Another session featured a panel of comedians, actors and writer-performers. They performed material written on the day by some of the writers there and gave feedback on it, as well as taking part in a panel discussion. Their tips included:
- Tailor your work. “It’s good to use what’s unique about the performer,” said Tom Bell. “Write something where the performer can really shine.”
- Write collaboratively. “We enjoy the creative process. If you come to us with an idea, we might want to workshop something,” said Max Dickins. Performers don’t necessarily want to just buy an idea. They might want to adapt it so it’s closer to what works for them.
- Tune your ear. “I want to see dialogue that works and is real,” said Colin Hoult. “If things are overly descriptive or theoretical, it doesn’t help.” He said he looks for a “true voice that sounds real”, so the lines don’t sound abstract when he delivers them. He also said a big turning point in his act was when he started to add in sad stuff to add more depth, rather than having pure comedy all the way.
- Contact a comedian before sending them material. Sara Pascoe said that writers should contact a performer before sending a single page and introduce themselves and why they want to work with a particular comedian. See them live and show them you understand what’s funny about their act. If you meet comics they might put a word in for you on shows they perform on.
- Focus on TV comedians. “Stand-ups have to earn a lot to pay you. On the circuit, you don’t earn enough,” said Pascoe. “Someone on TV uses material quickly. They usually have six writers.”
- In sketches, be clear about where the scene is set and what’s going on. Don’t use jokes that rely on people being confused about where the scene is taking place.
- In sketches, use actions. You can have people running through a scene, maybe bringing something or bumping into it so there’s a reason to talk about it, rather than forcing characters to talk about it without an authentic prompt.
- Know your priorities. Hoult said that the amount of work available is much greater for jobbing writers who love writing jokes. The potential rewards are greater for “vision-led” work, like sitcoms, but you’re more likely to fail.
- Respect the market. Excessively bad language and extremely distasteful subjects will get thrown out. You might think that’s obvious, but during the workshop session, there was at least one sketch that went too far.
- Be true to your own vision. “You do this so you enjoy life,” said Pascoe. “People can’t write well unless they write their vision. Write as well as you can, honestly. If you’re funny, it’ll be funny. But if not, it’ll be well written and will find itself.
with thanks to Sean McManus at http://www.sean.co.uk/writing/comedy/index.shtm