Interview: Abigail Burdess

Abigail Burdess, centre, with Leslie Ash and Tara Flynn
Abigail Burdess, centre, with Leslie Ash and Tara Flynn
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Who’s the funniest, Mitchell or Webb?

The answer might just be neither, but a third, key name involved in the double act, that you don’t yet know.

Abigail Burdess is a comedy writer for radio and television sketch shows – and now for stage – who happens to be married to Robert Webb and has contributed to her husband’s TV sketch show.

David Mitchell and Robert Webb are the double act who came to prominence through the (deservedly) multi-award winning Peep Show, declared the ‘best show on television’ by Ricky Gervais.

Peep Show, written for Mitchell and Webb by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, revealed the pair’s peculiar chemistry, which was used to great effect in That Mitchell and Webb Look, a BBC sketch show which involves the pair not just performing the sketches, but writing them too. They get a little help on the sketch show from other successful comedy writers – including Burdess.

“I have been lucky in that I’ve worked on TV shows that have lovely staff, but I do enjoy that element of competition, where everyone in the room is trying to top the last joke,” says Burdess.

“By dint of the fact that the room is always full of boys, I think it can be quite combative, but I enjoy that.”

Burdess is a rare creature – a woman comedy writer. When she is working on a show, whichever medium her writing is destined for, the room is generally ‘full of boys’.

“If you are going to survive in British comedy, which is a male-dominated world, then you have to learn to enjoy being a bit boysy,” she says.

“It is very notable that women who have their own shows tend to be geniuses who write, perform, direct – who are able to do everything, like Victoria Wood – but apart from that there really aren’t many female comic writers around.”

Which makes Burdess’s success all the more remarkable. Clearly not a household name, she has written for a variety of shows, particularly on radio, which is why she was approached by a producer who was looking for a writer to attach to a nationally touring new play, coming to Leeds next week.

All the Single Ladies is, on the face of it, a broad comedy created by a producer hoping to entice women, single or not, into the theatre for a ‘rollicking good night out’. The addition of Burdess suggests there’s more going on under the surface.

“I tend to stay away from ‘female’ subjects, so this isn’t necessarily something I would write myself,” she says.

“So when I was asked, I said I would do it if I could make it funny and have some of my humour in it.”

A funny female perspective

Abigail Burdess has written for TV and radio, with her show Abi Hour recorded for Radio 4 and a starring role in a BBC3 sitcom.

All the Single Ladies tells the love stories of three women with very different approaches. Starring Leslie Ash and Brooke Kinsella, the show is at Leeds City Varieties, Feb 13-15. Tickets 0113 243 0808.