Comedian Mark O’Sullivan says making a sitcom about child sexual abuse was ‘only way’ to deal with trauma

Mark O’Sullivan (Channel 4)
Mark O’Sullivan (Channel 4)

Comedian Mark O’Sullivan has highlighted the redemptive power of writing and directing a sitcom about the sexual abuse he survived as a child.

In a new Channel 4 documentary, My Sexual Abuse: The Sitcom, O’Sullivan reflects on making a sitcom as a way to deal with his experiences of abuse, exploring how comedy can be used to confront his trauma.

The sitcom itself depicts how he dealt with his experiences as an adult, what happened when he revealed the abuse to his family and the court case that took place when O’Sullivan was in his thirties.

Speaking ahead of the documentary’s release, O’Sullivan said: “Making something positive out of the trauma I went through as a child really feels like the best – the only – way for me to deal with it.

“Being given the opportunity to drag what happened to me out into daylight, where it’s not nearly as powerful and destructive as it was when hidden, has helped me so much.”

He added: “I really hope it helps others, and allows more people to talk about something which, understandably, we often don’t want to confront.”

The sitcom was recorded in front of a live studio audience and builds into an emotional, heartfelt, and at times, funny, exploration of the effects of child sexual abuse, as well as the redemptive power of creating something about experiences of trauma.

Mark O’Sullivan will explore the process of fictionalising his child sexual abuse into a sitcom, in a new documentary (Channel 4 / Mark O’Sullivan)
Mark O’Sullivan will explore the process of fictionalising his child sexual abuse into a sitcom, in a new documentary (Channel 4 / Mark O’Sullivan)

The cast includes Cariad Lloyd, Rufus Jones, Ellie Taylor and Sam Underwood, as well as O’Sullivan, who made the decision to play a 12-year-old version of himself.

Ahead of the release, Shaminder Nahal, Head of Specialist Factual at Channel 4, said that they were convinced the show will “help so many people, and it makes us all thing about these unbelievably complex issues in new, searching and surprising ways”.

O’Sullivan is among a string of comics releasing work about their own trauma into the public domain. Comedian Richard Gadd, who saw success with his shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, developed them into a Netflix dark comedy series, Baby Reindeer, which has charted in the top five most-watched TV shows on the streamer since its April release.

In the series, which is based on Gadd’s own experiences, the comedian plays a fictionalised version of himself who gets stalked by a lonely and mentally ill woman called Martha after meeting her in the pub he works at. Viewers see his character, Donny, navigate being a victim of stalking, as well as being sexually assaulted by a man working in a senior position in the TV industry.

Richard Gadd in his dark comedy, ‘Baby Reindeer’ (Ed Miller/Netflix)
Richard Gadd in his dark comedy, ‘Baby Reindeer’ (Ed Miller/Netflix)

While Gadd changed names and specific details of the story to protect the identities of the people involved, the show has been subject to criticism after online sleuths attempted to find the “real Martha” and caused a social media frenzy. That fallout has raised many questions about what levels of compliance are needed when sensitive events and real people’s identities are fictionalised on screen.

Baby Reindeer itself has received rave reviews as viewers praised Gadd for his nuanced depiction of stalking and sexual assault, which fans found both harrowing and, at times, amusing.

O’Sullivan’s documentary, My Sexual Abuse: The Sitcom, will air on Channel 4 on Tuesday 28 May at 10pm. The actual sitcom will be available to stream on afterwards.

If you are a child and you need help because something has happened to you, you can call the NSPCC free of charge on 0800 1111. You can also call the NSPCC if you are an adult and you are worried about a child, on 0808 800 5000. The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) offers support for adults on 0808 801 0331

Rape Crisis offers support for those affected by rape and sexual abuse. You can call them on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, and 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland, or visit their website at If you are in the US, you can call Rainn on 800-656-HOPE (4673)