The Show What You Wrote – the things what I learned

Well, 15,000 sketches read less than 1% of those used. And The Show What You Wrote is done (apart from the editing and broadcast… ย ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

No credit for me this time. But I have learned a lot from the process of writing for a non-topical show. And from Jon Hunter‘s excellent general feedback which he has shared on the BBC website.

The big learning point for me is that I need to have to discipline to give my sketches the good hard edit they deserve. It’s too easy when writing topical comedy to use the excuse that itย has to be fast, there’s no time to give it another polish, fire and forget and write the next one. But there is no point in writing mediocre sketches. Some of those pieces in the TSWYW will have been polished over months (if not years). I can’t hope to bang out 20 sketches, not look at half of them twice and compete with that.

I need to make sure I take the time to edit each sentence to get rid of dead words and get the funniest possible construction and also to “tick the laughs”. If there are any long gaps between jokes I want that to be deliberate.

Also on a practical note, I think getting your sketches in early helps. With the best will in the world, if you are reading 15,000 sketches by the time you get to the second 7,500 you are looking for reasons not to read on, rather than looking for more sketches for the maybe pile.

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5 Comments on "The Show What You Wrote – the things what I learned"

  1. Gary
    11/06/2013 at 5:01 pm Permalink

    What puzzles me is how these shows – and I realise everything is subjective where comedy is concerned – still manage to vary in quality so much within episodes, given the amount of material that’s submitted.

    We’re all making an assumption, when we offer material up to the BBC comedy gods, that they’re going to make the right choices, based on the standard recommendations that any reasonably-informed writer should know. And from thousands of sketches, you would expect a series to consist of the sort of tightly-written, laughter-inducing material that is described in the feedback, having cherry-picked the finest material. The trouble is, I don’t get that from listening to the shows (I’m thinking of Newsjack here). There are much funnier shows on the radio that are written by one or two people. Shows sourced from the cream of thousands of writers should be the funniest thing on! But I still hear sketches that haven’t met the requirements set out in the feedback (and that too often contain ‘gentle’ humour at best).

    I think you’re absolutely right to say that some kind of fatigue must set in for a script reader, which means some sketches get treated less favourably than others. I also think that shows such as these are guilty of looking for certain types of sketches to fit in with a ‘house-style’ which makes them, as I’d describe them, ‘very Radio 4’. I don’t think they’d see anything wrong with this, and it’s certainly why they advise you listen to the show beforehand, but I think they often blur the lines between adhering to format and adhering to a style of humour, which results in a show that comes from a much narrower band of comedy.

    We must also remember that just as there are good and bad writers, there are also good and bad producers – and that one-liner or sketch that you sent in might have been just fine, even though it ended up in someone’s bin.

  2. david
    13/06/2013 at 1:07 pm Permalink


    Thanks for the comment.

    I agree with you that comedy is subjective and when you have a lot to choose from “gut feel” is going to come into it. And obviously producers are different – if you can find one that “gets” what you do cling onto them (not literally – I’m not making that mistake again ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

    But I don’t think it’s helpful as a writer to make too many excuses for yourself. For any given project there are lots of reasons out of your control which might scupper it, but over the long term some writers are more successful than others. If you want to be successful find out what they are doing that you aren’t and try and see if it helps you get better.

    And remember with these open sub shows the producers and script editors aren’t marking your work like an exam. They are looking for material for a particular show with particular performers on a particular theme on a particular theme and, yes, they might be tired or in a bad mood when they pick up your script. That’s life.

    On the question of shows written by one or two vs mass written shows, I think sometimes, assuming the writers are good enough, it is easier to make something really good with only a few writers as you can develop a lot of the details, the tone and so on that makes a show really stand out. I’m not sure that if you took all the leading comedy writers working professionally today and got them to make a sketch show together that it would automatically be the best show ever.

    So my plan is still. Write more. Edit MUCH more. Write better. Cross my fingers it gets me further. Rinse and repeat.


  3. Peter
    23/06/2013 at 3:33 pm Permalink

    Hi David,

    While I agree with everything you say in your post, my own experience of writing for SWYS actually ran counter to what might have been expected. Firstly, I was asked to rewrite one of the six sketches I sent in because the editor liked the idea but wanted it presented differently. And when it was finally recorded (I went to the recording for the first episode) I found the editor had made further changes. All of which might lead me to believe that agonising about the minutiae of each line of dialogue isn’t necessarily as important as I’d though. Secondly, I sent the sketches in just a week before the deadline, so it looks as if the editor didn’t altogether give up while sifting through the material (unless most people really do leave it to the last possible day to submit).

    Following on from Gary’s comment, I agree that Newsjack is patchy at best. But I thought the first episode of SWYW was consistently good throughout with a decent variety of sketches. So maybe there is something to be said for crowd sourced comedy.

    All the best,

  4. david
    24/06/2013 at 7:58 am Permalink


    Thanks for the comment. (It’s always nice to get a real one, i.e. not about prescription drugs or Louis Vuitton handbags…)

    And I’m not sure your experience contradicts what I was saying at all. I completely agree we shouldn’t get precious about what we write – if you write for a collaborative medium like radio comedy you have to accept other people’s input – but that doesn’t get us off the hook for trying to make what we do as good as possible.

    Obviously different people will assess “good” differently – we all have different senses of humour and other preferences. And also sketches may be good in one way and not another (e.g. good premise and characterisation but lacking sparkling dialogue).

    Also I was one of those desperately submitting sketches on the morning of the midday deadline. So one week before is definitely “early”! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. david
    24/06/2013 at 8:20 am Permalink

    PS The producers and script eds on Newsjack have to do an enormous amount of work in a short time, so I imagine there isn’t always time for the extra polish you might get on a non-topical show.

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