Exciting news – the much-cancelled BCG Pro Big Comedy Conference has finally slain the mighty Covid dragon and is using St George’s Day weekend to celebrate a return to real life networking for comedy writers.
And there’s an extra bonus if you live near London or are planning to stay overnight – a Sunday session where you get to hang out with other writers and create your own comedy.
Why should you bother coming to the Conference, or indeed the pair of events?
Let’s start with Saturday 22 April and the already-confirmed guests – the biggest names in UK TV and Radio commissioning.
1. Commissioners want YOU
It may seem like they are distant God-like figures, and you may feel that at the moment you’re not going to get anywhere near them with your current slate of projects. You may be right.
But think of them in a different way – see them for who they are. Like you, they love comedy. Like you they want to make the best and most successful comedy possible. Like you. Yes, they really want to like you. The people who have already achieved success are at the front of the queue but what gets them most excited is finding an unknown writer before their competitors get their hands on them.
By the way, this doesn’t mean cornering them at the end of the session and explaining why your sitcom about a bunch of 20-something flatmates is most deserving of commission. But it does mean listening – and listening closely – to what they say.
Not just that; do some homework beforehand. Look at what they already make. If for example they say: “we’re not looking for historical sitcoms at the moment”, it’s no use telling them “but look at the success of Our Flag Means Death.”
What they mean when they say things like that is “we’re not looking for historical sitcoms from you”. If MacKenzie Crook decides he wants his next project to be an historical sitcom I’m sure they won’t turn it down.
Here’s another mindset I often see. “I sent this script to the comedy drama competition and they didn’t accept it so maybe I’ll try and make it as a radio script.”
I may have been guilty of this kind of thing on occasion myself. But that’s partly because I have spent a huge amount of time in my career making radio shows. It remains my favourite medium, when I was a kid I discovered comedy through radio, was obsessed with it in my teens.
I got my first break writing topical jokes and was lucky to work with great producers who went on to make TV shows and occasionally employed me. But I’m still writing for radio. If you want to pitch ideas for radio, which do you think is more likely to resonate with a producer: “this show could simply not work on TV” or “this is a TV idea that’s been shuffled around a bit to be a radio show”?
You’d be amazed how far ahead you can get from the pack if you just do a little bit of homework beforehand. Look at the channel schedules. What kinds of shows do Channel 4 (and E4) make? It’s not difficult to build a general picture. Read the commissioning guidelines.
You can say “my idea is original, it doesn’t fit any pigeonhole.” To which I say, “good luck my friend”. You are exactly at the place I was when I started my novel-writing career a few years ago.
“My books will be funny,” I said to myself, “it doesn’t matter that they don’t fit in a particular genre. I’m going to write the kinds of books that million sellers like Sue Townsend, Nick Hornby and David Nicholls write.”
For the moment I’m sticking to that. I’m about two thirds of the way through writing a trilogy of books that are hopefully funny, but are no easier to categorise than the books of those authors already mentioned.
Humour? That feels like a definition to me of an author from a previous era – PG Wodehouse, Jerome K Jerome, Tom Sharp. Romantic comedy? Amazon customers who bought A Wedding In Provence most certainly did not buy Fever Pitch or One Day. Look up “comic fiction” on Google and the newest book they highlight is Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Next time I write a novel I’m going to find a genre I’m comfortable in first. And I think if you’re writing a sitcom script, you owe it to those time-strapped commissioners to give them something that at least resembles what they might be looking for.
2. Learn from the best…
Over the eight years and 200 plus episodes of Sitcom Geeks, James Cary and I have identified four key routes into comedy writing – sitcom, topical comedy, sketch writing and comedy drama.
The panels for this conference will be divided broadly along those lines. Sitcom is the main attraction, which is exactly how it should be, says the man who co-hosts the only ‘how to write’ podcast with “sitcom” in the title.
And there’ll be plenty of time to meet and listen to some of the most successful exponents in the fields of topical joke writing, online sketch creation and comedy drama.
James and I will be there of course, talking shop and looking forward to meeting loads of you.
And on the following day I’ll be running a separate conference that dares you to graduate from talking the talk to walking the walk.
3 …and put it into practice
On Saturday you get to listen to the experts offering advice about how they did it.
On Sunday you get the chance to prove that you can do it too.
Dave’s Sun-DIY event
On Sunday 23rd April we’re going to work with top writing coaches to develop online sketches, topical comedy jokes and sitcom pitches.
This event is designed to give you an idea of what it’s like to be a professional comedy writer. You get to meet people with compatible skills to yours, work collaboratively in groups, and produce comedy (and pitching) that will be showcased at the end of the session in front of everyone else.
Good. That’s exactly how it feels when you’re in the studio waiting for the performers to deliver your gag or enact your sitcom.
Why not come and join us? The only thing stopping you, is you.
At the moment tickets are only available at a special low price if you sign up for the Big Comedy Conference. That offer ends on 31 January.
For more information about the Sun-DIY Event, sign up for Dave’s fortnightly newsletter and a free copy of Build A Script: davecohen.org.uk
Find out about Dave’s online February How to write topical comedy course
Listen to the latest episode of Sitcom Geeks
Comic fiction? Romantic comedy? Lols-a-plenty? You decide: Dave’s first novel: Stand Up, Barry Goldman