Richard Curtis comedy masterclass
Whether writing comic history like the perennial Blackadder, classic rom-coms like Four Weddings and Notting Hill, or dramas like The Girl in the Café and his recent film About Time, Richard Curtis has firmly established himself as British comedy royalty.
In this special masterclass recorded at his Notting Hill office, Richard gives us his take on the writing process, working with script editors and maintaining a creative and productive writer-producer relationship.
Covering his early work writing for topical shows like Radio 4's Week Ending, to collaborations with Ben Elton and Rowan Atkinson, he reveals the advantages of co-writing partnerships and how they have helped him transform the seed of a funny situation or sketch into something more substantial.
He tells us how he went about scripting visual comedy like Mr Bean and how the towering central performances from the likes of Rowan Atkinson and Dawn French in The Vicar of Dibley have informed his work. We also hear his views on the importance of the central message of the sketch or scene and on having the confidence to know where funny starts and ends.
So how do you go about creating the immortal characters and crazy situations that will end up making generations laugh for years to come?
Joining Hazel Marshall in the studio, with an abundance of practical advice for the next generation of sitcom writers, are three very successful characters from the comedy industry, John Finnemore, Tira Shubart and Jon Plowman.
John Finnemore writes and stars in the award winning Cabin Pressure on BBC Radio 4.
Tira Shubart wrote the critically acclaimed BBC Two sitcom Taking the Flak.
Jon Plowman has an extremely illustrious comedy background, exec producing Absolutely Fabulous, The League of Gentlemen and The Thick of It amongst many more comedy classics.
The joy of sketch
The Craft of Comedy conference, held in Llandudno, North Wales on 22 February 2014, was aimed at people looking to get into the comedy business. In this master class from the conference, John Finnemore, creator and writer of John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme and Cabin Pressure talks to BBC Radio Comedy producer Colin Anderson about radio sketch writing. He talks about how he made it as a sketch writer and gives his advice to fledgling comedy writers.
Having done his fair share of low-profile comedy gigs, John recommends that stand up comedy is a good training ground. Whether at a students’ union or a room above a local pub, this is your chance to find out what works and whether your sketches will stand up or fall flat in front of an audience. As John puts it, you need to perform your sketches live “to find out where the laughs are.”
Sketch writing is easier to get into than trying to pitch a whole sitcom series to a radio show. A sketch may only be a couple of minutes, but once it’s been accepted, you can quickly build your relationship with that broadcaster. With the growth of open door radio shows such as The Show What You Wrote and Newsjack, it’s easier than ever for budding sketch writers to approach programme-makers and see results. John describes how best to pitch to these shows, which both accept submissions from completely new writers.
John advises writers to keep their sketches short. Familiarise yourself with the style and cast of a show, avoid racist, sexist or violent content and remember to always include a punchline. The more you can become known as a promising writer the more useful feedback you will get from programme makers to help improve your work.
John also encourages sketch writers to keep notebooks with them at all times and to never throw an idea away – you can always improve upon it later. Find out what writing routine works best for you, whether that means writing at 6am or 8pm. He also says that although comedy sketch show producers do get sent a lot of submissions, very few of them are usable, so good writers will stand out straight away - “the competition isn’t as daunting as you might think.”
John Finnemore is a comedy writer for BBC Radio 4 Extra’s airline-themed sitcom Cabin Pressure, as well as the Radio Academy award winning sketch show John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme. He has also written for That Mitchell & Webb Look, Dead Ringers and The Now Show.
Colin Anderson graduated from the BBC’s programme-making trainee scheme to become a producer for BBC Comedy. He has produced sketch shows for various BBC Radio stations, as well as the comedy series Josie Long: All of The Planet‘s Wonders and The Maltby Collection. He has won Radio Academy Awards for The Now Show and Mark Thomas: My Life In Serious Organised Crime.
Creating a comedy podcast
Live from Kirrin Island is a topical comedy show produced by a selection of writers from the British Comedy Guide in conjunction with a team of accomplished performers. The writers are regular contributors to BBC radio comedy shows including Newsjack and Recorded for Training Purposes.
We hear from producer and writer Alison Pritchard, script editor Stu Cooper and writer and performer Steve Holford on the collaborative and open process involved in producing such a successful podcast.
They offer some insight into the practicalities of pooling their creative talents, the hard lessons learned and their tips for creating your own comedy podcast.
Writing comedy sketches
Joining Simon Smith this week are a trio of highly experienced TV and radio comedy writers in the form of Gareth Gwynn, Laurence Howarth and John Luke Roberts.
Gareth Gwynn is the writer for many shows including Newsjack and The News Quiz and Pantheon of Heroes, a comedic look at Welsh history.
Laurence Howarth has won a British Comedy Award and a Sony Gold Award as one of the head writers of Dead Ringers and has written for Armstrong and Miller and Mitchell and Webb.
John Luke Roberts was a finalist on the BBC New Comedy Awards, has had two series of his own sketch show Spats on BBC Radio 7, and spent a fruitful year as the writer in residence for BBC Radio Comedy.