In the Spotlight: Tasha Dhanraj
Tasha is doing what she was born to do. Growing up loving comedy from a very young age has put her on a path to achieving her goals. I love discovering someone who set out to use their gifts no matter what challenges they meet. Especially since it so much easier to just settle in life and give up. I admire the strength and courage Tasha has to just go for it and see what happens. Her path proves that discovering and using your strengths will lead you to success in not just your career but in life itself. This is why I am so delighted to introduce you to this brilliant writer.
This is Tasha Dhanraj...
I was born and raised in a small town in Sussex, England, to parents who had the lack of sense to take their youngest daughter to stand-up shows from the age of 13. I did my first ever stand up gig at 14 and thus began my comedy writing career.
Soon, I was gigging several nights a week and doing my school work on the train home. I worked for a comedy agent during my school holidays and then got a job running the social media for BBC Comedy in my gap year. For university, I decided to take a pause from all things funny and started studying Theology and Religion. Of course, I couldn’t keep myself away from writing for long. In the summer of 2014, I spent every penny I’d ever saved on going to NYU to study sitcom writing. This really taught me the fundamentals of screenwriting and cemented in me that this was what I wanted to do.
Upon graduating in 2015, I threw myself into writing and did lots of different part-time jobs to get by financially. Things really started to kick off in 2017 when I was in the final of the Sitcom Mission. Since then, I’ve had an option offer, came second in Adi Shankar’s Apu Screenwriting Contest, had a viral sketch on BBC Three and signed to my wonderful agent, Emily.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
Having done stand-up for years, I’d always been really interested in comedy – whether that be on TV or otherwise. When I started at university, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and was quite prepared to leave comedy behind forever. I even tried my hand at the student newspaper and hated it with every fiber of my being. I realized that comedy was what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know where to channel it. Then the Mindy Project started in the UK and seeing another woman of Indian descent be awesome in her own show kind of “clicked” in my head that I could write my own sitcoms too.
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
Emo Philips. I saw him on a show called 8 Out of 10 Cats when I was 13 and suddenly realized that making people laugh was the best thing ever. The blame for my specific path, however, lays squarely at the feet of fellow writer, Hannah George. We’d known each other from my stand-up days and I asked to meet up with her to chat about screenwriting. At that point, my plan after graduating was to get onto a marketing graduate scheme and write in the evening. She looked at me square in the face and told me it would take years and years longer if I did that way and that if I could deal with begging my parents for money then I should just go all in with the writing. Hannah – my parents thank you.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
When I was in my final year of primary school, my teacher Ms. Bucknall wrote on my report that she wanted me to send her a copy of my first novel. It was the first time I thought I could be good enough to be a writer. (Which quite frankly is ridiculous because I couldn’t even use apostrophes correctly at that point.)
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
When my first play, Father God, was performed at my college I realized how satisfying it is to watch other people say your words and watch the world you wrote come to life. I think I got more joy from that than I ever did from stand-up.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
I define success through failure. It’s amazing to be nominated for an award or have someone say you’re great, but when you fail it just reminds you that you’re working hard and putting yourself out there.
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Q: Give us a typical day in your life:
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl? I’d say neither. I wake up late and go to bed early. I would not catch any worms.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? The first thing I do is watch a couple of episodes of Frasier on Channel 4. It’s such a great show and reminds me of what I’m aiming for.
Do you have a morning routine or ritual? I think having a cat is the best thing to give you a routine. My cat, Rupert Giles, is a big fan of routine and will shout at me if I don’t feed him before I do anything else. I try to stick to a routine of starting to write by 10am every day unless I’ve got meetings or somewhere to be.
What’s for lunch? Lunch is whatever I have in the house. Frequently it’s leftovers or soup. I’ve recently started making a lot of my own stock. If that’s not a writer procrastinating then I don’t know what is.
What do you do during the day? I pretty much just spend the whole day sat on my sofa writing. I’ll occasionally go for a walk and feed some ducks or meet a friend for coffee. More often than not it’s just me, my cat and my Alexa. If the writing’s just not happening one day then I’ll do a lot of “research”, which is basically just watching sitcoms.
What do you do at night? I have a lot of friends spread out across London, so I’m frequently going out to dinner with various people. I am also a very keen cook so if I’m not out with friends I’ll be in the kitchen making something really healthy and nutritious and then adding a vat full of butter to it.
Do you have a pre-bed ritual? I try to write down all the things that are worrying me so that they won’t rip my brain apart as I’m trying to sleep. I also have a “sleepy time” playlist which I’ve been listening to for 6 years now. I’ve pavlov-ed myself so that whenever I listen to this playlist I fall asleep. It’s super awkward if I’m out and about and a pub starts playing one of the songs from it though, because then I just start yawning.
How do you define a successful day? I try to start every day by setting myself a goal of what I want to achieve that day. Sometimes it’s just to come up with new ideas, or to finish a rewrite, or to write at least 10 pages. As long as I’ve met whatever my goal is then I’m happy.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
I think it’s been discernment when it comes to feedback. When I first started, I was so keen to be “good” at receiving feedback that I didn’t quite realize that not all feedback is high quality. When someone gives you terrible, terrible advice, it’s OK not to listen to it. But then sometimes someone can give you advice you violently disagree with, but actually they’re correct and you’re just too tied to your script to realize it. Being able to work out what’s worth listening to and what isn’t is really hard.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
The greatest challenge for me has been to stop second guessing what people want. The scripts I’ve written where I’ve gone “oh people will be interested in this because of xyz” have always had the least positive response. The scripts of mine that have been most successful have always been ideas of mine that I wrote purely for myself.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
Making an effort to stay in contact with nice people has really paid off. I met a wonderful woman when I was 16 on a roof in Edinburgh. I was an open-mic stand up and she was a runner on a property show at the time, I think. We got along really well and stayed in touch. Flash forward 9 years later and she’s a development producer at an amazing comedy production company and is championing my scripts.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
Just learning how other people deal with their experiences in this industry is so valuable. I love reading autobiographies of successful writers, but so often they gloss over the years and years of writing alone in their bedrooms, or getting rejected again and again and again. I think there’s so much value in people who are working towards the same thing reaching out to each other for encouragement and advice.