24 Jul 2018
dave's picture

It’s Day 2 in the Newsjack cycle. Yesterday, Friday, you started looking at stories and wondering which ones you might write up.
You can send two sketches a week to the show, and your deadline is Monday morning. (Thursday in this experiment). So you have all day today, and tomorrow, and through the night on Wednesday to get your scripts ready. And you may well need that amount of time.
Tomorrow I’ll be reminding you how to write comedy sketches but for today the main thing you need to have is at least one big funny comedy angle for each of your sketches. By the time you send off your sketches, you should have two – the set up twist that will take your sketch out of the normal world, and another twist towards the end that will take you somewhere else. And in between both of those points you’re going to need at least half a dozen laugh-out-loud gags.
Told you it wouldn’t be easy.
Hopefully you found lots of promising stories yesterday, and there may be some new goodies today. Remember to avoid all matters Trump and Brexit. The commissioned writers will be covering both those stories (or deciding to take a well-earned break from them for the moment), and they probably won’t start writing their sketches until you’ve already handed yours in.
Today’s Brexit clown car moments included the new Brexit secretary admitting he hasn’t really got a handle on the detail, also that he was at the heart of the company that’s been fined for criminal activity during the referendum. (Everyone shrugs shoulders), also that Jacob Rees Mogg reckons the Brexit dividend is maybe 50 years away. But who knows where any of these stories will be 48 hours from now?
Similarly Trump and the Iranian president are sounding like two contestants in a WWF ‘fight’, it’s quite funny if you can take your mind off the fact that it’s two blokes genuinely spoiling for a real war, but Donald will probably retract it tomorrow so that will be the end of that fun.
You might be able to do something with the story that Theresa May relaxes by walking, cooking and watching US crime series, presumably not all at the same time. I’m sure it’s been done many times (and indeed was a staple of Spitting Image) but At Home With The Prime Minister feels like it has possibilities. Having said that, it’s my first thought, which means that at least ten more people will have thought exactly the same and will send that sketch to Newsjack. So unless you have a really brilliant unusual never-thought-of-before angle on that I would try and imagine another version of it.
Most of the other big stories today are the kind that topical comedy shows tend to avoid. There may be a comedy angle on the Home Secretary allowing the US to sentence British ISIS members to death, but with all respect I’m not sure, you, new writer, may find the take on the story to make it work.
The Labour anti-Semitic row is also a difficult area for comedy sketch land, as Tracey Ullman has found of late. I’m not saying this is a no-go area, but it’s the kind of subject the writers will want to discuss long and hard before deciding to go ahead, and unfortunately for you that will probably be a discussion for the main team.
There are a few of the bigger stories with some comic potential.
Have you been following the story of the Ukrainian man who faked his murder? I’ve been trying. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-44860698 Maybe I’m a bit thick but after three goes at making head or tail of it I gave up. Once again it feels like there is comedic potential here.
Otherwise you want to look at stories with a lot of useful statistics, or with a funny human element. I would always avoid the ‘funny’ story – East Fife 4, Forfar 5 for example, as the story itself is usually about as funny as it can get. When I was writing News Quiz we had to do at least one of those stories every week and it was nearly always impossible to find a joke to top the original story.
This is the kind of story that offers lots of angles – a bunch of statistics about speeding fines in the UK: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-44917303 The headlines are: children as young as 8 caught speeding, people as old as 99. The greatest number of speeders are 46-year-old males. Yes it’s about a potentially dangerous and tragic situation but in this specific story nobody dies, and as a general rule, stories that involve people dying are best avoided by topical comedy writers.
This is another driving story, about not enough people taking eye tests https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-44918423 The driving angle doesn’t feel especially promising, but people needing eye tests is a tried and tested comedy set-up.
This sounds quite funny, Tesco opening a ‘new format’ of shop: https://news.sky.com/story/tesco-may-challenge-aldi-and-lidl-with-new-retail-format-11446332 I have an image of a square wheel in my head for some reason.
How about this 13-year-old business wunderkind with her lemonade selling franchise? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-44860428 Like 8-year-old car drivers, 13-year-old capitalists are funny. Aren’t they? Let’s see.
Now I realise it’s an age thing and I didn’t really understand more than a quarter of the words in this piece https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-44898224 but it’s a huge convention of comic book fans in San Diego, and there was a lot of discussion about the new Doctor Who. Personally I would sooner remove my ear drums with a sonic screwdriver than listen to another Dr Who spoof (the show is, after all, mostly funny anyway), but there seem to be a lot of popular culture references in this article that I’m sure some of you will be able to work into a comedy sketch (and I love Brooklyn 99 by the way).
Remember, you need to find a funny ‘what if’ angle – what if Tesco ‘new format’ shop was somebody’s house? What if the new host of the Apprentice was a ten-year-old?
But that’s not enough, we’re going to need lots of jokes off the back of that, and a big twist at the end.
Get writing!

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