27 Mar 2014
basac's picture

THIS WEEK I was going to pay another visit to Newsjack, and talk about the mechanics of sketch writing.

Then a massively significant story broke that no one seemed to care about, which was that non-payment of the BBC Licence Fee is about to be decriminalised. I've always tried to remain optimistic about the BBC but this sounds like a disaster... if you know you won't go to prison for withholding your licence fee, who's going to bother paying? It's not like gas or electricity, where non-payment means you get cut off.

So what would be the point of writing a blog about how to write sketches for Newsjack when there's unlikely to be a BBC left to put them on? That all seemed too depressing to blog about, and anyway the mighty Jack Seale has written far more eloquently and with more specific knowledge than I have on how we MUST fight to keep the BBC. Please read the link at the end of this piece if you get a moment.

Luckily diversionary help came from my occasional teaching partners James Cary (@sitcomgeek) and Danny Stack (@ScriptwritingUK), who have set up a kind of writing bloggers relay race. Four questions for blog writers, and then pass on the baton.

Excellent, I get a chance to write about the subject on which I am the world’s foremost expert: me…

What am I working on?

I'm glad that question came now, three weeks ago I would have said “erm, well, y'know, this'n'that, bits'n'bobs”. When you're working on a big proper show, it takes over your life and you fantasise about the day when that work is done and you can start thinking about your other pet projects.

That's where I was for chunks of January and February, and it is exciting and terrifying in equal measure. During that time I firmed up some new book ideas and began a new sitcom... which I abandoned, for now. It's a great idea and I'm not telling you what because that'll ruin it, but it took me three months of mulling the idea over in my head to work out it is not (yet) a sitcom. It's definitely something, and I've put loads of work into it, so I'm hoping one day, when I'm thinking about something else, the answer as to what it is will pop into my head.

This week I'm working on a new sketch show for Radio 4, starting from scratch, and I'll talk about the process for that next week. Plus the new scripts for the next series of 'Not Going Out' are coming thick and fast. Spoiler alert: they're very funny indeed.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This question gets to the heart of what it's like being a freelance comedy writer. We all want to create our own projects, but most of us spend most of our working lives on other people's shows. I've written for loads of fantastic programmes over the years and am proud to have had my name associated with them.

Working for others is about achieving a balance between what they want and what you can give them. You've been asked to do that job because someone has seen what you do and liked it, so they have effectively purchased your brain for the day. When the work you’ve been asked to do is most like the things you like doing anyway, then it doesn’t feel like work at all.

Why do I write what I do?

There are three answers to this and whichever one applies depends on my mood at the time:

1. Because I've been incredibly lucky and privileged that enough people have liked what I do to ask me to work with them on a regular basis to write and perform comedy.

2. I like showing off.

3. I am a needy and pathetic soul whose fragile ego requires constant validation from an audience of peers and strangers.

How does my writing process work?

I only have one rule which is the tasks I'm least looking forward to have to be done between 9 and 11am.

Otherwise it varies tremendously depending on what I'm working on. A longer piece of work requires serious concentration and I try and have the world switched off for chunks of two hours at a time. A song is usually no more than 2-300 words so that requires small bursts of activity followed by chunks of procrastination and tweeting. In the days before Twitter my flat was the tidiest workspace in town.

Writing one-off gags for sitcom scripts can be done anywhere, any time, with a pen and a scrap of paper: on the bus, in a cafe, but I've learned it's not a good idea while swimming.

Okay… I’m going to hand the baton over to two of my favourite bloggers: the prolific John Fleming who writes consistently interesting pieces about proper alternative comedy. and Bruce Dessau, who spends his life reviewing all of comedy so you can choose the best bits.

I’m also going to pass this on to one of my favourite comedy writer/performers and occasional blogger @thewritertype who always has excellent advice for new writers.

Finally here’s the link to that excellent Jack Seale piece: http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2014-03-15/never-mind-saving-bbc3-the-bbc...