Rob Delaney in "Catastrophe" (Amazon)

Insurance companies “will happily kill people for profit": Rob Delaney on the UK’s "empirically better" healthcare, Bernie Sanders and parenting through the filth and joy

Salon talks to the star, co-creator, and vulgar comedian behind "Catastrophe," the British-American Amazon comedy

Sonia Saraiya
April 12, 2016 6:54PM (UTC)

“Catastrophe”’s second season is, like the first, just a slim installment of six half-hour episodes. Also like the first, the comedy about an accidental family—created by and starring Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, who are not married in real life, but play characters much like themselves on the show—is a brutally honest and loveable comedy about family life. In the second season, “Catastrophe” picks up three years after the first-season finale, which depicts both Sharon and Rob in the midst of a second pregnancy and domestic bliss, of a sort.

As with the first season, Rob and Sharon are devastatingly frank with each other, articulating some of the realities of long-term partnership and child-rearing in a way that feels like a long-lost how-to manual on surviving family life. There isn’t much of a story to “Catastrophe”—really, it’s more of an immersion; along with Rob and Sharon come their two kids, weird in-laws, money troubles, family friends, and drinking problems, a six-episode long illustration of “warts and all.”


Delaney met writing partner Horgan through his rising fame on Twitter, when he became somewhat notorious, during the 2012 election, for tweeting immature but good-natured vulgarity at Republican politicians. Delaney’s Twitter presence has not waned, though the focus has changed, now that he lives in the United Kingdom with his wife and three children. He tells me he still keeps up with American politics, though, and as his Twitter feed indicates, he still has plenty of diarrhea-diaper jabs to sling at any GOP candidate who draws his ire.

I was surprised to find that the subject of the first few episodes of this season is postpartum depression—handling it, I thought, in a subtle and humane way. What was the thought process behind that?

My wife has had three babies over the last five years, and Sharon is a mother of two, so we're both acutely aware—within recent memory—of how challenging the experience of having a baby is. I've witnessed it a few times recently. So, we just wanted to do something nice for moms of young babies and kids, and show it realistically. It's hard, and you have a lot of mixed feelings, but that's not an indication that you're not mentally or emotionally healthy; it's really normal. We just wanted to show that on TV and tell people, "You're alright."


That tone of acceptance seems to be a guiding force behind this show. Was having kids a decision that was difficult or unexpected for you personally?

My wife and I very deliberately had children, and we're grateful that it worked. It's hard for a lot of people to have kids; for us, we stuck to standard operating procedure, and we were lucky, in that my wife got pregnant, and more than once.

We really wanted to be parents. In terms of writing a sitcom—the only thing I know anything about right now, and I don't know much—it's about parenting young kids and being married and wanting to be married and stay married, working on that. So the stuff that we talk about in “Catastrophe” is definitely stuff that I deal with—and want to be good at or get better at.


Is parenting what you thought it would be?

In some ways, yes. I knew it would be difficult. I knew it would be exhausting. I knew it would be wonderful, and a dream too. But the bad stuff is not a surprise—i.e., the fatigue, the filth, if you're vomited on three times in one day from two different kids. I knew that would happen but I couldn't have anticipated the joy that you get from it. There's no way to prepare for that. The good stuff is better than you think it's going to be and the bad stuff is pretty much what you thought it would be. So that's a positive.


One of the reasons you became well known was because of your commentary on the 2012 election, which was funny and vulgar at times, but at others very serious. How did your interest in politics—and tweeting about politics—arise?

The thing for me that made me really start to care were my own adventures in the American healthcare system, and being denied coverage for things. Having to pay for surgeries with credit cards, and stuff, in what is ostensibly a first-world country. So that’s when this veil fell from my eyes and I realized it would be appropriate for me—not me in particular but every citizen—to get involved. That would have been around 2002.

But I realized it was critical that we all participate. I’m fortunate to have a mouthpiece, and I use it the way that I see fit—which is to discuss ideas that I care about and believe will be beneficial to everybody in the country and the world. I’m no expert in any area. But for me, it started with healthcare and the way that it is administered and paid for, that woke me up.


I think you are an expert in the political arena of poop jokes.


It interests me that you are very comfortable making these somewhat vulgar, somewhat immature jokes about what is often a very serious and dour political sphere.

One thing that’s really silly about politics is—well, you do what you do. You’re a journalist, and so to be a good journalist you just have to study your subjects and put in the elbow grease and the thought and questioning and cultivate your curiosity, that’s what you have to do. And you’re going to be the best journalist you can be. You’re not running for some journalist role that exists.


And that’s why politicians—especially in a two-party system, where there’s two sides of a coin—and they’re only going for a role that one person can fulfill for four or six years or whatever. And that’s ridiculous! Because then you have people trying on different ideas that they may believe in, or not, but are trying them on for size, to compete at pretty limited odds, and that’s just ridiculous. That’s why it’s better to be a journalist or a creative in any aspect or in business. Because then you’re just you doing your thing, for better or for worse. But politics—by its nature, especially in the United States, there’s a dualistic method of thinking, which is very damaging. Politicians are inherently silly and it’s our job to make fun of them.

This election such a field day for making fun of them. Do you feel an appreciable distance in the UK?

I still read all the same newspapers and I’m pretty at grasp with what's going on so I’d say I’m as up to speed as your average American even though I live in the UK.

You’ve said that you support Senator Bernie Sanders, but you’ll also vote for the Democratic nominee. Could you tell me why you’re excited by him?


Well, I mean, I’m 39. So I’ve been voting for 21 years, which is, you know, not a terribly long time, but you can divide that by four a few times. And I’m just tired of thinking in four-year increments, you know? So, Bernie Sanders—statistically is highly unlikely that he’ll win the election. People younger than me—Pollyannas—believe that he can win, and that’s great. I give Bernie Sanders money. I’ll probably give him more, it makes me happy to do it. But I’m not giving him that so that he wins the election, I’m giving him that to amplify his message, reading about him and all that jazz.

Because what he is talking about represents the direction I’d like to see our country move in. I’ve lived the last year and a half in a country that has nationalized health care. And it’s better! It’s empirically better than the United States. Where—in the United States there’s amazing health care, amazing doctors, amazing hospitals but the private insurance is just… monstrous. They will happily kill people for profit—and by kill people I mean let them die, which is the same thing, when you’re a for-profit health insurance, publicly traded company.

That’s why I support Sanders. I don’t think he’ll get the nomination… and I really don’t care! Because I want to support the movement that he’s the head of now. How old is he, he’s like 74? Something like that. He won’t be the head of the Democratic Socialist movement, or whatever we’re calling it, for long. I want the people younger than him to take over and become the figureheads—the real heads of that movement. And let them know that there’s support for their ideas moving forward. I want to let people younger than him know that they’ve got my support, and my elbow grease, and my platform and money and everything—and there are many others like me, and that’s wonderful.

So that’s what I’m saying. Yeah, I think Hillary will be the next president, and I think she’ll be a better president than any of the Republican nominees. But I’m through of thinking in four-year increments. I don’t care that elections are only four years, or midterms are two years or six years; the stuff [Sanders] is talking about needs to be talked about.


Sonia Saraiya

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