What not to write for Newsjack

A new series of Newsjack starts on 19 September:

Which means, for anyone who wants to write for it, the first deadline is Monday 16 September at 12 noon – that’s less than a week away.

Newsjack is not just a funny show in its own right, it’s also a fantastic opportunity for writers for get noticed at BBC radio comedy. Many people have gone on from Newsjack to greater things.
There is already lots of advice out there on what to do: Ed Morrish, now ex-Newsjack producer has some good advice here for example. Or Scriblit’s excellent piece about making it as a non-comm. If you want to read more look at Dan Sweryt‘s very handy BCG forum post.

But none of these tell what not to do for Newsjack. So here’s my list of “don’ts”. Following these won’t guarantee you get on, but they will stop the producers complaining about you on Twitter…

Bad taste material

Doesn’t matter how funny it is, it won’t get used. And remember this is being broadcast to (potentially) anyone and everyone. Stuff that seems funny with your mates in the pub might be deeply upsetting to someone else.
Pushing the boundaries of taste is not what Newsjack does. Experienced writers and performers might get away with pushing the boundaries at the Beeb. You won’t. Not yet. You have to earn it.

Non topical material

At the risk of stating the obvious, Newsjack is a topical comedy show. Sketches and gags should have at least a tangential relationship to the news.

That doesn’t mean you have to go for well known and obvious stories. The inside pages of the papers are definitely fair game. But do remember to set up the topical link (quickly and amusingly of course) in the intro or start of the sketch/gag.

Oh and “topical” means happened in the last few days not in the last few years.

A sketch with no premise

A sketch needs a premise – a funny idea – that drives it. Most sketches only have room for one idea. Coming up with a killer premise is not a guarantee of getting on, but it gives you a good chance.

Two people throwing funny lines at each other or a collection of jokes on a theme doesn’t make a sketch. You might have been able to get away with this in music hall in the 1930s but I don’t see it making a comeback. A comedy sketch has a funny idea. And a sketch has characters.

A sketch with an obvious well worn premise

Newsjack prides itself on finding interesting angles on the news. It’s not going to do something a bit like a Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch updated with modern references. Write something original and brilliant, not something we’ve all heard before.

Jokes that are all over twitter

Once a joke is all over twitter it is dead to Newsjack. Doesn’t matter if you came up with it yourself independently and didn’t copy it from Twitter, no one listening will know that. All they will think is “I heard that joke four days ago on Twitter.” Congratulate yourself on having come up with a joke that obviously works. And then go and come up with another one.

Sketches that are too long

Most Newsjack sketches run to one or two pages. Possibly three pages for a great sketch that builds well and where lots happens. That’s it. Any longer and it will either get binned or drastically trimmed. And if they have a choice between a sketch that needs trimming and one that doesn’t, guess which is more likely to get used.

A sketch with no intro gag

Not all Newsjack sketches need or use an intro gag but it is easier for them to cut one out than to put one in, if they think it needs one. And it’s another chance to show people you can write funny. So why wouldn’t you? (Because they are hard – I personally hate writing intro gags but no one makes you send sketches to Newsjack, right? And if they are, you might want to call the police…)

Subjects which are sub judice or libellous

The Newsjack team are too busy to be spending hours with the lawyers deciding what is or isn’t sub judice, libellous or otherwise legally questionable – they’ll just throw it out.

Basically don’t write sketches which are:

  • About a current court case
  • Saying something bad about a living person (which isn’t generally accepted/proven)

Anything with no name and email address on it

Unless you don’t want a credit or any money. And if that is what you want you can get the same effect by printing your sketches out, folding them into paper aeroplanes and throwing them into the monkey enclosure at the zoo.

Material which is physically difficult to read

The producers and script editors have to read a lot of sketches and jokes. You want them to read yours in a good mood, ready to laugh and cry and generally wonder at how brilliant you are. You don’t want them rubbing their sore eyes and cursing you under their breath as they struggle to make out what you mean.

There is a standard format for radio sketches. This is isn’t enforced rigidly but it exists for a reason. And why wouldn’t you want to impress them with your professionalism?
That’s it. Good luck with your submissions. Let me know of any “don’ts” that I’ve forgotten in the comments.

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2 Comments on "What not to write for Newsjack"

  1. Vivienne Riddoch
    24/09/2013 at 2:33 pm Permalink

    Hi, David

    I just wanted to let you know that, after three series of slogging away, I’ve finally got my first Newsjack credit last week (the snakes and ladders archive sketch).

    This is in no small part down to your excellent advice which EVERYONE should follow!

    Thanks again

  2. david
    24/09/2013 at 6:40 pm Permalink

    I saw that! Well done. It was a very good sketch (and of course a good premise) as well.

    Crossing my fingers I break my Series 9 duck this week…

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