25 Jul 2018

MAKING PLANS: Topical Comedy For Radio Day 4*

dave's picture

You've written your sketches. You've rewritten your sketches. You've stared at them for hours wondering if they're even remotely funny. You've lost your critical faculties. And now you have to send your sketches off. 
Accepting for now that your script is probably not quite 100 per cent perfect, it would be great to look at this check list before you press send, and hope to have answered yes to all the following questions:
Do you have a very strong ‘what if’ premise?
Do you have two, possibly three characters, at least one female?
Do you have one famous person or less? (Newsjack usually only have one celebrity/politician in each sketch)
Does every character have a distinctive voice?
Does every character ‘own’ each joke they make? In other words, that joke couldn’t be said by another character.
Off the back of the ‘what if’ premise, are there at least half a dozen good funny jokes?
Does the story escalate, so that when we reach the last of those jokes the characters have everything to gain or lose?
Do you have a second twist?
Do you get to the punchline very quickly after your second twist?
Is this sketch absolutely as funny as you could possibly make it?
If you still have a couple of hours to go before sending, maybe you could take one last look and see if you can find another funny joke.
Press send.
At this point, you have to forget everything that has taken place over the last 48 hours. There is nothing you can do now, it’s out of your hands. Start thinking about a completely different project. Don't fret about what you've sent out, it either gets on or it doesn't. I used to write for Week Ending, the BBC's topical show back in the 1980s and beyond, and I would tune in expectantly each Friday night, stomach knotting with anticipation, followed by occasional joy and inevitable disappointment, then sure, at the end of the recording if my work hadn’t been used I felt the anger, despair, humiliation, bitterness and self-loathing that fuelled whatever it was I did for the next 35 years. 
You can know what it feels like to be me, and James Cary, and every comedy writer whose work you’ve loved, even Jennifer Saunders on occasion, to have your work rejected and wonder why you’re bothering to waste your life trying to write comedy that no one will see or hear.
Tomorrow, the final day of this mini-course, we'll look at writing topical one-line gags.

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