‘I’M just back from Iraq, where’s the cheesy pasta?’
By Stuart Findlay
NEVER dismiss the merits of that wordy essay, it might end up kick-starting your creative juices.
Scottish comic actor and writer Greg McHugh is now known as the star and creator of Gary: Tank Commander, but he admits that his time spent as a business student at Stirling University actually helped him on his way as a comedy writer.
“I didn’t really enjoy the degree itself, but looking back a lot of it was about learning how to structurally write a report,” he said.
“I think when you write a sitcom or a sketch, it inherently has a structure to it, and I think if you can discipline yourself to tell a story it’s the same as in a report.
“It’s a very boring story of course, about whatever element of business you’re writing about, but strangely I think doing that did help me to write.”
Greg, who was born and bred in Edinburgh, started off studying sport at Stirling, but moved into business and quickly realised that doing so left him more time for writing sketches.
He said: “The great thing about doing business was that it was basically out of a textbook so I spent the rest of the time writing, doing sketches and loads of very bad am-dram productions.
“I hadn’t done any standup at that point, but that’s where I think I really got my interest. I had always loved watching comedy growing up, but that’s where I started doing the more performance side of it.”
Gary: Tank Commander will be returning to our screens for a third series later this year, and with the writing process still ongoing Greg is tight-lipped about what we can expect to see from Gary and his squaddie pals.
“We might see them in Germany. The start of series three is them coming back from Germany so we’ll see a bit of that and then one of the boys might get married.
“That might happen, it might not. There might be a Halloween celebration, something really bad might happen to Gary.”
As one of Scotland’s top comedy stars Greg, who also studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) in Glasgow, has become accustomed to being recognised by fans. But even if they just want to repeat a line from the show they don’t always go about showing their appreciation of his work in an ordinary fashion.
“I had guy creep up behind me and just whisper ‘cheesy pasta’ in my ear, and that was all he did. That was a bit creepy, and I have had people just shout ‘Gary’ in my face in a pub, I’m not sure what they expect me to do in that case.
“For the most part people are really nice, it’s great that they come up and show an interest and that is always a compliment.”
Greg, who is currently based in Glasgow, has spent the last six months writing the latest series of Gary: Tank Commander, and his packed schedule will see him go directly from finishing that production to filming scenes for his other major role as Howard in hit Channel 4 comedy Fresh Meat.
The show, penned by Peep Show creators Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, also returns for a second series later this year. Working on the show is a different experience for Greg, and not being involved in the writing makes it a lot less stressful.
“Playing Howard has been amazing,” he said. “When you get a script like Fresh Meat, the quality of writing is just so good that it’s a joy to turn up and say the lines.
“There’s definitely more pressure involved with Gary, where I’ve slaved over it for six or seven months, and I probably don’t have the same enjoyment as Howard’s lines because I know them so well.”
Greg was inspired to get into comedy by Billy Connolly, and he is forthcoming when it comes to issuing advice to aspiring comedians and writers.
“Without a doubt, Billy Connolly was who inspired me to get into comedy. I just couldn’t conceive how this man telling stories could be so funny.
“When I started standup and when I started doing Gary as well what I have always liked is just a funny story, and Billy Connolly is the master of telling a story and weaving a commentary into it.
“If I were to give advice to people I would say ‘be objective about the work you’re doing’ and go and seek out people. Physically write something, whether it’s standup or some jokes, then go and perform it and seek out critical advice.
“I don’t think I did that enough when I started, but people can help you and make it better.
“You can always learn, with Gary I’ve got a script editor who is very good, continually critiquing my work and all that does is make the work better, it makes me question it more.
“I think it’s very easy to hide behind ‘I’m happy with the way I’m doing things thanks very much’, instead of being objective and having people look at what you’re doing. There will be a lot of people willing to give you advice, and it can really help.”