02 Jul 2014
basac's picture

Today's blog is given over to Joel Soetendorp, a comedy writer you've probably never heard of but who is very successfully making a living at writing comedy. Joel's main source of income is writing content on the internet, and he clearly has a knack for it. I talked to Joel (the urge to say 'at his LA poolside' is strong but would be inaccurate) about his work. 

How long have you been writing comedy? 

Oh years, but if I go by my first sale of stuff then it’s News Revue 2006. 

In terms of earning proper money which I suppose would be £500+ that would be about since 2011. In terms of equivalent to my old salary about a year. 


How did you get writing for money on the internet? 

Well to begin with hunting down opportunities, like News Revue or BBC open access stuff, writing for stand-up comics that sort of thing.  You could live on it, if your idea of living involved sleeping in a cardboard box and eating catfood.  Then a friend who I’d been trying to tout some speech writing to suggested why don’t I stop pestering him and have a go at Elance.  So I went on there as  a comedy writer and at first maybe for a year sold nothing, then lowered my prices and took about 6 months to get 10 awful jobs and after that it got a lot easier and I put my prices up. 


How easy has it been to go full-time? 

The first 18 months were tricky and the first 10 jobs were a real slog.  I mean I think I once did a 1000 funny captions for $100 which was a couple of very long days.  But once I got a few reliable jobs, a good reputation and some clients recruited me onto their teams off site it became much easier.  I mean you never lose the freelancer anxiety that tomorrow there’ll be no more clients and you’ll have to go back to a real job. That or the cardboard box and catfood. 


What are you writing at the moment? 

I write mostly humorous content, people want content written like Innocent fruit drinks or Dollar Shave Club, plus editing bland books to make them humorous. 

1        Content for a site on a top secret method of disposing of dog poop. 

2        Writing a humorous ebook on how to survive in the year 2015. 

3        Adding camp humour to the memoirs of a gay athlete who lived in the Castro in San Fran in the 1970s but never learned to write camp/humour 

4        A couple of speeches for a Toastmaster student with an upcoming competition (well editing I suppose, as writing them would be cheating)  

5        Preparing a sitcom report on a sitcom that just failed BBC writers room (why do people only ask why they fail afterwards? Never how do I avoid failing before) 


Can you tell me about some of your projects? 

I'm always delighted that people are nice enough to pay me... 

One of my first serious clients was a very nice rodeo clown from Canada who was Jewish.  His job was to not only distract the bulls, but also to entertain crowds of drunken rednecks, whilst the bodies were dragged out of the arena and the blood mopped up. 

So I helped write sketches and musical numbers for him with an intellectual bent, including a one man version of Titanic, with his special motor boat on wheels with a bubble machine. 

I’ve written stand up comedy material for about a dozen female motivational speakers and comedians. In a couple of cases where they didn’t seem to trust  a woman to write it for them, go figure? 

I've written  sets of 10 jokes for advertising on almost any subject, including underfloor heating and roofers (quite proud of Even the Avengers couldn’t assemble a roof like us) 

...Promoting a series of detective novels about a psychic dog who solves murders. 

I tweeted as his best friend a secret agent cat called Captain Catsup, who was sort of a feline George Smiley. 

Had a lovely photo of a cat in a pickelhaube as my avatar. 

Captain Catsup was far more popular than me on Twitter. 

I tweeted as Donut the Dog for a  pastor/childrens author in the US who wanted to put kids off eating sweets. 

I wrote some quite innocent jokes, he got surprisingly aggressive with Donut. 


Is there any writing job you won’t do? 

I have turned down some jobs since I started. One man wanted me to write his life story: 

“My wife made my life a misery, took my house, took my kids, got me arrested for attempted murder.” 

“Was it a false accusation?” 

“I’m in jail, I did try and kill her, look I only tried it’s not like I actually killed her.” 


And there’s no shortage of creepy guys who want someone – anyone - to write their profile for dating sites, so they don’t sound creepy and erm dangerous. 


How much do you make working for elance? 

That’s between me and the tax man but it’s more than my old day job. 


How does someone get work writing for elance? Do you think all comedy writers should try it? 

Set up a decent profile, follow their advice and check out their forums (called the Water Cooler natch).  Get some good samples for your portfolio. 

Then start applying for jobs and suck it up for the first 10 awful jobs, or possibly 20. 

I know one writer who started making good money in his first month, others make next to nothing in a year. 

Remember reliability and sticking to the brief beats brilliance. 

It’s not for everyone, most jobs involved anonymity and signing away rights so you won’t get famous or recognised. And the rate is lower than anything else professional, there’s just a lot more work to get done. 


Finally, has writing for elance helped your career - or is it a problem trying to write so much when you keep getting hassled by me asking you questions about writing for elance? 

It's helped work massively, people who like me on elance have developed a trusting relationship with me. They may choose to work with me via my own website but they wouldn't have found me without elance 

Elance provide a system of feedback and more importantly escrow means I usually ask clients to hire me via elance (bizarrely some prefer to pay me full in advance than use elance) It also helps me develop an effective reputation far better than a few unverifiable quotes on my website. 


One thing I didn't mention before is that Joel is a very funny writer. Here's Joel's profile on elance.  That should give you an idea of how to go about internet writing - or even hiring. Good luck!