a series of snappy one-liners more than worthy of any of the comedians on his show. Sadly, it is not printable, but suffice to say I now feel very differently about my Dictaphone.

Patterson has every reason to be in a laughing mood. A new BBC2 series confirms what every aspiring stand-up already knows: Dan is the man behind modern British comedy.

That programme was Mock the Week Looks Back At… the start of series of themed clip collections using material stretching back to the first series of the satirical quiz show in 2005. It is part well-structured rehash, part testimony to the power Patterson wields. As he puts it: “The nice thing is we’ve got a lot of people who used to be in the show who maybe were less well-known than they are now.”

The names dotted through our conversation underline just how major an understatement that is: Michael McIntyre, Frankie Boyle, Ed Byrne, Russell Howard. These are just some of the comedians who now tour to packed stadiums who all got their TV break courtesy of Patterson.

The effect a comedian’s material has going out to three million viewers on a prime-time BBC slot is not lost on him. “We’re quite a good show for catapulting people,” he admits.

Take Russell Howard. He appeared on Mock from 2006 to 2010, throwing out lines such as “Mr Darcy, I do believe you’ve poked me on Facebook”. He now is the writer and star of his own BBC programme that is itself in its seventh series and he performed to 200,000 fans in his most recent arena tour.

For producer Patterson, the success of his comics is a mixed blessing. “The difficulty is we then want them to come back on and they say: ‘Well, we don’t need to now, we’re superstars’.”

Although Patterson is now the kingmaker, getting his foot on the ladder was not straightforward. After university, he went to the US, doing a Masters degree and then starting a PhD to give him more time to find a job in the improv scene. When he finally landed a role at BBC Radio producing comedy, he was elated. “I can’t describe how exciting it was to start doing that,” he says. “My parents always quote me as saying: ‘They’re paying me to do this job and I would do it for free’.”

That enthusiasm paid dividends. His Bafta-award winning improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway? moved from radio to television, multiple production credits followed, from Room 101 to Never Mind the Horrocks, and Mock the Week is now in its 11th series.

And where did this love for creating comedy begin?

“Habonim,” says Patterson. “I liked doing little shows and skits and plays and that was very much nurtured in Habonim. I certainly wasn’t going to get girls through my looks, so I had to do something.” He was not the only one — other alumni of the Jewish youth group include Sacha Baron Cohen and David Baddiel.

The opportunities, Patterson explained, were unrivalled: “When I was 18 we did a celebration of 50 years of Habonim. I co-wrote a show and we went round the country and ended up at the Shaftesbury Theatre.”

Indeed, Mark Leveson, the man Patterson works with day-in, day-out, first became his friend on Israel tour.

“We still have a bit of an anarchic thing going on which I think is derived from youth group,” says Patterson.

He clearly treasured his youth group days and, at 52 and married to Laura Marks, senior vice president of the Board of Deputies, he is obviously delighted that their own three children are experiencing camp, tour and year course themselves.

It is impossible to talk about the careers that Mock the Week has launched without talking about Frankie Boyle.

The Scottish comic is best known for his loud, check suits and for a joke that insinuated the glamour model Jordan’s disabled son Harvey might sexually assault her.

That particular crack was not made on Mock the Week, but Boyle brought controversy to the show with jokes about the Queen’s nether regions being haunted and saying swimmer Rebecca Adlington “looks like someone who’s looking at themselves in the back of a spoon”.

Nonetheless, Patterson remains a Boyle fan. “He is an absolutely brilliant one-liner comedian, he’s very extraordinarily gifted in doing that stuff, but he likes to push the boundaries and he couldn’t always do it on our show.”

“We put out partly what I feel we should and partly what the BBC allows us to put out, and Frankie wasn’t comfortable with that,” he says. “By the end he was a little frustrated and I kind of sympathise.”

Boyle left the show in 2009, complaining that the it was too restrictive of his controversial style of humour and did not cover enough major news stories.

In typically forthright style, he told Time Out: “It was all b*****ks. Especially, when you consider we’re fighting two wars, there’s swine flu and the global economy is going down the toilet. People expect you to talk about this — and what do the production team send us? A picture of Rebecca Adlington.”

As the producer, this is an issue Patterson faces every day — he says with the BBC there is “always a back and forth”.

“It’s a terrifying show to do because you’re totally reliant on the news. We always joke the minute we come back on for a new series, the news moves on from the lovely sexual shannigans of the LibDems to pestilence, famine, stories we can’t touch.” He is almost distraught that they have not been filming during the horsemeat scandal — “it would have been something the comedians could have really run with”.

As Patterson slips into producer mode and starts weighing how he would have dealt with the Pryce/Huhne speeding ticket saga, I thank him for his time, say I love that he met Mark Leveson on Israel tour and tease that his story is “JC gold”.

“Do you think there’s someone in the community called JC Gold?” he shoots back. Almost definitely, we conclude.

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