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Amazon comedy series turns 'Catastrophe' into reality (Q&A)

From CNET Magazine: The real-life partnership of stars and creators Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan mimics the one they crafted on screen -- minus a four-day sexual escapade.

Amazon's comedy series "Catastrophe" doesn't stray far from the truth. Writers and actors Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney drew from their own lives to create the show about a Boston businessman and London school teacher who bumble through a relationship after their four-day fling results in an unexpected pregnancy.

"Everything catastrophic within the series really happened to us," says Horgan, who married the man (not Delaney) she had dated for six months before becoming pregnant. Delaney, meanwhile, got sober after an eye-opening drunken disaster, not unlike his character.

"It's kind of like us, times 'stupid,'" says Horgan of the show.

Comedians Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, who met on Twitter, team up for Amazon's comedy series "Catastrophe."

Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/Contour by Getty Images

Their professional collaboration was sparked by a chance encounter too, although it was one for the Internet age: They met on Twitter.

Delaney built his career on the microblogging social network, tapping into his 1.1 million followers to launch a stand-up comedy special -- now on Netflix -- and book, "Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage."

Horgan followed a more traditional path to TV. She's best known in the UK for writing and starring in the comedy series "Pulling," about three women friends. It was twice nominated for a BAFTA award, the British equivalent of an Emmy.

"Catastrophe" itself has taken a digital turn. First aired on UK television, the show reached the US through Amazon, which screened the first episode on its Facebook page before presenting it on the Prime Video streaming service in June. Delaney and Horgan spoke to CNET about the Internet's role in the show's backstory.

Q: You created, wrote and starred in "Catastrophe," but it might not have happened if it weren't for Twitter?
Delaney: I knew who Sharon was through the TV shows she's made in the UK that I really loved, and I noticed she was following me on Twitter, which was exciting. So I just direct messaged her and said, "I'm a fan." Sharon's needy, so she gobbled that up. [Horgan laughs.] Over time we became friendly and introduced our families. Then the idea for this show came up.

Q: Rob, you were named "Funniest Person on Twitter" by Comedy Central in 2012. That was the last time it held that award. Does that make you reigning champion?
Delaney: In perpetuity. It feels good but I'm not complacent. I know that at some point they'll fire it up again and a young buck will try to slay me. So I'm still training.

Q: What's your Twitter training regimen?
Delaney: I sit around in my underpants, which have a lot of holes in them, and then I...

Q: ...Take a lot of selfies?
Delaney: Yes. Then I think of the filthiest thing I can and I post it to the silly people who are following.

Q: Did you rely on technology to develop "Catastrophe" while on separate continents?
Horgan: We began it in LA. When I went back to London, Rob was still in LA, then we did do the Skype and email thing. Dropbox. We just sent it back and forth to each other and wrote the whole series that way.

Then, when we were back in the same room together, we rewrote the whole series.

You can get everything done [with technology] but you can't add that human thing. You need to be in the same room, talking. Technology didn't help us there.

Q: Any catastrophes of the technological kind?
Horgan: On the way here, even though we were on a plane and we wanted to watch movies and eat food, I forced Rob to write. We wrote three pretty funny scenes [for the second series of "Catastrophe"], considering we were perched in our little airplane seats. Last night, I thought, "I'll just read through these scenes." And they were all gone.

I'd saved them on [an external hard drive] and it failed me badly. I forced my poor, tired brain to remember and get it all back.

Q: Has the Internet affected your own projects and those of your peers?
Horgan: It has completely changed. I have a production company in the UK, and it's frustrating when new talent sends me work. You have so few outlets to take it to, and those outlets say, "No." Now, if there's a little bit of funding involved and you're brave, you can say, "OK, that's not the end of the project. We believe in it, so we're going to try and do it elsewhere."

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It means there are a lot more interesting voices out there. It means that it's not all about the networks and getting your script deal and molding yourself to suit a specific demographic. It's about putting something out that you believe in, that is exactly as your voice intended it. I think that is very exciting for the industry.

Q: Rob, you self-produced your comedy special and sold it directly on your website before Netflix picked it up. How did that come about?
Delaney: That's actually one of the things I'm more proud of. I didn't get an advance. I made a calculated move. It wasn't a gamble -- I was like, "I can afford to lose this money." So I produced it as cheaply as possible but [with] high quality, which you can do these days. And it was immediately profitable. Then Netflix bought it, which made it profitable, plus.

That made me more confident in my own business savvy. Not "roll the dice" [confident] but "don't be afraid to throw money in the trash." That's my motto. It is nice that there are some Wild West elements to the entertainment world these days because of the Internet.

But my technology [view] is: It's a net zero. For every good thing it has done, it has done a bad thing. Obviously for me it's been instrumental in building a career, but so what? Somebody else without technology would've had my career. It's not like the world got the benefit of me. I benefited from technology more than the average person. I still think it's a coin flip, take it or leave it.

Q: Carrie Fisher, of "Star Wars" fame, plays Rob's mom on "Catastrophe." Does that mean you're a Jedi?
Delaney: That's a great question. If she is a Jedi and I am her son, am I a Jedi? Well, yes. The answer to that is yes.

Q: Can you read my mind right now?
Delaney: Yes.

Q: What am I thinking?
Delaney: I don't want to embarrass you.

Q: Sharon, your real-life father is a New Zealander. Does that mean you're part Hobbit?
Horgan: Actually no, because his family originates from Ireland. So I'm part criminal.

This story appeared in the fall edition of CNET Magazine. It has been modified for its online appearance. For other magazine stories, click here.