Writing comedy sketches for News Revue: A few tips.

The News Revue is a (record-breaking) topical comedy stage show which has been running in the Canal Cafe Theatre for the last 33 years. (I’ve already written a post about it here.)

It’s (almost) always on and always topical and so it demands huge quantities of fresh, funny material. That makes it a great market for novice comedy writers like myself. And it pays real cash.

Now, nobody is going to get rich (or even keep a roof over their heads) writing for News Revue – it’s simply not big enough to pay a lot. But it pays a profit share based on the how much of your material they use (and  for how long).

They also take a “Best of” show to Edinburgh each year and that (being in a bigger room) pays better.

But writing for News Revue is not about making money (I’d be better off waiting tables) but about what you can learn from seeing your work performed on stage and the validation that only comes from having someone pay real cash for your words.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up either through my own experience or talking to other writers (thanks to Martin Malcolm, in particular), collected here for the common good and so I have more chance of remembering to try put them into practice myself.

  • Go and see the show – that is the best way to get a feel for what they want.
  • News Revue sketches are (almost always) short. I aim for half a page. Joke, joke, joke, punch/twist is enough. They also use quickies (ie one joke, setup-punch sketches).
  • Get the humour from the situation and the characters involved (whether they are celebrities or your own inventions). Don’t have the actors standing up reading out a series of unconnected gags.
  • Give the actors something to do. They have a whole stage to fill. Use it.
  • But remember it is a very simple stage (with a piano), there won’t be lots of props or elaborate sets so don’t write anything that needs them.
  • Remember there are two women and two men in the cast. The women are often underused as a lot of celebrity/politics stories are heavy on male lead characters. Try and find ways to get female characters into sketches.  Female two-handers are have a better chance of getting on than male two-handers for this very reason.
  • News Revue is quite happy to do bad taste (sometimes more than my weak stomach will handle) but do try and make it funny, not JUST sick!

I would love to tell you how to get topical song parodies in the show but I have had a grand total of  one in myself so I’m not the best person to offer advice.  I will repeat the advice I was given… parody the “hook” – that’s the bit of the song everyone knows best, then make sure everything else flows from that eg Downtown becomes Downton. (And be funny, obviously.)

That’s it. Off you go then to take down the rich and powerful with the power of your word processor. Happy News Revue writing.

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