In my lifetime the comedy writing industry has been defined by the existence of a small number of heavily guarded BBC entry doors. You can sneak a way in by performing stand-up or improv (occasionally sketch comedy) or writing topical jokes and sketches for radio shows.
As even these doors began to slam shut from the 1990s onwards, new ones began to open thanks to the internet. You can write or perform your own sketches or online shows or become a social media star on Tik Tok or YouTube.
We’re a long way past the novelty period for the internet. Creating free content is constant hard work and there’s no guarantee that you’ll receive any benefits.
It’s never been easy to break in and has become harder to make a living. But that’s never been a barrier. And why should it be? If you love comedy and are desperate to find an outlet for it, this is the place to do it.
It’s even harder if you want to write a screenplay. Good luck finding someone with a spare couple of million quid to let you put your amateur writing on screen. But that hasn’t halted the enormous growth of the Hollywood Writing About Writing industry. Or the number of people dreaming that their screenplay will be the one that makes it.
Now there’s a new opportunity for you to put your comedy out there.
It’s possible, as I’ve written in my latest book Ready, Steady, Joke, to write and publish your own funny book. You can if you want make it for almost nothing – apart from the hours and hours spent writing the bloody thing.
You can become a publisher.
It’s been quite funny watching the mighty bosses of the Book Publishing Industry looking down their noses at the wannabe losers of self-publishing, convinced that they alone hold all the keys to the kingdom.
I’ve been reminded of the early days of punk, when suddenly it was possible to make your own records without securing a deal with a major label. First the big companies ignored us. Then they spent stupid money making random signings. Finally punk became so successful it evolved into its own mainstream industry.
If you want to write a funny novel there are no gatekeepers.
When I was starting out, of all the writer-y ambitions one had, we assumed it was hardest of all to be a novelist.
I genuinely found my way into comedy because a novelist was what I wanted to be, and I figured that that was never going to be an option. I’d settle for writing sitcom, my next favourite choice. In which case I needed to become successful at comedy first.
Now it seems the only thing I need to become a successful novelist is a degree in Marketing.
Even in the Do Anything You Wanna Do days of punk there was still one gatekeeper – the BBC Radio DJ John Peel. He played almost everything that came his way without judgment. But his massive audience was always going to want more Undertones and less Crispy Ambulance. (Factory music boss Tony Wilson was a fan of the latter but described it as “the worst name he’d ever known for a band.”)
This is where we are now. The options of two extremes: a place, TV, where it’s almost impossible to find a way in and another, book publishing where there are literally no barriers to entry.
There’s a massive industry growing out there, a self-publishing space that’s all about how to market and publish your own books, but nothing – nothing! – about how to write a decent and original piece of comic fiction.
I’ve always encouraged you to try and make your way into the industry by writing topical jokes, or creating sketches which helps to improve your writing.
I never considered suggesting that writing a book might be another option but I’ve come round to the idea that you might want to consider it.
On Wednesday 16 August at 730pm BST I’ll be running a live webinar on the British Comedy Guide called How To Jump Start Your Comedy Writing Career. I’ll be laying out various options including novel writing, and there’ll be an opportunity for questions at the end.
Come and join me!