By Amy Johnston
As an English Literature graduate from the University of Glasgow, Tobi (25) worked his way through a range of jobs in the bright lights of London. After a BBC competition for young writers kicked off the ‘Sad Faces’ sketch group when he was 18, jobs as a barman, charity street fundraiser, and a brief stint in advertising kept Tobi busy as he searched for his stage. He is now a freelance comedy writer with various comedy projects keeping him laughing.
When did you first realise that you had a funny-bone for writing comedy?
In a lot of ways it took my friends a long time to convince me that I did. This will be surprising to a lot of people who know me now but I used to be a much quieter person, far less confident. I’m not sure when I first thought I was funny- I still spend long hours staring at blank pages, convinced I’m not. But my first time writing came when I was 16 with my friends in one of their bedrooms reading something they had written. I offered ideas and it all stemmed from there.
What inspires your work?
I was always obsessed with comedy as a kid. My Dad said to me last year: “you and your sister used to endlessly quote Blackadder and The Simpsons at each other, I can’t believe you’ve found a job where that was legitimate research.” My biggest influences are probably something like Spaced and Black Books. Those shows were really important when I first started writing. The Simpsons has also left an indelible stamp on me, as it has the ability to be both cynical and heartwarming in the same breath. Films and books also shape how a story is told, and I’m such a nerd for format-breaking stuff like Seven Psychopaths or the books of BS Johnson. I’m a big fan of any work that can’t be reproduced in any other medium. Something that uses the medium not to just tell a story, but to validate the form itself.
What was your first comedy gig?
I guess my first gig was at the recording of the first show we did on Radio 7. There was a live audience, and I was about 19 and terrified. After that we decided to do the Edinburgh Fringe, so my first actual gig would be the first day of the 2008 Fringe!
When looking back at your previous jobs, did you think that you would be working as a comedy writer?
When I talk to my friends, I feel really lucky that I know what I want to do. So many people just aren’t sure. Since I started, I’ve wanted to be a writer. We called our first sketch group ‘Life of Crime’ because if we could do this instead of getting real jobs- that would be our Life of Crime. When I was working other jobs, I didn’t know I’d get to do this, but I always hoped. It was always the end-game.
What is a typical working day like?
There are two types of working day for me when it comes to writing. The first is if I’m writing for a show like The Amazing World of Gumball on Cartoon Network. I’d get in at 9:30 and sit down with the other writers. Early in the week we discuss a plot outline, then we are sent away to write a draft of the episode, and then later in the week we come together with the head writer to piece it all together. We’d break for lunch, but other than that we’d just type and chat and try to think of jokes to make each other laugh.
The other type of day is when I’m working on scripts of my own. I’ll get up, try to get some exercise, and once I’ve had breakfast and showered, I’ll do a couple of hours of writing before lunch and a few more after. It’s a slower pace, but I’m self-employed and am a pretty relaxed boss. That’s when I’m typing the scripts up, and before that I like to write the stories in my notebook away from a computer. I’ll write jokes, plots and scraps of dialogue there, so I have a blueprint to work with when I come back to write it properly.
What has been your most satisfying project so far?
It’s difficult to say. I am so proud of the shows I produce with Sad Faces- they are definitely more than the sum of our parts. At Gumball, it’s amazing to see the stories we write brought to life by so many amazingly talented people. I am coming to write solo for the first time at the moment, and I am finding it incredibly rewarding to look back on a script you have written entirely yourself. It’s like your child, it might be awful and ugly but you love it all the same.
Without revealing your top-secret ideas, what’s next for you as a comedy writer?
I’ve been trying to spend this year getting all the ideas that have been in my head for awhile down on paper. I’ve got a feature film story written, a couple of sitcom pilots and a couple of short film ideas knocking around. Hopefully i’ll get some of them made! Sad Faces aren’t doing the Fringe this year, but we’re getting started now on our 2015 show and are going to start producing a podcast and filming some online content so we are far from hibernating. It’s amazing how you can convince yourself you’re working when you’re not going to work.