Less than a week into the new year it’s still time for sweeping announcements of bold predictions. I can still confidently predict that if you want to become a comedy writer then 2021 is going to be a fantastic year to put good habits into place and to learn how to move forward with this ambition.
It’s almost a year since I set up this website and so far it’s been a useful place to gather all my thoughts and ideas for helping you to realise that dream. You may have noticed a short flurry of blogs from January 2020, the equivalent of post-Christmas gym membership, a burst of activity followed by a blank space of nothingness. You’re imagining me slumped across the sofa, one hand stuck in a giant pack of Doritos, the other flicking the remote button in an increasingly desperate search for a half-decent TV comedy programme. Hang on that’s all a bit too accurate are you stalking me?
It’s not quite been like that. Over on our Sitcom Geeks Patreon site I’ve been busy blogging away and recently discovered the joy of the Daily Email Stream. Without a huge amount of forethought or planning I’ve been firing off short series of emails on how to prepare for BBC Writing competitions, how to write a scene and asking the question “What is comedy drama?” (Answer so far, er, dunno.)
Now I am planning and have decided if I’m going to help you become a professional comedy writer, it’s time to act a little more proficiently myself. Starting from today there’ll be a weekly blog here, every Tuesday, which is exactly the kind of rash promise I need to make in January and which you need to hold me to account for, especially when the steam starts to run out, probably some time in mid January.
I’m aware there are plenty of blogs out there, and indeed that the very word blog is becoming almost as old-fashioned as the Betamax, but my aim is by the end of the year for this weekly dollop of words to also become available as a YouTube video, assuming that by the end of the year YouTube videos are still more popular than Betamax.
I’m also aware that there is a mountain of bloggery out there about how to write, less specifically about comedy but it’s still there. What I’m aiming to create is a body of ideas designed with the specific aim of turning you from head-in-the-clouds dreamer to practical professional comedy-writer-in-waiting.
The usual cautions apply: budgets for comedy are shrinking, spots to place shows are diminishing, live comedy as part of the lifeblood of the business remains in intensive care, but at the other end streaming companies have big budgets and are searching for big comedy ideas, often here in the UK, while the means of production have become so cheap that it’s never been easier to make your own stuff.
Today I’ll be looking at topical comedy. The survival of the BBC has never been more under threat from ideological politicians but it remains the number one place to start if you want to be a comedy writer. It’s been a long time since the days I started out, when BBC radio ran more than 60 topical shows a year specifically for training new writers and producers, but we’re sneaking slowly back to that place.
If you can develop the skill of writing funny topical jokes, week in week out, this is a great place to kickstart your professional comedy writing career. Getting your lines broadcast on radio or TV brings you to the attention of producers who spend their working lives making comedy shows. Some of them go on to become heads of comedy at TV stations, so these are people worth your while coming to the attention of at the start of your career.
Starting next Tuesday I’ll be running a series of daily emails over the course of a week and a bit, telling you everything you need to know about topical comedy – shows to write for (including Jon Holmes’s brilliant new creation The Skewer), how to write jokes, how to write sketches, how to avoid the obvious jokes and so on.
As the run progresses we’ll be mimicking the typical week in the life of a topical comedy writer and I’ll be asking you to send me your gags. I’ll run the best ones on our Sitcom Geeks twitter page, where you’ll get to vote for the winner.
Throughout January I’ll be looking at the best ways for you to plan the year ahead and hope that by the end of 2021 you’ll be able to look back and see genuine progress.
Meantime if you’d like to sign up for The Ten Days of Topical free emails go to firstname.lastname@example.org – remember 2021 starts… NOW! I know, it’s already started, but you know what I mean