24 Jul 2018
dave's picture

How do you come up with ideas for comedy sketches. If you want to write for Newsjack you're allowed to send two sketches a week to the show.
Here’s an example of the template for what you send to Newsjack when your script is ready to go. They’ve shown an actual sketch to give you an idea of what your submission looks like. And it’s useful because it gives you a sense of what’s likely to get accepted: It’s not a big headline story but a nice quirky one, and there are lots of funny jokes:
Tomorrow I’ll be reminding you how to write comedy sketches but for today the main thing you need to have is at least one big funny comedy angle for each of your sketches. By the time you send off your sketches, you should have two – the set up twist that will take your sketch out of the normal world, and another twist towards the end that will take you somewhere else. And in between both of those points you’re going to need at least half a dozen laugh-out-loud gags.
Told you it wouldn’t be easy.
I looked through the various news sources yesterday, Friday 31 August, and came up with some ideas for stories for topical sketches.
If you're writing for a weekly topical show it's best to avoid all matters Trump and Brexit. The commissioned writers will be covering both those stories (or deciding to take a well-earned break from them for the moment), and they probably won’t start writing their sketches until you’ve already handed yours in.
Brexit clown car moments included the new Brexit secretary assuring us that our BLT sandwiches will not be affected, today's Jacob Rees Mogg pretend fact is that Ireland relies entirely on the UK for its agriculture exports (and not for a tiny percentage of them) But who knows where any of these stories will be 48 hours from now?
Similarly today's Daily Trump is a threat to leave the World Trade Organisation, which is quite funny if you can take your mind off the fact that it’s where Jacob and his friends are hoping to source their big post-Brexit trade deals.
Friday’s big story concerned the delayed start to Crossrail - and of course within moments there were plenty of jokes on Twitter about delayed trains. It's a welcome relief to have a big story that isn't about you-know-what while also concerning one of our great comedy staples - the train - but it does mean it's a subject which has been covered comedically everywhere, for decades. You may struggle to find an original angle here but if you've got one, good luck.
I suspect that by next Thursday, when the show would be broadcast, any references to Theresa May dancing in Africa will be past their joke-by date. Again, if you think you have a new angle, have a go. The Alex Salmond kickstarting his legal campaign has been running for a couple of days now, that could be a promising starting point to take you somewhere unusual.
The Labour anti-Semitic row is also a difficult area for comedy sketch land, as Tracey Ullman and Frankie Boyle found out recently when they dared to tackle the issue. I’m not saying this is a no-go area, but it’s the kind of subject the writers will want to discuss long and hard before deciding to go ahead, and unfortunately for you that will probably be a discussion for the main team. If you can find a different way of dealing with the story that Frank Field has resigned the Labour whip then that could be worth exploring.
There are a few of these running stories that sort of sound funny - Coca Cola to take over Costa, Homebase DIY RIP, Viagogo being sued, but they usually have at the heart of them "economically, we're all doomed." Again though, if you have the luxury of time to think about how to go off on a tangent from these stories, have fun!
On a quirkier note, I like this story about the plane dropping fish into a lake https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-us-canada-45362423/why-a-plane-is-dr...
Otherwise you want to look at stories with a lot of useful statistics, or with a funny human element. there might be something here, if you dig into the figures far enough. https://news.sky.com/story/parents-consumed-with-guilt-over-contents-of-...
I noticed this morning that NHS Wales are scrapping car parking fees. This may not sound especially promising, but because so much TV is set in hospitals and police stations, if a story comes up related to these places they give you a very quick short cut to giving the listener a sense of place, which is always useful in radio. You get to tell the story while spoofing hospital dramas, which gives you a great source of jokes in situ.
I would always avoid the ‘funny’ story – "Man proposes on the side of a cow" - as the story itself is usually about as funny as it can get. When I was writing News Quiz we had to do at least one of those stories every week and it was nearly always impossible to find a joke to top the original story.
Remember, you need to find a funny ‘what if’ angle – what if Frank Field stood against himself? What if the SNP kickstarted funding the Scottish NHS? 
But that’s not enough, we’re going to need lots of jokes off the back of that, and a big twist at the end.
Get writing!

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