Anneka Harry is a comedy writer, actor and producer who (in her own words) has ‘worked her batty off‘ to creep a foot through the door of an industry that’s infamously tough to crack.
Here are her how to’s for anyone keen to do the same –
1. If at first you don’t succeed, stop your moaning and have another bash
Between graduating drama school and now I have had around a bazillion jobs, approximately ten of them have been work I wanted and trained for. When you’re starting out everyone will bang on about how many no’s you will get and how you will have to deal with rejection. If you’re anything like me you will be secretly thinking that this will never apply to you. When it does it’s a right smack in the face. You will also probably continue to be smacked- the shovel gets heavier and the shoveller gets meaner. If you want it enough you will find a relentlessness that smacks it back.
2. If you continue to not succeed, put the vodka bottle down and keep going
Honestly, there are so many routes in that may not seem the most obvious (or even achievable) at first. The best move I ever made was to go and work in production at the BBC for a couple of years. At the time, although it was a related field, it felt as though I was giving up the dream. How was I ever going to make that audition if I wasn’t in a dead end job that I could just walk out of when Hollywood called? Very quickly I realised I could leave a trail of comedy scripts around the corridors, make long lasting friendships with producers (who have since given me acting work) and make some actual proper dosh. Most importantly, I learnt how things work on the other side and this knowledge and understanding has been priceless.
3. Work out exactly what it is you are chasing and then chase the shiz out of it
When I first started concentrating on all things comedy I was in a double act called Bob and Blonde. We hadn’t got a clue what we were doing and we started writing and performing sketches whilst working together in what can only be described as a dungeon in Basingstoke (a very crap filing cupboard temp job.) Confused as to just what the hell we should do next we wrote to our comedy idol, Jo Brand, for advice. In all her loveliness she replied and asked us ‘what exactly is it you want to do?’ We realised, rather embarrassingly, we didn’t have an answer – we just wanted to do EVERYTHING. Whilst this is probably true for anyone with a creative brain and an ounce of ambition, cut some corners by finding your focus, your niche, your USP. Then rinse the life out of it.
4. Watch comedy until your LOL breaks
Recently I was working on a television show and one of the big cheeses admitted that they did not own a tele. I found this completely blasphemous. You need to know what is out there and what is happening to make your own wonder. Watch everything and anything and keep an eye on what’s popular and why. And support your peers! There’s nowt worse in my opinion than people who seem to go out of their way to not give others a helping hand or round of applause. Be nice goddamit.
5. Fake it til you make it (then fake it a bit more)
I’m not saying lie your way to the top. But definitely find ways around the ‘rules’. There are age old hierarchies and steps to success that I have found to be full of shortcuts if you are confident enough in your own blagging abilities. For example, in the world of tele there is a real set route to Producer. It’s quite a feat to go from PA, to Researcher and jump straight to Producer. This was my detour because I knew I could do it so I told people that’s what I was and bumbled my way through it. The possibilities are endless when you’re essentially your own boss – you call the shots. I have always maintained that nobody really knows what they are doing anyway so throw yourself in at the deep end and ask for help when you’re really clueless! If you are confident and hardworking the only way is up, baby.
6. Booze before Schmooze
I recognise this is the second tip that has included alcohol in the title but don’t get it too twisted. I am simply referring to the importance of establishing a work/life balance, especially when you’re self employed and constantly striving for career progression. I have also always hated and avoided any sort of ‘networking.’ If there is an event crammed full of people who you admire or could bump you a rung up the ladder, see it as an opportunity to have a blummin good chat and a laugh. If you go with the attitude that you want to make friends rather than contacts, you will enjoy yourself and it usually means you make greater ‘work connections’ in the long run too. Basically, I spent a period of time more concerned with work than actual life and it was mega boring. Chill out, relax, go on holiday (Cruise before schmooze?)
7. Write the theme tune, sing the theme tune, produce the theme tune, mime the theme tune, blog the theme tune
The rise of the writer/performer is something that has obviously sprung from all the frustrated creatives who simply want more opportunity. The best lesson I learnt from three years at drama school (apart from how to act like a pygmy-three-toed-sloth in animal studies) is to ‘make your own work.’ If you sat around waiting for the right part or for your agent to call or for something to land on your lap, you would most probably shrivel up and die. Take the plunge and stick something on YouTube, do a gig, write that thing you always talk about – you’re suddenly creating your own little empire. The more that people can click, see or enjoy, the better.
8. Be a massive great walloping cliche
‘Be yourself‘ and ‘write what you know‘ are cliches that often get bunged into these lists. As someone who likes to create as many varied projects as I can all at one go (and as quickly as possible once the idea springs to mind) I rejected this advice for a long time. I wanted to look outside the box and find characters and worlds that were way out of my own realm. Although this certainly has its positives, the work which I was finding success with was never too far removed from me. I think if you’ve naturally got funny chops, half the work has already been done – you just have to apply it, mould it and use it to put your own stamp on whatever you do.
9. Did I mention that a thick skin is a real bonus?
Despite being the author of a piece like this and feeling in a good place along my journey to give advice to anyone just starting out – I’m swinging bulldozers and clawing at doors daily. I’ve managed to stay afloat and find alternative ways of keeping sane and fed but I’ve not even made a dent yet. What I think I’ve learnt is impatience is a virtue because it means you will keep on getting back up but you also have to learn to go with the flow.
10. Remember – it’s supposed to be a larf!
This would be my top tip. Enjoy every minute of it, even the shitty times. I try to remember how amazing it feels when something works out – it’s always way worth it. Good luck and get in touch if you want to – I give you full permission to stalk me on the internet.
Words: Anneka Harry