Happy New Year! I hope you all had a delightful Christmas and saw out 2023 in style. Here’s to a happy and fruitful 2024 for all of you. To celebrate the New Year, it’s that time again to delve into the Word For The Year initiative, which Miranda introduced me to when we first met.
Word For The Year
I’ve talked about Word For The Year a couple of times in the Therapy Tapes on previous New Years, but for those who only signed up this year, I’ll do a quick precis – instead of setting resolutions or goals for the new year, which have the drawback of making us focus too much on specifics and on granular detail in a way that can pull us out of the experience of actually living, we instead choose a single word for the year which we try to live by for that year. You try to condense the things you want to achieve and the ways you want to experience life into that one word, and let it guide your decisions as you go. In 2021 I chose Appreciate because I wanted to teach myself to let go of my workaholicism and learn what happens when I let life happen to me instead of trying to squeeze efficiency out of it. In 2022 I chose Dedicate because, post-Covid, I wanted to pour as much of my heart and soul into my creative projects as possible. Other words chosen by friends and readers over the years have included Patience; Courage; Action; Gratitude; Bloom; Build; Faith; Community.
My word for 2023 was Change. I went into it with the vague idea that it would be a big change year, and I would come out of it fundamentally different. As usual with me, that largely applied to work – I wanted to shift my focus away from live comedy and towards scripted comedy for TV, film and radio, because that was what brought me the most pride and satisfaction, while live was burning me out. I wanted to actively stop myself from relying on the same old models and patterns – making an Edinburgh show for the sake of making an Edinburgh show, writing scripted projects only in my spare time around gigging rather than the other way around. I wanted to write more, act more, make more films. I spoke to a TV producer who said he thought I could do really well in the world of scripted, but I should think of it like a 3-year degree – year one would just be about learning things and making connections, year 2 would be about turning those new connections and skills into solid projects, and year 3 would be about transitioning into that being my main job. I really appreciated this advice, but at the time I was initially doubtful – “I bet I can do it all in a year,” I said to myself, “I’m brilliant.” Now, as 2023 slopes off into the past, I’m so incredibly grateful to him for giving me this roadmap, because it enables me to understand better the strange, bewildering, lumbering beast that 2023 became.
I haven’t come out of it fundamentally changed, and having radically transformed myself from “a comedian” into “a writer and actor.” I still feel more or less like “a guy that makes some stuff.” I wrote and pitched a hell of a lot, I produced my own short film, I acted in a few other shorts and small TV pilots, I started work on a couple of audio projects and a tentative live show, I filmed my two most recent live shows as comedy specials, and I launched a new live night to showcase the most exciting work coming out of the scripted comedy/filmmaking scene. It’s all stuff that will continue to develop into 2024 rather than being stuff I can hold up and look at right now. But I feel like my Word For The Year enabled me to commit to the process of change, to the understanding that it’s slow, and painstaking, and largely about relationships that build and blossom over time. I’ve really enjoyed forging those relationships and I’m excited to see where they go next, and I’ve learned so much about writing and filmmaking.
I’ve also changed outside of my relationship to work, because what always happens with me is that I choose a Word with the intention of it guiding my professional life, and then, of course, find that it has its strongest ramifications in my personal life. It’s become clear to me how often I allow myself to play low-status in my personal relationships in a way that’s sometimes fun and sometimes just leads to imbalance. I’ve been trying to shift that dial for a while – it’s partly what Blink was about, an attempt to reconcile the parts of us that believe only in our brilliance with the parts of us that believe only in our worthlessness in the hope of finding a middle ground that’s just happy to exist. But I feel like this year, the Change Year, I realised how much of this is playing out patterns from childhood that I don’t need to hold onto any more. I’m ready to just believe in myself a bit more in 2024.
Bit of AI-generated art to break up the text
2024: The Believe Year:
My word for 2024 is Believe. I think it ties together those two things – the professional and the personal – and what I need to do with both of them quite nicely. When I look at 2023, I’m actually quite bowled over by how much I managed to do, despite it being a year of almost exclusively unfinished business. I wrote roughly ten new scripted projects, either as full-length scripts or as sample scenes or just as treatments and pitch decks, seven of which were taken on by production companies and pitched to broadcasters. All seven were eventually passed on, although some got through a commissioning round or two. At times, it’s been easy for me to give in to negativity at these knock-backs – if I pitch seven things and get seven rejections, am I collecting evidence that I should stop trying to do this? Or is my job here partly to collect rejections and adapt to the feedback on each one and continue to throw things out into the world until one of them happens to be the right thing at the right time?
I end up having to actively remind myself that 2023 was the worst possible year for me to choose to go all-in on trying to make work for TV, film and radio, because it’s been the worst year for the industry in well over a decade. There’s very little money and things have become very risk-averse because the broadcasters have to back surefire hits. In that climate, I remember to reward myself for having developed seven projects that got the support and backing of production companies. I remember that each rejection comes with new instructions – “We can’t take this because of this reason, but we loved this thing about it, and perhaps we could see more of that?” They’re all roadmaps to further projects, if you can maintain the half-insanity of continuing to believe in it. The occasions this year when I’ve wasted the most time have been the occasions when I lost energy to wondering whether I was good enough to keep going. But as the year came to an end I suddenly remembered how to have faith in what I do, and how to manifest that into action, and into lifting people up. I want to live 2024 by that spirit, and not to lose time and energy to doubt or indecision. I want to be more active, more confident in what I do and the things I make.
And I want to carry that spirit into my personal life as well. I want to stop looking for evidence that I’ve disappointed people, or let people down. I want to start believing in my own goodness more, and let that be a source of positivity for the people around me, rather than always second-guessing myself. I started this year with an anxious, uncertain energy, because I had a feeling it was going to be a difficult year. As it turned out, it was, mostly for reasons outside of my control, but I also think years often pan out with the energy you start them with. This year, I’m starting with a lot of excitement. I’m going to believe in myself this year, and I’m looking forward to it.
How about you guys? What might yours Words For 2024 be? What do you want to achieve with it, how do you want to experience it? Those of you who’ve been readers for a long time, how did your Word For 2023 pan out for you? Some of the words readers chose last year include Play, Repeat, Focus, Me, Naughty, Revenge, among others. How did these work out? Did the year follow the spirit you gave it at the start? Or did it take you by surprise? I’d love to hear how it went for you all!
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – Rachael Healy, the best thing to ever happen to comedy journalism, has written this wonderful piece about Big Fat Quiz Of The Year, which I’ve always felt deeply uncomfortable about the existence of. It’s so great to see these thoughts finally being put into writing in such a brilliant way. Long live Rachael.
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – I’m going to make this into a retrospective for the entire year, so I think taking the top spot is the moment in Kim Noble’s breathtaking Lullaby For Scavengers involving his mum. If you know, you know. It’s more of a horrific moment than a funny one, truth be told, but there was something about the dawning realisation of just how far Kim was willing to go in order to follow the twisted logic of this show that just broke my brain. An incredible moment.
Books Of The Year – My top spots go to The Creative Act: A Way Of Being by Rick Rubin, which is an incredible, simple, gentle treatise about fostering creativity; Happy: Why More Or Less Everything Is Absolutely Fine by Derren Brown, which is a wonderful primer on the philosophy of happiness which guided a lot of my own writing this year; and Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, which is one of the most acutely observed, brilliant, painfully human novels I’ve read in ages. It’s a chronicle of a failed marriage and is hilarious and heartbreaking and so incredibly truthful.
Albums Of The Year – Top spots go to Peter Gabriel’s i/o, which he released song-by-song every full moon over the year, but which still somehow took me by surprise when I eventually heard it as a complete album; Anohni & the Johnsons’ My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross, which is the first album Anohni has made with her old band and in her old style in over a decade and felt like reuniting with an old friend; and PJ Harvey’s I Inside The Old Year Dying, which is spooky and haunting and beautiful and brilliant and I can’t wait to see her live this year.
Films Of The Year – Top spots go to Marcel The Shell With Shoes On, which had no right to be quite so devastating and beautiful as it was considering it’s a feature-length adaptation of a viral video from over a decade ago; Theater Camp, which was a breath of fresh air and a reminder that simple, small, heartfelt, character-driven comedies can still get made and are effortlessly better than most other films being made at the moment; and Dream Scenario, which is probably the most imaginative, inventive film of the year, and I wish I’d come up with it.
That’s all for this week, and indeed for 2023 (though I realise I’m clicking send on this in 2024). As ever, let me know what you thought, and if you enjoy this newsletter enough to send it to a friend or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it. Take care of yourselves until next time and have a great start to your 2024.
PS As I said last week, I’m never going to actually charge for this newsletter or put it behind a paywall, but I do write it for free and the comedy and media industries are in a perilous state right now, especially for freelancers. If you value the Therapy Tapes and enjoy what they give to you, and want to support my work and enable me to keep writing and creating, you can make a one-off donation to my Ko-Fi account, and it’s very gratefully appreciated.
PPS Saw this on the South Bank just before Christmas. A nice thought to bear in mind for 2024: