Written by Cariad Lloyd

Voices

Odd Job: Jo Sargent

What the fern does a producer actually do? Cariad Lloyd talks to comedy producer Jo Sargent (in her only ever interview) about nurturing talent in her Odd Job.

Jo SargentJo Sargent is a producer. A producer of such quality and brilliance that she helped make French & Saunders, Absolutely Fabulous and Miranda come into being and so basically we all owe her a pint.

What did you want to be as a child?

I was drawn to the arts, but I’m not artistic – I just loved that world. I was brought up abroad so I didn’t even have much contact with it; our neighbour was a newsreader and I was so excited about her being vaguely in that world. I even wrote some radio plays, but I never thought I’d work in it. I had very vague thoughts about being in the RAF, but for the RAF you had to have high level chemistry or physics or something, so I went to the LSE because Mick Jagger went there and then I discovered he’d only been there for six months! I didn’t really think about it properly…

How would you describe what you do?

Well, I’m a producer. I’ve set up a company [King Bert Productions with David Walliams and Miranda Hart] and foremost I’m a producer – I think that’s about facilitating people and getting stuff done. A lot is about seeing where the gaps might be.

I work a lot with writers/comedians so obviously they’re very clever people, but it’s the process of taking ideas from them and making them happen. Also being very bossy! It’s quite good if people are a bit scared of you… although I suspect they never really are.

How did this become your job?

I started out as a secretary. Years ago I went to see Dave Allen; he sat there with his Guinness and talked for two hours – I thought, “I would never be able to do that”, but it was incredible. I didn’t know there were jobs around that, so I ended up as a secretary – got a job at Channel 4 and made it happen. I was just utterly determined to get into the comedy department. The guy who interviewed me said I was the least experienced but I was the most determined!

I did an economics degree but then I did a shorthand typist course and that’s what got me the work. Then I worked up from there. Production secretary for Humphrey Barclay at first, and then I started developing ideas, working with Henry Normal.

“Going to the LSE, a lot of my contemporaries went into the City and were doing very well and I wasn’t, I was typing and doing shorthand. But I’m pretty sure that, except for a few who became dotcom millionaires, I must be the happiest now.”

I went to the Edinburgh festival; I didn’t even know that existed – when I went I couldn’t believe it! I saw Henry Normal performing and we developed some ideas for Channel 4. Really, I started producing by helping people create ideas.

Has being a woman affected your work?

Jo is a good name to have! I think producing involves so many different things: it’s a little bit about filling gaps; in a way it’s nurturing. So maybe being a woman is helpful to that. There’ll definitely always be grown-up meetings where you’re not taken that seriously, but who wants to be in grown-up meetings?

What’s the best thing about your work?

Working with fantastically brilliant people. No day’s ever the same, no show’s ever the same. Miranda is brilliant: to be around her, working on her sitcom was fantastic. Also David [Walliams]’s extraordinary. Working with very, very funny clever people – who wouldn’t want to do that?

Funnily enough, going to the LSE, a lot of my contemporaries went into the City and were doing very well and I wasn’t, I was typing and doing shorthand. But actually I’m pretty sure that, except for a few who became dotcom millionaires, I must be the happiest now. I’ve got the best job you can have. I’m really, really lucky.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

The thing about producing is that people don’t give you much advice because there isn’t any formal training. As a performer there’s a gang of you at a gig, you’re together in the dressing rooms, but producers don’t have that. Producing is quite hard in that respect.

“Working with very, very funny clever people – who wouldn’t want to do that?”

I don’t think anyone gave me any specific advice; you pick up things from people and of course it depends who you’re working with. It’s about knowing when to step in, knowing when to say, “Are you sure we should do it like that?”, having an overview – producers don’t give each other advice because we don’t work together.

One of our big concerns at the moment is there’s a shortage of producers. There’s lots of talk about training but no real funding. I was very lucky when I was at the BBC; I could carve out bits of money to train people – Nerys Evans who’s now a brilliant Commissioning Editor at Channel 4, Sarah Fraser who’s joined us here as Head of Development – we would have them on projects as APs (assistant producers).

I was there providing that opportunity, but as budgets get cut it’s harder and harder to create that. So maybe I’d say persistence – I had that job at Channel 4 for a week and I thought, I’m staying here, I don’t care how. So I behaved really well and typed really well. It’s determination without being a twollop.

@ladycariad

Cariad is part of improvised comedy troupe Austentatious!, who you can (and should) catch at the Udderbelly festival on 15 July. Click here for details or visit austentatiousimpro.com.

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Written by Cariad Lloyd

Cariad is a comedian, actor, improviser and writer. Her dream is to one day pay off her student loan and to finally find the perfect concealer. @ladycariad