What do start-ups and comedy have in common?

Annemie’s main conversation partner at PurpleBeach Experience 2018 was Sally Phillips, the highly acclaimed UK actress and comedian. Sally was a co-creator and co-writer of the renowned sketch comedy series ‘Smack the Pony’ and has appeared in much loved shows such as ‘Miranda’, ‘I’m Alan Partridge’ and ‘Green Wing’, as well as appearing in all three ‘Bridget Jones’ films. Sally currently plays Finnish Prime Minister Minna Häkkinen in the US political satire, ‘Veep’.

So what do the worlds of start-ups and comedy have in common? If that sounds like the start of a bad joke, it was in fact the main question the audience wanted Sally to answer. Despite never having had a ‘proper job’, Sally had some great insights to share:

  1. If you have an original idea, there’s no shame in giving it your best shot to see if it can be made to work. In the world of entertainment, too often people try to trade on other people’s creativity, like the film producer trying to pitch ‘Pulp fiction crossed with Home Alone 3’; the result is simply inauthentic
  2. Don’t try to ‘follow the zeitgeist’. By the time you’ve got your product to market, the zeitgeist will have moved on. Instead you should aim to create the zeitgeist!
  3. Be authentic. Sometime it is better to stay true to your ‘voice’, rather than chase the viewing figures. The Coen Brothers keep their films small to keep doing the work they want to do – that’s why they are successful
  4. When you’re ‘hot’ you can do anything you like. (But when you’re not, you can’t!
  5. Teams full of ‘stars’ are not necessarily better than teams of people who are ‘one rung below’.
  6. ‘Netflix-isation’ does not work for everything. For example, too many close ups kills comedy, which is much better on a wider shot where you can see people’s reactions.
  7. If you’re going to work for free e.g. writing endless treatments and script rewrites, make sure it’s something you really care about!

Sally was also invited to guess the meaning of some start-up buzzwords, most of which she cheerfully admitted to having never heard of, with some hilarious results:

Blockchain – “a blocked boarding school toilet?”

Agile – “programmers with social skills who use post it notes”

Growth hacking – “a fixation on getting bigger in order to dupe investors”

Incubator – “what you put a baby in and an Italian word for nightmare”

Venture Capitalist – “someone you knew at University who drank a lot and was in the rowing team that you never used to talk to, who now has power over you”

Hackathon – “people trying to ‘smarm up’ to you to get a job”