The titular catastrophe in season one of Catastrophe — an Irish woman living in London gets knocked up by an American businessman after a one-night stand — now seems utterly charming a few years into the dramedy created by and starring Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney. The third season of the Emmy-nominated series, now streaming on Amazon Prime, shows us that catastrophes can take on much more painful and often hilarious forms. Vulture sat down with Horgan and Delaney on their recent trip to Los Angeles to discuss the real-world inspirations for the show’s dark turn this season, what they enjoy most about each other as collaborators (Sharon’s salads, for one), the one thing holding Delaney back from a thriving U.K. film career, and the lasting impact of their late co-star Carrie Fisher, who makes a final appearance as Rob’s mother at the end of the season.
There are a lot dark themes in season three: the stress of caring for elderly parents, marital infidelity, substance abuse, and political upheaval. How much did real-world events and experiences affect your writing process?
Sharon Horgan: Well, the world wasn’t quite so messed up when we first started writing!
Rob Delaney: Right. When we started writing, Brexit hadn’t happened. When we were shooting, Trump got elected. I think we started shooting the day before the U.S. election. I kept hearing people say, “Trump’s election is going be great for comedians!” I said, “Actually, comedians are also human beings, so it’s all actually bad. I’d rather have Trump not be president than to have our show be a wealth of comedic material.” So yeah, it is a darker season than the previous ones. Stuff happening globally influenced that. Also, once you’ve had a couple of kids, you’re really in the big leagues, so problems that are going to affect you have to be pretty big.
Horgan: When we were writing season two, we’d put ourselves in a position where we had to deal with those personal troubles. Rob’s character had already fallen off the wagon, they already sort of split, and then he lost his job. There was no realistic way we could restart and make things great. It wouldn’t have felt real and the audience would be shortchanged. The big challenge was: How do we tell those stories and keep it funny, especially with the first episode? There’s nothing funny about watching two people not talking to each other! We had to find a way for them to talk to each other. In real life, what would actually happen? They wouldn’t just start suddenly hating each other or stop being amused by each other. Even if something rotten happened, it’s unlikely that would just be the end of it.
We’re also not as used to seeing the female character grovel for forgiveness after a relationship misstep.
Horgan: Yes. It’s so much more interesting to write a woman with flaws and a man who is also flawed, but is really a good, kind person who isn’t an asshole. I think neither of us would be that interested in playing sort of stereotypical male/female sort of roles.
Delaney: Sometimes we’ll start a story line and then it’ll be like, “Actually, maybe this shit happens to Sharon instead?”
You’ve been collaborating now for a few years. Do you recall your first impressions of each other?
Delaney: Well I was a fan of Sharon’s U.K. sitcoms and I saw that she followed me on Twitter. That was exciting! So, I wrote her a message and said, “I love everything you do.” Then we became friends, and we’d see each other if I was in London doing stand-up or if she was in U.S. working on a show. My first impression was very positive. You don’t have to be nice to be funny, but I think that one should. And those are my favorite types of funny people. I guess I was relieved that this person who I thought was so great was also kind, friendly, and punctual. [To Horgan] You were on time for our first meeting!
Sharon, was it at all strange that some random American guy hit you up on Twitter and said, “Let’s be comedy friends?”
Horgan: [Laughs.] No, not at all. I mean Twitter’s weird anyway, isn’t it? Especially the concept of “following” people? I’d already been following him for a while and laughing at his ridiculous tweets, so I was delighted. And there was a bit of buzzer around you, Rob, because of your amazing profile picture, which was him in a green Speedo. There were lots of English women on Twitter already excited about him. [Laughs.] When we met, we didn’t necessarily have plans to write together. We thought it’d be nice, but you never know how these things will actually turn out. And my first actual impression was that he was really, really tall. When meeting anyone for the first time, especially someone you’ve had a correspondence with, it was also a little odd and awkward.
Like a platonic date.
Horgan: Yeah, exactly. And then it developed into a friendship. Even though we didn’t see each other that often, we’d hook up, chat, and make vague plans to do something together in the future. And it was because of Rob that all of that actually happened.
Your show suffered a terrible loss in the passing of Carrie Fisher. What did you learn from her? Did she impart any lasting wisdom?
Horgan: Well, she was a great woman for stories. All you wanted to do was listen and grab those stories out of her, but so often she was running back to L.A. so we had to take whatever we could get. She talked as much about family as she did about the business. She talked as much about the fans as she did the massive movies she’d made that helped to create those fans. I suppose one specific thing she said to me was, when success happens to you — and my success is so miniature and on a completely different plane than her success — look out for your [romantic] partner. You have all these people telling you, “You’re great!” and it’s ridiculous. We have a lovely life doing jobs we love. It’s a privilege. And she was like, “But keep an eye on your partner. When everyone’s telling you you’re great, what about them?”
Delaney: Very, very useful. Yeah, she and I have some pretty heavy material toward the end of this new season that definitely drew out very personal stuff from both of us. Carrie told me a lot of stories about mothering and parenting. We talked a lot about the dynamic between a mother and son. The only other thing I would add to the collective knowledge about Carrie Fisher is that she was a very kind, sensitive person in addition to being a genius and a brilliant comedian.
It’s a combination rarely seen in Hollywood.
Delaney: Yeah, they don’t have to go together, but she’s proof that they can, which is really important. Sharon and I are so young and just getting started. [Laughs.] You know, fresh-faced, dewy, and wet behind the ears, so it’s useful for us to see people who lead by that kind of example — that you can be a nice person and still work in Hollywood.
You spend a lot of time together. Rob, what’s your favorite of Sharon’s habits?
Delaney: [To Horgan] Well, there are other funny people in the world, young lady! But there aren’t many who have the work ethic that Sharon has. That’s very attractive in somebody you’re working with because we don’t mess around on this show. We enjoy each other’s company, but when we go to work, we go to work. Additionally, I’ve told Sharon this before, but I haven’t told anyone else: She could open a restaurant tomorrow in the competitive restaurant marketplace and it would be a success based on the salads that she makes. She can take any ingredients and make an amazing salad. It’s insane. You would think Sharon could probably only be good at two things, right? Writing and acting. But no! There’s a third piece of the puzzle and that’s her salad skills.
Horgan: [Laughs.] Oh my God.
Sharon, what are the weirder ingredients you’ve turned into a salad?
Horgan: I’m not scared to crumble a falafel.
Delaney: Yeah! Or some weird nut. “I’ve never seen that salad!”
Horgan: I’m also not scared to use hummus in a dressing. By the way, the main thing I love about working with Rob is that it’s so easy. I’ve written with people before, and I’ve written on my own and it’s worked out all right. But there’s something so comforting about going to work with someone who you know that at the end of the day, you will have come up with stuff you’re happy with. It happens every day. And on the days that it doesn’t happen, it’s my fault. [Laughs.]
Delaney: No, no.
Horgan: Or I’m brain dead! The other thing is that fully formed sentences, even paragraphs, come out of him wholesale. I’ll spend ages trying to construct something and make it sound perfect, but fully formed, beautiful insanity pours out of his mouth. I don’t know how he does it. I think the show’s secret ingredient has a lot to do with what directly pours out of his insane brain.
Delaney: Oh! I thought of one more nice thing just to say about Sharon. [To Horgan] If you were a monk, you would be in the order of the service of the story. Yes, you have an ego. Yes, you have a lot of personality flaws. But you care much more about the story than your last idea or funny phrase. You will sacrifice something you’ve worked very hard on for the story. That’s really important. That would be the writer advice-y thing I would give people: The story is much more important than anyone’s feelings for a clever idea.
Rob, you now live in the U.K. full-time. Have you mastered a British accent to break into the English film business? It’s only fair since British actors are taking most of our acting jobs.
Delaney: I was actually thinking I should probably learn how to do a British accent. I completely can’t. [To Horgan] Do you remember one time I had to like talk like [Catastrophe character] Frankie in one scene and it took 40 takes? I’d probably need to get hypnotized and hooked up to electrodes.
Horgan: We’d have to break you, and then reshape you.
Delaney: But it would be financially wise for me to become more employable over there.
Are you worried you might be too tall, though?
Delaney: No, they have tall people there! People get cold up in Norway and then they come down a few latitudes to London.
Sharon, has spending so much time with Rob allowed you to hone an American accent?
Horgan: No, I’m too shy. [Laughs.] I’ve done American accents onscreen before, but I really need to work at it hard and get a dialogue coach. It doesn’t just come out of me. I can do British Isles and accents you find in Ireland, but I think I was better at American accents when I was younger because I was less self-conscious. Maybe that’s just me? [To Delaney] Have you become more self-conscious as you’ve gotten older?
Delaney: In some ways, yeah.
But remember: You’re both still really, really young, so you have time to grow out of that.
Horgan: Oh yeah, that’s true.
Delaney: Yeah, we are very young.
This interview has been edited and condensed.