James Harris says…

Oh God. Teesside art, culture and budgerigars zine Making It Look Accidental issue 2 launches tonight and there’s an interview with me in it. Criminy! Way to alienate your key demographic. I really was in a tetchy mood that day.

The rest of the zine, incidentally, is brilliant. Funny, rude, life-affirming stuff. Buy it! Read it! Just remember that when I talk about the human race, I’m probably not referring to you.

Get both issues of Making It Look Accidental here.

Borat: Working hard for your funny

Apparently it’s “interesting article” day on Ramshackle Charm. Here’s an interesting Vanity Fair interview with Dan Mazer, Sacha Baron Cohen’s long-time writing partner.

A particular eye-opener is the amount of work that goes in to creating a character like Borat:

How deep is the background for these characters? How many pages are we talking about?

We probably have a file of scripts and jokes that extends to about three thousand pages. We write so much material for each three-minute segment. And Sacha is brilliant at keeping it all sort of filed together in his head. He’s able to access any joke instantly and brilliantly. There are jokes from years ago that Sacha will be able to call on.

How important are the other elements for these characters? For instance, how much thought goes into picking out the costumes?

A huge amount. The outfits have to appear authentic for the characters. But at the same time they have to appear humorous and interesting. We test hundreds of outfits. We’ll say, “No, that hat is too much.” Or, “No, that ring is a little too eccentric.”

Of course, with Borat it’s a little different, because he’s worn the same outfit for six years and not washed it. So the decision to wear that suit is difficult only because of the smell.

The suit has never been washed?

Never been washed. Sacha goes to extremes with each character. If he’s playing Borat, he won’t shower the night or two before an interview. It’s an amazing devotion to detail. Even Borat’s underwear is authentic for the character. It has a Russian label on it, so that if Borat strips and somebody catches him, his underwear won’t say “Wal-Mart.”

The level of authenticity is incredible. Even the shit in the baggy was real in the Borat movie. With considerable debate, we realized it had to be real. We didn’t want to take a chance and have them call Borat’s bluff. We didn’t want them to say, “Hold on, this is fake shit.” Then, all of a sudden, our cover would be blown. So one of us had to muster up some shit for the bag.

So. Do you have what it takes? Would you shit in a bag for comedy? Hmm? Well, would you?

Me Me Me

Because this blog doesn’t contain enough me…

Here’s an interview with me done by Mr David Bussell (a talented sketch-maker, the bastard), and originally posted on the British Sitcom Guide’s Forums on 07/08/08.

You think you’re all that and a Toblerone, don’t you? Well lay it out for me, tough guy – what makes you King Shit?

Well, I got head-butted by a giraffe once, and lived to tell the tale. Writing wise, I’ve done a few short films, a few sketches, a few animations and some brilliant Christmas thank-you letters.

 But really, it’s the giraffe thing I’m proudest of. Lesson learned: if you’re looking up at a giraffe, and its head appears to be getting bigger, it isn’t.

I heard it was the other way round – that you nutted the giraffe for spurning your advances. Take it from me, sunshine, that big black tongue might look inviting but she’s only after your doughnuts.

I’ve been to your website. Pretty swish. You build that yourself or did you have a lackey do it?

You ever tried necking with a giraffe? Takes ages. Plus you get a crowd of people standing round going: “you missed a bit.”

I do the website myself, which is why it only gets updated sporadically. It’s worth doing, though, to have a central hub where you can stick your stuff. I’ve had a couple of jobs come through just ‘cos people have found me via the site.

Also we get a fair few hits from people looking for Shameless the TV show. I’m bracing myself for a cease and desist any day now…

You’ve gotten a lot of your stuff on the telly I see. Any special tactics or can shall I put it down to the sweet tang of your velveteen lips?

Oh, it’s not my lips. They’re more like terry towelling than anything.

Some of the telly stuff has come from producers spotting my films online. Shows like Totally Viral and Teethgrinder, which want YouTube-style shenanigans. Some pay, some don’t, but it all looks good on the CV.

The other TV has generally been the result of the late BBC Comedy Soup site. I uploaded a cartoon called “The Prophecies of Nostradamus” and it won their Funny Hunt talent search (incidentally, do you think that name was supposed to sound like “Funny C**t”?), and I got to go to a comedy seminar thingy in Manchester with all the other Funny Cu… uh, winners, which led to us all being invited to submit sketches to a new show which turned out to be Scallywagga.

Then someone saw Nostradamus on Comedy Shuffle and decided I must be an animator. Which I’m not, but I wouldn’t tell them that. So I’ve done some animations for BBC3 show called FAO3 and I’m currently working on a mini-series for Channel 4’s upcoming animation website www.4mations.tv

Oh, and I’ve sucked an awful lot of cock, obviously.

An awful lot.


You give it out for free all the time, I can tell. How frustrating is it for you to be expected to give your comedy away for nothing more than an elusive and often useless credit? Does it worry you that with the growth of ‘user generated content’ programmes like Teethgrinder, The Wall etc, that us funny f**kers will be expected to work even longer with no reward?

Good question. These shows can be useful for getting some exposure initially, but there comes a point at which you have to put a value on what you do, or what you do will be seen as having no value. In the case of Teethgrinder, they’re not paying but it’s a BBC credit, and I’m only letting them have old stuff which people can already watch for free on t’internet. Obviously, the hope is that some big-name comedy producer will be watching, and decide to stuff tenners in my speedos for me to go make some more sketches. Likely! But I wouldn’t make anything new for anybody else without getting paid for it. No more “sucky f**ky no dollar” for me.

I think I’ve reached the stage where I object to not getting paid for work that will generate income for somebody else. I’m still happy to write and film sketches for my own amusement though. And I’m happy to bung them online. It’s free love, baby.

You’re right, it was a good question.

You’ve some handsome looking videos in your collection. What’s the most you’ve laid out to see one made?

Most of my stuff is made for pennies, but…

I did a short for BBC3 a couple of years back, The Space Time Envelope, which theoretically had a budget of £3000, but I wasn’t allowed anywhere near the money side of things. They paid me with a £1 coin sellotaped to the inside of an envelope.

Moon Shot UK was funded to the tune of £900, and I was in control of that money which is why I have a £500 spacesuit hanging in my wardrobe.

And I’m currently in post production on a £4000 short film made as part of Northern Film & Media’s Stingers scheme. They took one look at my wardrobe and decided to keep me away from the money again, but it’s looking ok so far.

I’ve made this point elsewhere on the forums, but if you’re a writer it’s worth getting in touch with your local Regional Screen Agency – they want to give you money to help you in your career, and they may even give you money to write and direct a film. And having something concrete and professional-looking to show potential employers puts you ahead of the game straight away.

Turning up to meetings in a spacesuit is another way to get noticed.

I find knee-dropping at the end of the bit in Superstition when Stevie sings “When you believe in things – that you don’t understand – then you suffer-wwoaaoaoaoaaoaoaoaoh!” also does the trick.

Tell us, James, what’s the hardest you’ve screwed someone over in your relentless pursuit of success?

Steady on, Paxman! Is this the point where you draw back the curtain and say “And here he is, ten years after you ripped out his still-beating heart and ground it under your uncaring boot as part of your quest to be almost nearly successful: it’s your old writing partner Terry!”

So, Terry, obviously.

Other than that I’ve kind of poodled along at my own pace. I barely move fast enough to give someone a thumbs-up as they whizz past, let alone stick a knife between their shoulder blades. Not that I wouldn’t if I could, you understand. What I’m saying is, if we’re both in the queue to meet Mr Comedy Cashbags, don’t turn your back on me.

Already forgotten your name, friend.


(ps I am sad today. Send balloons.)