“The course was excellent! Putting aside the credits on Breaking The News which was an unexpected bonus, I really learned about crafting jokes and the routine of producing them” Joanne Cunningham
There are many ways to start making a living at comedy writing, but nothing gets you noticed faster than being able to write topical jokes.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, topical comedy was the training ground for a stream of comedy writers. Even if you don’t know their names, you’ll recognise their hit shows and movies.
Top writers including Simon Blackwell (Veep, Back, Private Life of David Copperfield), Mark Burton (Madagascar, Wallace & Gromit) and Georgia Pritchett (Succession, The Shrink Next Door, The Thick Of It) all began their careers this way.
Then the topical door slowly closed and life became harder for new comedy writers. The rise of the writer-performer had been steady through the 80s and 90s, but the success of The Office accelerated the BBC’s urge to fill the airwaves with these two-for-the-price-of-one comedy bargains.
There was a belief that the internet would change everything. Instead of nurturing talent you’d nab it from cyberspace. If this one failed there’d always be a dozen new hits to replace it.
It was believed the internet would kill off radio, home for decades of the BBC’s biggest comedy training ground. In 2005 BBC Radio Comedy stopped inviting in new writers. They quickly reversed that decision but last year saw the end of Newsjack, and now there’s no show for non-commissioned writers.
If this was your sitcom script we’d be at the all is lost moment.
Fear not comedy fans, this story has a happy ending.
Over the last couple of years two great opportunities have opened for new writers. Breaking The News, BBC Scotland’s topical show that runs for 30 weeks a year is now open for material from writers with no previous credits.
And fabulous, multi-award winning The Skewer is guaranteed a place on Radio 4 for at least 15 weeks a year. Here’s what producer, creator and all-round topical comedy genius Jon Holmes has to say about his show: “Nothing has made me prouder than being able to bring new writers into comedy.”
Last year Jon joined us for a Sitcom Geeks Masterclass about how to write for the show. With the help of Dave and Dan’s course, a number achieved their first comedy writing credit on The Skewer.*
“Work ethic is something I’ve struggled with in the past. I was a massive procrastinator. Doing the course with you both taught me that the only way to get on is to just f**king do it and put the work in. Which sounds silly but by doing that, I got the most fun out of it too!” Duncan Ladkin.
Dan Sweryt has become a regular contributor to both shows. When he first heard The Skewer he couldn’t imagine he could write for it. But, he says, “You can! Also it’s multiple award-winning and who doesn’t want to write for a multiple award-winning show?”
In October our first intensive six-week course garnered several BBC writing credits for many new writers.
In February we ran an eight week course that brought a ton of credits to a whole new group of writers.
“It was absolutely brilliant in every way. I ended up with writing credits on two shows which was a huge confidence boost and gave my writing career a valuable breakthrough. Worth the money many times over. Plus they were super supportive and encouraging, and gave really useful expert feedback. Your gag writing will improve whatever level you’re at. Fantastic and highly recommended.” Alice Bright
I’ve been running topical comedy courses on my own for years. I wrote on Have I Got News For You for 12 years, which sounds like a lot but actually makes me one of the shorter serving members of the team.
Because all the big jobs in topical comedy writing have been dominated for years by a tiny number of people, I often wondered if there was something so specific about the skill that it would be difficult to teach, unless like me and them you were a news nerd or journalism junkie.
That helps. There is a special skill at being able to make people laugh at the news. Week in week out, same topics different jokes.
Working with Dan has taught me that while that matters, the most important skills are learning how to get into THE ROUTINE and THE HABIT of writing topical. And how to REWRITE your jokes.
Interested? The Skewer returns in September, and Breaking The News in October. We’re running a couple of courses around each if you’d like to sign up. These are small courses so places are strictly limited. If you want to sign up contact firstname.lastname@example.org
“The course and feedback on gags has been brilliant” Uttom Chowdhury (credited on both shows)
* The workshop with Jon was the latest in a series we began last year, packed with advice about how to develop your comedy writing career. You can watch that Masterclass and many more by signing in to our Real Mackay tier at https://www.patreon.com/SitcomGeeks You can join as a one-off or stick around to enjoy many other benefits of Patreon membership including our free books, discounted courses and future workshops.