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It's not that they don't like each other, it's just that they don't know each other, and the little that they know isn't enough to make sure they all stay in touch when the programme isn't being recorded. It's just a job. Just work. For all anyone knows it might not even last. Most things don't. And at the end of the day it's probably even better that they're not on the best of terms off screen – it's not as though anyone is expecting them to be excessively pleasant towards one another on screen. It's not that sort of television.

x

They establish running gags, mostly to do with politicians and football players – whether they've been in the news this week or not doesn't really matter, as long as a reference to their corruption or overindulgence of any kind can be slotted in somewhere – but one to do with the programme. Paul's surrealistic off-topic off-the-cuff remarks will prove more worthy of points than Ian's well-informed, considered, politically astute commentary. Ian reminds himself that this is how television works. It doesn't make it any less funny for the viewers if he's the butt of the joke instead of the one telling it.

x

Angus invites them out for drinks after the show one night. It might be the beginning of a tradition, all three of them heading to the pub after they finish filming, continuing the witty banter without the pressure of the cameras, the beginning of friendship. But Ian has to get home, and so they make vague noises about some other time. On the train home, Ian wonders what it might have been like. Awkward, probably, never to be repeated. It's probably best to have the illusion that they'd like to see one another socially, if only they had the time.

x

It's not a huge elaborate Christmas party, just having a few people over, mostly mutual friends who don't need to be impressed. Some mistletoe, copious quantities of eggnog and wine, the occasional game of charades. It surprises Caroline when Paul is so shocked that she's invited Angus. They've worked together for a while now, and he's always so charming to her, and almost all of Paul's friends are made through work. At the party, though, she ends up spends more time talking to him than Paul does. She likes him, she decides; they must have him over for dinner sometime.

x

It's nothing really. Paul walks into the wrong dressing room one evening and catches Ian practising a rant in front of the mirror. He apologises and walks out and that's it. Nothing really. Only Ian knows he's been caught, knows that he's been seen in a vulnerable position. He has to rehearse. He has to plan. His brain doesn't work the way Paul's does, inventing things on the spur of the moment. His witty retorts are never effortless. Ian's mouth closes and his mind wonders: what does Paul think of him now? And then he wonders: why does he care?

x

Angus is fascinated by their marriage. It makes sense, he thinks, that such talented people would be drawn to one another. Caroline and Paul are like mirrors of one another in some ways – naturally gifted but also hardworking and in love with what they do as well as each other. He explains this fascination as various kinds of envy – of that kind of innate skill, of that sort of relationship. It thrills him to discover that it might not be as perfect as it seems, and that he can be dragged into their world simply by Caroline's lips on his.

x

Paul knows his comedy. He doesn't have the Oxford education but he knows his comedy better than almost anyone in the business. And he knows that often it's the stupid, predictable things that make people laugh the hardest, even though he tries not to overdo it. Buggery jokes – a staple of British comedy. You can't go wrong with them. He doesn't want to analyse the whys too much – people chuckle and guffaw, and that's all he needs to know. Ian sometimes looks ill at ease, but that's probably because he thinks they're tasteless. No need for any further analysis, really.

x

He finds out about Angus and his wife backstage, of all places, and when he hears a tentative tap on his dressing room door he flings it open, expecting apologies, excuses, explanations. He's ready to snap until he sees that Ian is holding up a six-pack of beer with the price-tag still on, and he bursts out laughing instead. That ridiculous little man, he thinks, and then he reaches for the nearest can. Ian's expression when he drinks the stuff makes him laugh again, until he wants to cry: this must be friendship. It's the worst beer he's ever tasted.

x

Ian is a family man and generally considered decent, despite the lawsuits. He's funny enough to do television and political enough to make it onto the occasional 'power list'. He disapproves of affairs, of one-night stands, of meaningless sex, of any kind of bedroom-related scandal. Paul is torn between admiring these principles and despising this smug judgemental attitude. For a while, he keeps the description of his personal life to an absolute minimum, veering off on tangents if at all possible. He doesn't want to hear what Ian might think about sleeping with Julian, lusting after but not loving him.

x

Ian wonders why he stays, sometimes. The money, perhaps, or because, despite his eye-rolling over the rubbish that they put on television these days, he knows that no one really cares about who puts what in print. It's all about the small screen. It's a pragmatic decision to stay, even though Angus bothers him sometimes, even though he and Paul play at being rivals so often that it's sometimes more effort than it's worth to be friendly when the cameras stop rolling. After nearly ten years, though, it would be like leaving a family, or, it hits him, a lover.

x

Angus keeps disappearing off to the bathroom and Paul figures it's just because he's so vain he needs to check his reflection over and over again. He always returns to bed more excited, more alive, more vibrant than Paul's ever seen him – energetic and enthused and ready to go, happier and less guilt-ridden about this affair or whatever it is than he usually is. Paul feels like an idiot when the story breaks. Yeah. He knows Angus is probably the best lover this girl's ever had. He's like that on drugs. At least she knew what was going on. Idiot.

x

Ian is not impressed in the slightest, and determined to distance himself from the whole tedious, sordid matter by being ruthless about it. It pleases him to be on Paul's side for once, though, for the two of them to team up against the man in the middle instead of being pitted against one another. It's only when he registers the flutter in his stomach as Paul reads the newspaper over his shoulder that it occurs to him he might have ulterior motives for not letting this scandal fade away. Paul never called him at home, before this all began.

x

It's just work, that's all. The bounce in his step is enthusiasm for politician-mocking and celebrity-sneering, and an appreciation for the freshness of the show after what is getting closer to twenty years every day. The guest host keeps things novel, and he and Paul keep it familiar, in-joking their way through the recording. Every year they slip closer to old-married-couple territory, rather than rivals, but the thing about comedy is that there's often very little difference between the two. They don't say I love you. It's not that sort of television. In comedy, the running gags are enough, sometimes.