Writing Good Luck, Studio – An Interview with Henry Shields

By Kat Mokrynski

Picture: all rights reserved

“It’s the final night recording Wibble the Dragon. The show is massively over-budget and underwritten. With one hour left to film 16 pages and an audience of children getting more and more impatient, the cast and crew know big cuddly heads are going to roll.”

There’s a new Mischief show in town, and it’s darker than any of the ones that have come before. Good Luck Studio, written by Henry Shields and directed by Henry Lewis, made its world premiere at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester in September. The show brings audiences into the last hour of the filming of Wibble the Dragon, a children’s television show, where chaos rules and an actor with a vendetta is on a mission to derail the production.

For those unfamiliar with the company, Mischief Theatre is a group focused on comedy and is most well known for its Goes Wrong shows, including the hits The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, and A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. These shows are all “plays within a play,” with the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society putting on disastrous performances of different plays. There is even a BBC series, The Goes Wrong Show, which has been on since 2019. Other popular shows include The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, Groan Ups, Magic Goes Wrong, and Mischief Movie Night

Henry_Shields photographed by Wolf Marloh. All rights reserved.

The main writers of the group are Henry Shields, Henry Lewis, and Jonathan Sayer, who have also starred in many of the shows as well. But this time, Henry Shields is taking the writing solo for Good Luck, Studio, with Henry Lewis contributing as a director.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Henry about his experience writing Good Luck, Studio. We discussed what inspired him to write the show, what it’s been like writing solo, and even some jokes that have never been seen in Mischief productions! 

Kat: So how did you first decide to write Good Luck, Studio?

Henry: Good Luck, Studio came about from working in TV. When I was with Mischief Theatre doing The Goes Wrong Show on BBC, we had some experience working in a TV studio and I saw how insane it is. They have a very strange setup where there’s the gallery, where all the producers and directors of the show are, and then there’s the studio floor. The only contact between those two worlds is one person who has a headset on, passing information back and forth, which is obviously a pretty crazy setup. It felt to me like it lent itself very well to a farcical situation. 

Kat: So were there any particular events that happened while filming that inspired the show? Or was it just the concept of having one person with the headset? 

Henry: It really came from the concept and from our experience of the intense pressure you’re under when you’re filming a TV show, because everything is so, so expensive. When you’re in a TV studio, you’re there knowing that every minute is another £1,000 being spent – If you go into overtime, it’s a massive problem. There was one episode we filmed that went massively over time – We ended up finishing at about 1 AM! We knew we had cost the show a massive amount of its budget and everyone was so stressed – People were really panicking. But we had to just stay calm and get to the end. It ended up being very good! But yes, that “pressure cooker” environment is great for comedy.

Kat: What has it been like writing by yourself and not with your usual Mischief team of Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer?

Henry: It’s been a little lonely! [Laughs] The writing process itself was a lot of fun, weirdly. It was nice to be able to just put down whatever I wanted and tell the story exactly how I wanted it to be told. But I have found that since that point, it’s been it’s much less fun because you don’t have anyone to work on the show with. It’s all on you to get right, so there is a lot more responsibility. That said, it’s been much more rewarding as well, because when it’s up and it’s flying, and everyone’s loving it, you do get to sit there thinking, “Oh, this is great. And I did this!”

Kat: Did your writing process change at all when you were writing solo?

Henry: Yes. I’m a real night owl, so I will write from about 11 PM ‘til three or four o’clock in the morning, which obviously is much more difficult to do when you’re writing with a team. So when I’m with Hen [Henry Lewis] and Jon [Jonathan Sayer] we’ll start writing at 10 AM and we’ll go through the day and finish in the afternoon. But that’s really the opposite of my process. I just had to do that because they won’t stay up late.

Kat: That’s very much my writing time as well, the “Night Owl” times. Was there any point that you thought about joining the cast of the show? Or did you know from the beginning that you wanted to stay just as a writer?

Henry: I think it would have been too stressful for me! When there’s all this pressure to make sure the script is good, to also be learning the lines would have just tipped me over the edge. That said, there are a couple of parts in the play that I would have loved to play. Particularly Andy, the main role, which Tom Walker plays – He does it very well. And Kevin, the medic, does a big slapstick sequence in the second half of the show, which I really love. Greg Tannahill plays that part and does it so brilliantly that I feel like I would have been doing the show a disservice to take it off him.

Kat: So critics have said that Good Luck, Studio is darker than the usual Mischief-style comedy. Do you think that’s because it’s your solo work? Or was it a conscious effort of Mischief as a whole?

Henry: It’s certainly darker because it’s mine. I tend to skew toward darker material. But there was certainly a lot of support from Mischief to do something different. Of all the projects that we were working on, the different scripts we were considering, this is the one that we thought would be a good step for Mischief to take to try and do something new. I think that’s always our goal as a company – Never rest on our laurels. For better or worse, we always like to try new things and be experimenting. 

Kat: Do you think if you brought back Goes Wrong that you would go with this darker tone? Or would you keep it more to its original tone?

Henry: With the Goes Wrong shows, they will always be their own thing. We wouldn’t change the language of that. But going forward with other shows, I don’t think we can really predict what we’re going to do next – We’re trying all sorts of different things. We have Charlie Russell Aims to Please, which is a one-woman show that has a much darker tone to it. And we’re always working on new projects that have different languages, and different styles to them.

Kat: Can you go into some detail on how the show [Good Luck Studio] is a “time jump comedy,” as you’ve called it previously? 

Henry: Yes! So the first half hour of the show is set on the studio floor, then the next half hour shows that same period of time from the perspective of the gallery. In the second act, we do a similar trick, but slightly different where we are in the gallery for 15 minutes, then we’re in the medic’s office for 15 minutes, and then we’re on the studio floor for 15 minutes. We’re watching the same period of time over and over. Then the show ends with a final 15 minutes where everything comes together. So over the period of two hours, you’re watching one hour take place.

Kat: Okay, interesting! Do you have a favorite of the different scenes?

Henry: The medic’s office is my favorite. I think it’s everyone’s favorite just because there’s a sudden shift in tone. We just embrace a really silly slapstick routine for 15 minutes, which is really fun. It’s a breath of fresh air when you’ve been going through a lot of dark, intense comedy. 

Kat: Were there any particular children’s shows that inspired aspects of Good Luck, Studio?

Henry: It definitely draws inspiration from Barney the Dinosaur, Tweenies, Teletubbies . . . Little bits and pieces of various shows. But that’s within the show within the show, Wibble the Dragon. Obviously, we haven’t incorporated Barney the Dinosaur into the rest of the comedy.

Kat: That’d be interesting! Did you also take any inspiration from any adult shows other than Goes Wrong Show?

Henry: I would say that Ben Elton’s Popcorn is a big influence and a few of his other plays. He has a similar dark quality to his comedy which I really like. 

Kat: And now some lightning round questions! Who’s your favorite character in Good Luck, Studio?

Henry: Kevin. 

Kat: Was he your favorite to write as well?

Henry: Yes, that writing process, because it was the slapstick medic scene, basically involved me wandering around my flat pretending I had my hands glued together.

Kat: What is your favorite line that you wrote from the show?

Henry: Oh, god, that’s really hard! You know, we came up with a new one yesterday which is currently my favorite because it’s new, which is Anthony at the beginning of the show complaining about how hot he is in his big costume. He says, “I’m absolutely ablaze up here! There’s enough sweat in my gusset to make bollocks soup!” I think it’s a good one.

Kat: Character that was most difficult to write in the show?

Henry: Michaela was probably the most difficult because she’s the character who’s on the headset in between the two worlds. It’s very difficult to make sure she’s a very funny character because she just has so many lines that are necessary to move the plot forward. Often she’s the one coming in and saying, “Okay, end of that scene, start of this scene.” But you also need to make sure she’s got some fun stuff to do.

Kat: In general, favorite joke that you’ve written? It doesn’t have to be for Good Luck, Studio

Henry: I’ve written a joke that hasn’t appeared in any of our shows. I set myself the task of writing a real knock knock joke, like, a standard feed line punch line joke. And it goes like this: A friend of mine said he wants to be the eighth dwarf in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I said, “You’ll be lucky!”

Kat: [Silence]

Henry: There it is, that’s the response I expect!

Kat: Just groans in the audience after a few seconds.

Henry:  Oh, it’s really bad. I like it because it’s that cheesy [Laughs]. I’ve set myself the task of writing a cheesy joke and I like it.

Kat: There have been worse. The line that you’re most proud of writing? Other than the dwarf joke!

Henry: [Laughs] That’s a tricky one. I honestly don’t know! “I’m a messy she-goat” is a great one from the show because it is the most incredible callback we have in the whole show. We do a very long setup right at the beginning of the show and then it all pays off right at the end of the show with “I’m a messy she-goat, I’m a messy she-goat, I’m a messy she-goat.” But you have to be there to get it! If you watch Good Luck, Studio, it’ll make sense.

Kat: Advice for people looking to go into comedic writing?

Henry: Watch an enormous amount of comedy, read an enormous amount of comedy. Absorb as much as you possibly can. Most creative processes evolve that way, where you experience a huge amount of it and your brain slowly learns how to mimic that. You start by writing very derivative things and then as you do more and more, you start to be able to branch out and come up with your own style or voice. But it’s a long process that starts with immersing yourself in the world of comedy.

Kat: Is it ever strange for you to think about the fact that you’ve probably become an inspiration for a lot of comedic writers?

Henry: Absolutely terrifying! It’s a lovely thought. At the moment, I still feel like we’re very new and we’re still learning. I’m definitely finding my voice and doing my own things, but it’s hit or miss.

Good Luck, Studio is currently playing in Guildford at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre through November 12th. Tickets can be purchased here. Keep an eye on Curtain Call’s website to see a review of the show!

Currently, Henry Shields is a member of the Hell or High Rollers podcast, a D&D adventure with several other Mischief team members, moderated by Dave Hearn. You can support the campaign on Patreon as well.

Thank you to Henry Shields for the great interview! Special thank-yous to Nicki Stoddart, Minoli De Silva, Harry Lockyear, and Rebecca Bullamore for helping to arrange this interview.

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