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Beginnings and Endings - The Making of Standing Up

If you ever wondered what it is like to be a nobody attempting to break into the television industry, this is my experience.

It all started in Limerick. A Thursday evening.

I walk through the courtyard of the University. My knee cracks the side of a small triangle blackboard stand.

I might as well read it.

‘Open Mic Comedy Night’.

Interesting.

Truth is, I want to take a crack at stand-up comedy. I have never done it. I am teaching economics in the college but at night I go home and write what I think are funny tv scripts, movie ideas. I have been writing stand-up comedy forever.

I stare at the notice. Excited. Nervous.

I chicken out. I walk home.

On the way home, I create a character in my mind that would become an imaginary best friend in the years that follow.

The next day, I start to write.

I start to write a TV show, a comedy-drama called Standing Up. The name of the show arrives immediately. The main character’s name will be Barry Coughlan.

It will be a comedy-drama about a wannabe stand up comedian with chronic anxiety.

It is 2005.

Over the next number of years, I search in my mind for the source of Barry’s anxiety but to no avail. In my head, I go to his world but I cannot see it. It is so frustrating

I get together some money to shoot a pre-pilot. It is interesting but lacks depth. It lacks depth because my writing lacks depth.

But the main actor, Gerard Kearney is special. I well up when I think of first meeting him. Imaginary friends become real ones.

In the meantime, the show pervades my sub-conscious. I continue to teach all the left-side cerebral logic of economics but I lack creative answers. But then something happens in between classes.

As I drink my coffee, I just sit and think. I realise that I have learned more about life from my students than anyone else. I just watch them. Listen.

I learn that ego is the enemy of learning. I leave my guard down.

It slowly dawns on me that the strong looking rugby guy on Wednesdays isn’t sweating because he is hungover. He is terrified. So is the blonde girl on Friday who cries sometimes.

Students wait to talk at the end of class. Dyslexia. Anxiety. Dyslexia. Anxiety. Dyslexia.

Tears and fears.

I recall that no one ever listened to me in the pub until I got a job teaching at a university. I realise that perception is society. I do not know what I would have done if society saw me as stupid.

I figure out what is bothering Barry Coughlan. He is a genius who cannot read.

He is dyslexic.

From there, I speak with everyone who knows anything about dyslexia. I am not dyslexic. I am just ignorant.

These conversations take me to extraordinary places in my head. The young people, each one more gifted than the next, tell me of the trauma which landed them in the prison of school.

They speak of the clack of the teacher’s shoes as they walk to the blackboard. That stomach-wrench when everybody else stops talking and starts writing. That moment when a dyslexic person feels like they are going to suffocate.

So now it is time to tell the story of so many people through the life of our main character. I rent a cottage in the mountains in Kerry. I leave my life to meet my friends in Barry’s world. In my head, I just watch what they say, then write it down. It feels like cheating.

The scripts are alive now. I sign a TV development deal. I stop teaching. I write and write. I meet a dyslexia consultant, Sascha Roos, who opens my eyes. I start to write with Rob Heyland, a BAFTA winner. We have an executive producer now in Brian Hurley. Rugby player Dave O’ Callaghan suggests getting involved. This means a lot.

Then, all of a sudden, the scripts don’t matter. The TV deal disappears as the broadcaster goes bankrupt.

There’s a call on Friday.

“It’s over.”

And that was it. I return to teaching. Safe spaces.

I open the Cork School of Economics. It lifts off. New horizons.

But unfinished business gnaws away at me.

In Russia teaching economics. In Tenerife singing karaoke. It plagues me.

In 2017, I decide to make the first episode of Standing Up independently. We shoot in various locations in Cork. Edel lets us use Coughlan’s Bar. Ernest gives us Electric and Sober Lane. Dave Keohane as good as hands us the keys to the Lee Valley Golf and Country Club. Amazing.

Super cast. Brilliant weather. Amazing locations.

We go to Cannes. The television market is there. It is mental. The free bars, the parties, the beach.

But TV land is painful and time spent there is time you can never get back. You spend so long searching out the good people that by the time they arrive, you feel unwell.

We get offered 25% funding to go and start meeting more pariahs on the next road to commission. More like perdition. We have another 26% at home. I don’t care. I haven’t got it in me. It’s so lonely.

I return to a post-production house in Dun Laoghaire. My mind escapes the project by staring out the window. The sea gulls seem so carefree.

Time to go sell the show again. I can’t do it.

It’s over. Again.

Just move on. Let’s leave it behind. Let’s go teaching Economics. Business is booming.

That is the end.

Until COVID.

My 800 economics students now look more like 30. They also look a lot like Zoom.

What to do now?

Drink red wine. Play the guitar. That show is in my head but I check and confirm this feeling will leave soon.

What if it doesn’t?

Will I go back to it? Ah Jesus, really? Again?

I place the hard drives for Standing Up on my bedside locker because I know it will annoy me.

They stay there for six months.

All of Christmas, I have some interesting self-talk. Then one day in January, I turn on the computer.

I connect the drives.

Forget it.

Too many files, too many takes, too many pick-ups and too many slates. Too many reasons to leave. Its not like I’m the only person who has unfinished business anyway. Move on. There’s wine in the kitchen.

But I am competitive. I am very competitive with certain versions of me. I have history with myself. The version I am annoyed with now is the one who said he would do something but never followed through.

So, I begin.

Frame by frame, piece by piece, scene by scene. I am going to make a one-off special on dyslexia and anxiety. That’s it. I know it is. I can move on then.

I work myself into the earth. My mother tells me to take it easy.

Some of the most amazing people arrive.

Established acts like Rubyhorse, Cry Harridan, Left Bank and Atlas Zero give me all of their music for free. Wow.

Dan of Atlas Zero lets me use his studio to record the soundtrack. No charge.

I will never forget you all.

I am nearly there.

The cast meet at my house. We will release it on New Year’s Day, a world premiere on YouTube.

Let’s meet every week and share the trailer online, post the photos, politely plague the people.

Wow. Will I finally get to let it go?

Yes. Yes, I will.

I look forward to New Year’s Day at my house. I will watch a moment of time that gave me so much joy. So many great friends made, so many great escapes, so many crazy times.

Unfinished business. Finished. On the first day of the year.

Standing Up will air on YouTube via OldTeam Productions YouTube page at 3pm on New Year’s Day, 2022.

You can view it here: