Ever thought about writing a comedy script, but not sure where to start? We got some advice from award-winning production company, The Comedy Unit (responsible for Limmy’s Show, Rab C Nesbitt, and Badults, to name but a few).
So may we present, The Comedy Unit’s Tips for writing a comedy script!
Have an original idea
Sounds daft, but don’t write a comedy script around an idea that’s already been made. Love in different cities – Gavin and Stacey! Young couple, first house – Him and Her! Market traders who live in a high rise – Only Fools! This is the hardest bit. But when you’ve got that spark the rest is easy.
Actually have an idea
Sounds even dafter but if you can’t distil the idea of your comedy show in to an interesting short, one line billing that would sit nicely in the Radio Times then you don’t actually have a clear enough idea.
Have an idea people want
Not as daft as the above, but the web is full of BBC’s commissioning guidelines, press articles about what the comedy commissioner at Sky wants, websites dedicated to announcing new comedy series being green lit on radio… there’s comedy trends and wish lists out there and with a bit of research online you can get a feel for what people are after.
Write what you know / what you believe in
That said, don’t write about something you don’t know. You have to be passionate about what you’re writing. I’ve never written a comedy about a Zoo because I don’t ever go to the Zoo and I’ve never worked at one. Don’t start me on Zoos!
Don’t overwrite stage directions
We don’t need to wonder what that strange scent of autumn that hangs in the air is as we focus on a boutique red table lamp that the camera sweeps past to settle on a recently polished brown leather couch. You’re in a nice living room… get on with it… write jokes!
Don’t overwrite in general
A lot of scripts fall down because the writer doesn’t edit down big monologues as they feel they are packed with laughs. More often than not there are a couple of gags that could go and plotting that could be more easily explained. Always look to tighten.
Characters should be clearly identifiable
It’s amazing how many characters in scripts I read speak the same as the other characters and have the same voice. An old test is to cover the character name in the script and just read the line… you should know who said it.
No long character descriptions
Short pen portraits are fine, and a bit about their arc is okay, but essentially a character should sing by themselves in the script (not literally unless they are musically inclined). Essentially the script shouldn’t need a handbook to explain it. Audiences don’t get one so why should the reader.
Common sense but makes it easier for readers to discuss.
Try it out
Your pals and your family are your harshest critics. Get them over, buy some booze, read it out in the living room, laugh at everyone’s bad acting and then get them to tear it to shreds. Whether you take it all on board or just one wee thing that your brother said… open yourself to criticism, evaluate the points, change some, stick to your guns on others… and it will be submitted in a stronger state.