Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan: I’ve mined my life for comedy

“We started looking at our own lives and the genesis of our relationships and we thought it might be nice to see the beginning"

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Sharon Horgan’s comedy has always had a darkly realistic edge. Her best-known show to date, BBC3 sitcom Pulling, chronicled the chaotic lives of three 30-something women with a penchant for cheap wine and disastrous flings. At the time, Horgan described her character Donna as “an incredibly selfish character… which is sort of based on me”.

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Nine years later and Horgan is drawing on her own experiences yet again, this time for the C4 sitcom Catastrophe, which follows an Irish woman (Horgan) who falls pregnant after a one-night stand with an American (played by Rob Delaney) she meets in a bar. The pair wrote the show together and while they insist their characters’ exact (and very awkward) predicament is fictional, the couple’s bungled attempts at a relationship are very much inspired by real life.

“The original idea was two people in a relationship, with a family, who are doing everything they can not to get divorced,” explains Horgan. “But then we started looking at our own lives and the genesis of our relationships and we thought it might be nice to see the beginning. How quite often they come out of drunken shenanigans and there’s no basis for anything that involves living together for decades.”

Now happily married to advertising executive Jeremy Rainbird with two daughters, Sadhbh (11) and Amer (six), Horgan’s lifestyle has changed dramatically since her Pulling days but, she insists, that doesn’t make it any less ripe for comedy.

Catastrophe is probably the most similar thing that I’ve done to Pulling because it’s the thing that I’ve mined my life for. Pulling was a time of my life when I had nothing. I hung out with brats and drank a lot and had loose, unsatisfying relationships so this is quite different but equally satisfying to write about. Even when you get yourself together, it doesn’t mean everything’s OK. It’s the same old thing just with a mortgage and responsibility.”

It’s not just Horgan who has evolved over the past decade – so has comedy. While back in 2006 Pulling was hailed as one of the few sitcoms where women were the stars rather than one-dimensional girlfriends, the TV schedules now feature far more female-led comedies, from Jessica Hynes’s Up the Women to Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical Raised by Wolves (coming soon to C4). Although proud to be considered a pioneer of British, female-led sitcoms, Horgan is tired of fielding “the woman question”.

“There’s an incredible amount of great comedy that wins awards and gets viewers that’s made by women. It doesn’t feel like it’s a thing any more or that it’s something you even have to talk about,” she explains shortly.

Rather than obsess over gender, Horgan believes the most important part of any sitcom is that its characters are complex, flawed and, above all, real. Catastrophe, she hopes, will appeal to anyone who has ever navigated the relationship minefield. “We’re just trying to show that humans say the wrong things or people deal with things badly. Really dark things happen in any relationship and we didn’t want to steer clear of that because they’re the things you have to get through and still like and fancy the other person.” 

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Catastrophe begins on Channel 4 tonight (Monday 19th January) at 10.00pm