Writing for Newsjack

Newsjack is the BBC‘s open submission topical comedy show on Radio 4 Extra (Radio 7 in old money).

I’ve been sending them sketches and gags regularly through the last two series, with one shiny broadcast credit to show for it. I got nothing in the last series (series 5) but got one near miss – something recorded for the show that ended up on the cutting room floor. (The cutting room is very appropriately named!)

I don’t feel bad about my low hit rate – it’s such a competitive show to get on. And if nothing else the process of writing to a deadline each week has helped my writing improve. But I do want to get better – and get something on every week 🙂 (This is what’s known in the business as “being completely unrealistic”.) But you have to start somewhere.

So I’ve been thinking about the lessons I learned writing for Newsjack and what I can do to improve. Most of them are stating the obvious. But I find that I usually need the obvious stated clearly and frequently. There is a big difference between knowing and doing.

1. Practice – the more you write the better you get at writing.

2. Write more sketches than you need. Write 6 sketches, submit three.

3. Write down more than the first joke or scenario you thought of. Chances are everyone else will have thought of it too. Get down lots of ideas and choose the best – don’t expect to come up with brilliant material first time, every time.

4. Keep pushing every joke, and every punchline to be funnier and tighter.

4a. To do this come up with lots of options, then pick the best. Don’t try and think of the “best joke” out of thin air.

5. Sleep is optional.

6. Most importantly – write things to your own high standards. Never think “It’ll do” and fire it off. If you’re not happy with it, why would anyone else be?

Comedy is subjective and to be used in a particular show at a particular moment you need to tickle that particular script ed’s funnybone enough (on Newsjack they rotate the script editor every couple of weeks). But it is possible to get better, get funnier and get your work on shows more often. At least I hope so.

So on with the writing…