Jessica Hynes and Stephen Mangan on how to write to scripts

Posted: June 16, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Panel discussion at London Comedy Writers Festival

Jessica Hynes and Stephen Mangan in discussion with Declan Lowney at the London Comedy Writers Festival 2011. Photo courtesy of Chris Jones.

At the London Comedy Writers Festival 2011, Dan Mazer spoke about the importance of getting talent attached to a script. So what makes performers love a writers writing and want to bring it to the stage or screen?

The festival provided lots of opportunities for performers to speak out on this. Here’s a summary of what Stephen Mangan (Green Wing, Dirk Gently, Adrian Mole) and Jessica Hynes (Spaced, Twenty Twelve) look for in a script:

  • Clarity. “It doesn’t help if I’m confused early on about what’s going on. I want to know who it is I’m playing,” said Stephen Mangan.
  • Whether the characters are believable, idiosyncratic and original enough, and whether those characters and their relationships are intrinsically funny. “Odd bits of clunky dialogue can be worked out,” said Jessica Hynes. “If I don’t feel the writer has asked what’s funny about the person, it’s hard to see how it will ever be funny.”
  • Characters without self-knowledge. Stephen Mangan said he enjoys playing characters where there’s a gap between how they see themselves and how they are seen by others. The more they believe their own reality, the funnier it becomes. Characters like David Brent and Alan Partridge are oblivious to how the rest of the world sees them.
  • Humanity. “However smug, monstrous or aggressive the character is, there has to be an element of vulnerability or humanity,” said Mangan. Otherwise the end result can seem cartoonish.
  • Surprise. Mangan cautioned against having unicorns leaping out of wardrobes, but said there’s nothing worse than thinking you know where the story’s going and then finding out a few pages later that you were right. “As an actor, I’m looking to surprise the audience.”
  • Good use of the medium. “TV is a very visual medium,” said Mangan. “You want a script to enable you to do stuff without saying it. The less dialogue, the better. If a line can be said with a look, take it out.”
  • Scripts that resonate with the performer. “You can appreciate a script is good but not be drawn to it,” said Hynes. It’s important for performers to click with the writer and find the same things funny.


with thanks once again   to Sean McManus at



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