As ‘Catastrophe’ reaches its final season, Rob Delaney’s good to go
It was Rob Delaney’s stepfather who introduced him to the classic line of dialogue that inspired the title of Delaney’s twisted British sitcom “Catastrophe.”
“Am I not a man?” asks Anthony Quinn’s Zorba in the 1964 film “Zorba the Greek.” “And is not a man stupid? I’m a man, so I married. Wife, children, house — everything. The full catastrophe.”
Fully embracing that cue, “Catastrophe” follows the missteps, stumbles, and pratfalls of American expat Rob (Delaney) and Irish schoolteacher Sharon (Sharon Horgan), who build an unlikely family together in London after a weeklong fling that results in their first baby. The show, the fourth and final season of which becomes available here Friday on Amazon, turned into a surprise hit despite its cynical, dark-comic depiction of marriage and parenthood. Or maybe because of it.
“I’ve never met a parent of young kids who that statement” — the full catastrophe — “wouldn’t resonate with,” says Delaney.
The comedian and actor, who grew up in Marblehead, first met Horgan over lunch in Los Angeles several years ago, after forging a Twitter friendship.
“Did we know we would work together? Certainly not,” Delaney says, on the phone from New York City, where he’s promoting the show’s final season. “But we knew we made each other laugh.”
When they did begin collaborating, he says, “I remember telling myself each step of the way, ‘Hey, look, if nothing else, I got to write a script with Sharon Horgan.’ ” She’d previously starred in “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret” alongside David Cross, and in the BBC comedy “Pulling,” which she co-wrote.
Delaney says he was thrilled when they were invited to film the pilot for the show and didn’t expect more. “Then it got picked up, and I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me. OK, but people aren’t going to like it.’ And here we are some years later, and people have enjoyed it, thank God.”
The show has careened through plot lines, each much funnier than they sound in the telling. Sharon has a cancer scare. Sharon’s friend Fran (Ashley Jensen, from Ricky Gervais’s “Extras”) makes a pass at Rob. Rob gets accused of sexual harassment at work. Sharon’s father begins to lose his marbles.
Delaney credits his real-life wife, Leah, for urging him to give his character some “harder edges.” “You’re not that nice,” she told him.
So Rob, an alcoholic, relapses. Delaney, himself a recovering alcoholic, says he approached those scenes just as he would any other. As the show’s co-writer and executive producer, he’s more concerned with nailing his lines before the light changes than he is with nursing his own private emotions.
Playing drunk “is no different from a scene where I do a silly workout at the gym, or I’m pretending to purchase a bag of granola at the store,” he insists.
Through one catastrophe after another, Delaney and Horgan infuse their cast of characters with an engaging nuttiness. The ill-considered behaviors of the supporting roles, Delaney explains, often bubbled up from a realization that he’d be wise not to assign certain flaws to his own leading man.
In writing the show, he says, “I identify with those jerks as much as I identify with the character of Rob. I’ll think, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if a character did this horrible thing? Let’s make Chris do it.’ ” Chris is Fran’s estranged husband, played with devilish glee by the Scottish actor Mark Bonnar.
The new season inevitably deals with the death of Rob’s mother, who was played by the beloved actress Carrie Fisher. She died in late 2016, not long after the cast concluded filming for the show’s third season.
Last year, Delaney’s third son, Henry, died before his third birthday, of complications from a brain tumor. That terrible event really put the show’s imaginary tribulations in perspective, Delaney says.
At one point during the first season, Rob jokes with Sharon that, historically, human beings have birthed a surplus of children, so there would be “leftovers” if one fell ill. A joke at the time, the line became all too grim in the wake of Henry’s death.
“It’s weird to look back and see things that might have been harbingers,” says Delaney, understandably subdued. “Not even in the show, but in real life. I used to marvel before our Henry got sick — I would line my three kids up on the couch and look at them, and think, ‘Jesus Christ, am I lucky. How did we have three healthy kids in a row?’
“And then Henry wasn’t healthy anymore, and then he died. Anything in the show just pales in comparison to real life.”
The Delaneys have another baby now, their fourth child. With their two older kids (ages 6 and 7) entering the school system, they plan to remain in the UK for the foreseeable future. Delaney says he has appearances in at least six upcoming films, and he’s working on a new television series for England’s Channel 4.
As his own family reckons with a true tragedy, they’re using humor to help each other through. The children, he says, “are incredibly funny. They make me laugh every day.
“Kids are wise,” he says. “They see that my wife and I place a high premium on making each other laugh.”
Starring: Rob Delaney, Sharon Horgan, Ashley Jensen, Mark Bonnar, Tobias Menzies, Jonathan Forbes, Daniel Lapaine. On: Amazon, available Friday