In the writer’s room with Paul Mather
The Canadian scribe, who joins the team of CBS's new sitcom Friend Me talks to Playback about his move stateside and writing comedy scripts.
Canadian screenwriter Paul Mather is a vet of Canadian sitcoms, having created Men with Brooms, co-created and exec produced Dan for Mayor, as well as producing and showrunning on multiple episodes of both Corner Gas and Little Mosque on the Prairie.
His latest gig has taken him stateside, joining the writing team for new CBS comedy Friend Me, a half-hour multi-cam comedy about two friends who have just moved to L.A. (there’s a stretch!). Mather talked to Playback about the move, and what he’s thinking in the writer’s room
PB: How did you come on board Friend Me?
PM: I started looking at the U.S. side of the market maybe about this time last year. So I came down here and found an agent [Mather is repped by ICM and Meridian Artists]. I just kind of came down and started meeting people. I met people at networks and studios and production companies and I bet I did 50, maybe 60 meetings, from September through until May, and they just wanted me to get my face out there for people to meet me, and luckily I’d done enough stuff in Canada that even if they hadn’t seen the shows, they had heard of shows like Corner Gas, Little Mosque, that they were intrigued to meet with me. So I just put my face out there and they read my samples and I ended up getting a job.
PB: What prompted the shift in the first place?
PM: It’s something I’d been interested in for a while. I’d had no opportunities to come down here; it had been back to back shows [in Canada] which had been fantastic. When Dan for Mayor and Men with Brooms, which were the two previous shows I’d done – they’d been on simultaneously – when they ended, rather than look at developing in Canada, I thought, ‘It’s time to take the plunge and look at the U.S.’ It seems like people come down here to kind of start their careers, whereas I’ve been doing a lot of TV before getting my feet wet down here. I think they were happy to see someone with some experience. It’s definitely that, it wasn’t my personality [laughter].
PB: How do you approach writing a script? What goes through your head when you’re in the TV writer’s room?
PM: Desperation. There’s writing by yourself in a room, which is part of the job, and that can be one of the most frustrating things you can try to do. It just never gets easier and you always feel that you’re inept at it – I find it very grueling. And then writing with a group of people is a whole different thing. It’s social. I come from an improv background, so it’s a little like doing improv. I really enjoy working in a good writers room; you get this zeitgeist going where the group mind of the writers room is smarter than any individual person, and that’s a fun thing to be a part of. The nice thing about TV writing in general is you get to combine those two things. You get to go off and work by yourself and then you get to come into a room and work with other people, and I think if it was just one half of that, it would be less fulfilling. It’s kinda fun to switch between the two modes.
PB: Does your improve background help when writing – both in the process and in trying to come up with something funny?
PM: Improv didn’t make me an actor; it turned me into a writer – because you’re up there telling stories….and you have to win the audience over each time. So you do that for a few years and you’ve told hundreds and hundreds of stories over and over again with a very real and immediate sense of what’s working and what’s not working, and there’s not a lot of room for B.S. It’s almost like a very blue collar or crafty thing, in the sense that it either works or it doesn’t. It’s like fixing the pipes in someone’s house. I think having that experience and then rolling it over into TV really prepared me for TV. I think it’s certainly not the only way get into it, but it’s a good way to get into it, it’s a good way to acquire those skills.
PB: Is the barrier to entry lower or higher for Canadians in the industry looking to work in the U.S.?
PM: I think psychologically, the barrier for Canadians might be higher than the reality. I think I was surprised in a certain sense, how seriously I was taken down here – it’s refreshing. I think they appreciate talent and a show is a show, and they like to discover someone new, so it’s something for people to think about. It’s not good to have to leave your country…but if I can’t work in my industry, then I have to go. I think it’s good for people to realize that if you’ve got talent and experience, or even just talent, it’s an option. Especially if you’re young and mobile and can go back and forth easily there’s no reason to not try to play both sides. Because I think I just think that’s the reality of the way the Canadian industry is right now, it’s a little imperiled, and I think people are smart to kind of hedge their bets.