I started off writing comedy for radio and TV and then ‘graduated’ to books and then books that were not meant to be funny. (Little humour in Verdun or Iwo Jima). I thought it might be useful to share a few things I’d picked up along the way.
A lot of writers will talk about the kudos or desire to see their art getting an audience. What attracted me was not only did you get all of that – you got cash too. Not an awful lot, but more than you got for not sending jokes in.
You can be supremely talented and come up with great material without even thinking about it. John Cleese once said that it took as long to read a Peter Cook sketch as it took him to write it. Us mortals have to work at it.
How to conjure up what might be funny? Try putting together two disparate elements, for example, Dr Who + Dobbie’s Garden Centres, or picking one particular aspect of a person and exaggerating it ad nauseum, for example, a councillor’s high pitched voice. Does his audience become only canine in nature?). There are many other comedy ‘rules’ and once you learn them they are incredibly useful.
Material is everywhere and any waking moment could provide some nugget that could be turned into a big comedy gold bar. Health warning: once you start noticing things you can’t switch off.
If there was something that bothered you, you could write about it. A very basic form of therapy perhaps but one that serves as a strong incentive. Being shouted at by a taxi driver on the way to work might well result in a taxi driver appearing as a character in that week’s sketch, rather than a bus driver.
Open-call comedy shows were by their nature competitive. Writers experienced and novice struck their elbows out to get heard and then repeatedly chosen. If they were consistent, they got commissioned. I prefered to remain a lone wolf writer. (Was never asked). There was great disappointment to be had when, after sending in what you thought were great gags, you heard absolutely none of them broadcast. This can serve as an added incentive or a disencouragement.
Comedy writing demands intensive editing. If it’s not producing a laugh, or quickly leading to a laugh, it is cut out. This was a great skill that can be used for any form of communication.
A general rule of comedy is always to carry a notebook. * Or maybe there’s an app for that nowadays.
* – And a pen.