I'm a television writer. What does that mean? Well, besides never having reliable work and, often, no money, I sometimes sell an idea to a producer, who changes everything and then tells me 'it's not good enough' for television.
I also get this question a lot: "Where do you get all your ideas?"
"Oh, you know. Hard work. Definitely hard work. I make sure to write every day, rain or shine. You've got to stay disciplined. In today's market, discipline is important. I'm very disciplined."
It's a lie, of course, but what am I supposed to say?
For my latest show, Borderline – which I co-created and wrote with my writing partner, English improviser and comedian, Chris Gau – coming up with the idea was not problem. I can tell you exactly where I was when I first thought of it…
Behind bars, somewhere in, I think, the middle of Essex.
Let me explain.
Like many of us, I'm an American Expat, which means I spend most of my time apologizing, and explaining things.
"Sorry about Trump."
"No, I am not voting for Trump"
"Sorry about guns"
"No, I don't like guns"
But, besides Donald Trump, Police Shootings, Fox News, and hundreds of years of racism, I like being an American. We elected Obama. We have the Super Bowl. We have the Williams sisters. We're nice to be around. We hug. Mostly us Americans are a bunch of nice things.
My favorite time to be an American was while at international airports.
Something came over me while walking through them. I think it's the passport. Suddenly I was aware of my citizenship and it draped over me this sense of entitlement. That dark-blue book felt more like a VIP card than anything else: "Of course I'm welcome here. Haven't you seen my US Passport?"
Maybe you've felt this, maybe you haven't (If not, it's likely because you're a good person), but I felt it and I felt it hard. I was an American begging to be taken down a peg and Craig, a UK Border Agent stationed at Stansted Airport, was more than happy to help.
For a short time in 2013, my soon-to-be wife lived in Cambridge while I lived in Amsterdam. I would visit her once or twice a month thanks to a small pink plastic card called a Verblijfsvergunning – an unpronounceable Residency permit that allows you to leave your passport at home and travel freely through Europe.
If you're an expat living in Europe, you're required to carry one at all times. And one day, in July of 2013, I should have been carrying mine. But I wasn't. Instead, I left my card in Amsterdam, like an idiot. Not that that matters, of course – not when you're a VIP.
It all happened very quickly. I walked up to the booth with smirk on the face. There were a few questions, all of them different versions of "Why have you visited the UK twelve times this year?"
What followed was an exchange that went something like this
… I live in Holland. It's easy to get here.
Do you have a Residency Card with you?
Aren't you required to have it with you at all times?
Don't think so.
Are you here to work?
I'm here to visit my fiancé.
Why do you "live" in Holland if your fiancé lives here?
I work in Amsterdam.
What do you do in Amsterdam?
I'm a comedian.
You're an American comedian in Amsterdam?
Do you speak Dutch?
…So, you live in Amsterdam, where you work as an American comedian who doesn't speak Dutch, you don't have a residency card and you've visited the UK 12 times in the last year to see your "fiancé"
Is there a problem?
It's a little foggy after that. But what I do remember is Craig got mad. Real mad. He pointed at my face and repeated "You're messin' me about!" about three times. I took a step back and said something you probably should never say to an officer who has control over your immediate future.
Hey, Craig! Calm down, buddy!
That reminds me. For my fellow American expats, here's a list of a few phrases I said that afternoon that I recommend you never use at the UK border (or any other, for that matter):
"You are over-reacting, Craig!"
"Do you think the US treats people like this when you come to our country, Craig!?"
"This is why I'm happy we won, Craig!"
Several hours later, I found myself in detention. Not a bad room, to be honest. The hard cement bench had been shaped to look like a couch. BBC One was on the television, Walkers Crisps sat on a cement coffee table. It's almost as if the UK border was reminding me of what I was missing: A nice night, sat-in, watching the One Show and eating potatoes flavored like prawns (that's shrimp, for those expats new to the UK).
I wasn't alone. Two Jamaican rappers who had flown in from the Seychelles were detained too. They were scheduled to play a concert in Birmingham. They were really mad. But I wasn't listening. "What the hell is a Seychelles?" I kept thinking.
Another young man was Italian and drunk. Apparently he hid drugs up his butt. That's what the Jamaicans said anyways. But if you asked me, he didn't look like the kind of guy who would put drugs up his butt. And I didn't want to ask him – would have ruined the nice mood in the room.
We chatted about all kinds of things: Music, food, The One Show's Alex Jones. Whatever was said, I always made sure to bring the conversation back to the main topic of the evening. The thing everyone was really interested in: my case.
"This is all just a misunderstanding" I told them. "Technical thing. Probably calling the embassy"
The Jamaicans listened. But after a while, I felt like I was losing them. "Don't you have your residency card?" one of them asked.
Six or seven hours later, I was escorted down a long hallway and shuffled into a white room. It sort of looked like the one from The Matrix. The one where Agent Smith puts that robot worm in Keanu Reeves belly. You know, bright and cheerful. But The One Show wasn't on.
I sat in that room for about another hour before the next agent came in. I don't remember her name, but she also seemed to think I had a thing for "messing about."
It was starting to dawn on me. Not only was I in the wrong, but I got this feeling that I was doing a poor job of explaining the truth. I remember, because the agent looked up and gave me this real subtle glance before saying "I think you're lying."
She told me she thought I was in the UK to work. That maybe I had a fiancé, maybe I didn't, but that the real reason I had come to the UK 12 times in the last year was because I was American and I could work easily.
"Because I'm American?" I said, my optimism beginning to fade. "You stopped me because I'm American?"
It's true, apparently. Americans are big offenders of international labor laws. We don't just feel big and cocky in airports. We feel big and cocky when we leave them, too. So cocky that we travel into English speaking towns and get jobs. Bar jobs. Waiter jobs. Promoter jobs. Jobs we get paid under the table for. Jobs with income we don't pay taxes on.
All those Brexit-ers were blaming the Polish. Turns out, it's the Americans. Who knew?
That's when I was kicked out of the country. They bought me a ticket on easyJet (thanks Stansted!) and put my passport in a brown folder that read "Removed from the UK" I opened it up and read the "Removal Document." It said they were sending me to my last port of call "Amsterdam, Germany."
I could have corrected the agent, but I thought "No. Better not. Worse comes to worse, you'll get a free trip to Germany."
They made me wait for the entire plane to board and then sat me in the front row (it's a better show if you have an audience). One of the officers knocked on the cockpit door and handed the pilot the folder with my passport and strict instructions to hand me over to the police when we landed. First class treatment all the way.
I sighed an hour later when we landed in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. No Germany trip after all.
I got off the plane. There were no cops. No lights. No cuffs. No men with dogs. I walked up to the border and nervously handed my envelope over to the agent. He took out my passport, read the document attached then scoffed "Germany?"
He punched my passport and said "Welcome to the Netherlands. We hope you enjoy our country."
That's when I thought to myself: "This would make a good Television show."
So there. Want to come up with a TV show? It's easy.
Just get kicked out of the country.
Mike Orton-Toliver and his writing partner Chris Gau's new sitcom Borderline airs Tuesday 2nd August at 10pm on Channel 5