James hits rewind. He’s just finished watching Beverly Hills Cop. He’s 11 years old and lives with his mum, next door to the Apollo video store. He immerses himself in whatever comedy films he can rent for a pound at a time. Almost living out of the store, James watches videos twice in a row and then once more in the morning before he has to return it. Once rewound, he takes it downstairs, pays a pound and rents out another one. Trading Places, another favourite.
James makes the tea. It’s his first day as a runner at Talkback and he is attempting to make a good first impression by wearing a suit from Burton’s, unaware that the cool people in television all come to work in casual clothes. He works with the company during its golden age; immersing himself in some of best TV comedy of a generation – Brass Eye, Smack The Pony, Alan Partridge, Da Ali G Show. James loves it and moves from head runner to cameraman to researcher. His suit still lies abandoned in the cloakroom next to the downstairs loo.
James is shooting a sustainable modernist ecohouse built into the side of a cliff. He is working on the property show Grand Designs. Property shows are all well and good but his real passion is comedy. He gets a job working on a comedy show called Show Me The Funny on a new channel called E4 – it is their first ever comedy programme. The sketch show is the starting point for the next wave of TV comedy talent: Jimmy Carr and Leigh Francis. James strikes up a great working relationship with Leigh and spends his spare time writing and submitting his own comedy sketches. This gets him his big writing break on Leigh’s next show: Bo’ Selecta!.
James has a headache. He’s in Mexico. He is on a world tour, writing and producing Keith Lemon’s Very Brilliant World Tour; starting in Mexico before heading on to the US, Japan and Egypt. The headache two parts tequila, one part the director walking out. Never one to stand still, James steps up, directs the show and is a natural. The World Tour finishes but the producing, writing and now directing goes on: he works on a brand-new Saturday morning show for Nickelodeon featuring a talking armpit. The kids love it and so do BAFTA: the show gets a nomination for Best Writing. James goes to the ceremony but sees the award go to Peppa Pig. He hates that pig.
James makes a lady cry. He is writing and developing a new sketch show called The Morgana Show for Channel 4. The crying woman is Morgana Robinson and James is helping her to develop all of her male characters and although initially Morgana hates him for it (she’d only ever mimic-ed women, hence the tears), it leads to the Best Breakthrough Award at the British Comedy Awards. The critically acclaimed Very Important People follows. The process of taking a small idea, developing it and honing it is something James feels very passionately about. That, and making people laugh-out-loud.
James is on the set of Arrested Development. It’s his first production meeting for his new show for the US network FX and it’s taking place in the Bluth family kitchen. This is surreal, James thinks. After the meeting, he finds himself walking the streets of LA, down Rodeo Drive, Axel Foley-style.