5 minutes with Chris Gernon – director, Grandma's House


With the 4+” of ice that blanketed North Texas overnight, crippling daily activity as we know it, comes news from our friends over at the British Comedy Guide that the British Comedy Award-nominated Simon Amstell comedy, Grandma’s House, is rumored to be commissioned for a second set of six episodes. Hopefully, the BBC will confirm this in the not-too-distant future. Described as a fictionalized version of the comedian’s life, the first series was somewhat torched by the critics early on. Fortunately, these same critics stuck it out for the entire six episodes and have since gotten on board with The Guardian even calling it, possibly, “…the best observed comedy since Frasier“.

Have only seen one complete episode, but I would side with the proponents of the series rather than the opponents. It’s different, yes, but that’s a really good thing, these days. If you were pitching the series to BBC commissioners, you might describe it as Curb Your Enthusiasm meets Royle Family meets Seinfeld with a dose of Roseanne added to the mix. I did say different, right?

With that, we had a chance, recently, to sit down with Chris Gernon, the director of Grandma’s House. Chris may not be a name that you know, but you definitely know her brilliant work.

TS: Who is Chris Gernon?

CG: British tv director who specializes in comedy. Trained at the BBC and was a staff director there for 8 years. Before that was a Production assistant and worked on a lot of sitcoms. I started directing multi-cam studio sitcoms before they were pretty much replaced by single camera ones. Most recently, known for Gavin & Stacey but also directed amongst other things, One Foot in the Grave, Absolutely Fabulous, Jonathan Creek, Love Soup and Grandma’s House.

TS: As a director, what is your role during the production week once you get the script. Can you talk about any interaction you the writer, producer and/or actor?

CG: As a director, it is my job to effectively translate the script to the screen. It’s a very hands on job and I give script notes, work out all the clocking and shooting and give actors notes and direction. I choose locations, work closely with the designer and the d.o.p. on the ‘look’ of teh show. In comedy, particularly, there is a lot of collaboration with the writer who will be around a lot of the time. Also, it’s quite likely, they will be in the show!

TS: Can you briefly talk about a typical week leading up to actual production taping?

CG: On a sitcom, the exteriors/locations will be filmed a week before the studio run starts. Then, rehearsals would start on a Wednesday with the read thru and blocking. More rehearsal Thursday and Friday with the tech run happening on the Friday PM. Then, rehearsals and pre-records on Saturday and the studio show on Sunday. Off on Monday/Tuesday until the next episode starts up on Wednesday.

TS: Any particular writer that you’ve worked with over the years that you’ve really enjoyed working with (loaded question, I know)?

CG: Ruth Jones & James Corden (Gavin & Stacey), David Renwick (One Foot in the Grave, Jonathan Creek), who taught me more about comedy than anyone I’ve every worked with and Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous). I’ve never worked with a writer I haven’t liked, however. I think the director/writer chemistry is very important and I wouldn’t do a show I didn’t like the writer of.

TS: Grandma’s House is an unknown commodity in the States. Can you describe the show premise?

CG: It’s a show set entirely in a house. Loosely based on the life of Simon Amstell who is a very well-known British TV presenter. He plays ‘himself’ and each episode takes place on a visit to his Grandma’s house. There are  7 regular family characters who are always visiting at the same time. It’s an idiosyncratic look at family life where most eps take place on a Sunday. And, I think it’s very funny!

TS: Looking back at the shows you’ve worked on, have you stopped for a moment, sat at home with a bottle of wine thinking that you were a part of something that had the potential to make millions laugh, and thought….that’s pretty cool?

CG: No, never. But, I might do that tonight now that it’s been suggested….

TS: What makes you laugh today?

CG: Modern Family, Modern Family, Modern Family. I LOVE Modern Family.

TS: If you could have directed one classic British comedy series, what would that have been and why?

CG: The Royle Family. It was genuinely ground breaking TV in that it was the first half hour TV comedy shot like a drama. And I thought it was genius, really clever and really funny. I think Caroline Aherne is brilliant.

You may not think about it, Chris, but viewers do. Thanks for all the laughs you’ve been a part of over the years. Look forward to many more in the years to come.