Lucy Lumsden: Head Of Comedy At Sky

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Lucy Lumsden, 41, is the Head of Comedy at Sky. She lives in Barnes with her husband Mark, a Project Manager, and their two children.

In my family humour is the way everyone communicates, so I’ve always been drawn to it. I found my way to student theatre at university, and after graduating fell into a job on the Comic Strip for BBC Two with Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Adrian Edmonson and Rik Mayall. I started off as a runner, getting up at 4am and getting coffee on set, but after a few years I’d worked my way up.

Since then I’ve worked on shows like Gavin and Stacey, Outnumbered, My Family and The Catherine Tate Show before I was headhunted by Sky late last year.

I’m woken up at 7.30 by my daughter asking to play a game on my iPhone. Next I spend twenty minutes free-writing, which I learnt from reading the book The Artist’s Way. I write whatever comes into my head then throw the paper away at the end; it’s just an exercise to wake my brain up.

After a very rushed breakfast of Special K, Mark takes our daughter to school and I take my son. I always spend 20 minutes at the school reading with my son before school starts. It’s our little moment together and I love it.

Being funny is a lot harder than people think.

I arrive at my office and have a catch up with my colleague Sam; we talk about the scripts we’ve read and shows we’ve watched. In an average week I’ll read twelve scripts and watch ten comedies, but I try and watch dramas and documentaries too for balance.

Next are meetings with people coming in to pitch new ideas. Catherine Tate recently came in to talk to us about a project, and Stephen Fry, who was absolutely lovely. Do I ever get intimidated? I am a total fan of Stephen so I have to be particularly professional and not collapse in a heap of jelly. As well as talking to talent I also meet writers - like the amazing Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkins who I worked with on Outnumbered at the BBC - to chat about a new brief for a show.

I get really hungry about 12.30pm. I might meet a group of writers on the roof terrace of Century for an informal lunch and brainstorming session or I’ll grab something from the Sky canteen. It’s like school dinners for grownups.

After lunch I might talk to marketing and publicity about a show, or tell my boss about a new title or script that has caught my eye. Unfortunately, scripts don’t arrive with the label ‘commission me I’m going to be the next Little Britain’. I’m quite cautious in what I choose, I have to use my instinct but remain shrewd. At the moment Sky is focused on promoting smart mainstream comedy, things that really show off the quality of writing talent in Britain.

It isn’t just about picking what makes me laugh. As a commissioner I had to learn to think for the whole audience, to imagine what it might be doing for an 18-year-old boy, or an 80-year-old woman. And a large part of my job is turning people down, however much I like them.

For the rest of the afternoon I pore over scripts, making very detailed notes on the structure, pace, characters and of course, if there are enough jokes in it! A show has to strike a balance between a joke that helps, and one that could potentially undermine a show. Being funny is a lot harder than people think.

On a Monday I finish work at 5.30pm because I play tennis with three other mums. I’ve been doing it for three years and just adore it. I’d love to say I’m in the Groucho club the other four nights a week but I can’t do hangovers anymore. I do have to go a lot for work though, to see the latest big-thing on the stand-up circuit or to see one of my writer’s latest stuff. I watch the audience as much as I watch the act just to keep an eye on what’s making people laugh.

Mark picks up the kids from school and makes them dinner. It’s quite an unconventional set up but when we met he knew my career was part of the package, and we knew that we didn’t want to do the nannying thing. When I’m home kids time is absolutely my priority but sometimes work creeps in...‘Mum’s reading a script’ is a catchphrase in our household. After supper I’ll crawl up to my haven in the loft, dig out my scripts and spend hours scribbling notes and watching new shows on my laptop before finally getting to bed around midnight.

Comedy is a strange paradox. On one hand so much of what I do is instinctive; I know within the first five minutes of reading that it’s going to be good. On the other it’s completely objective. Ultimately though, I’m going to have to stand up and defend every single decision I’ve made - each show is like my baby!

Photo by Gemma Day

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