Thursday, 2 September 2010

Are You Having A Laugh?

I recently wrote a pilot episode for a sitcom and had someone take a look at it. The guy has worked on several television programmes and once had his own series back in the early nineties so he knows what he's talking about. He filled four pages of A4 with his comments telling me that the basic idea was good and it was funny but that it needed a lot of work. I've almost finished the rework and it got me thinking about classic comedies. Was the writing as good as we think?

Now I'm not going to question the undisputable talent of the likes of Galton and Simpson, Croft and Perry, Eric Chappell etc. But would their shows have enjoyed the longevity without the comic geniuses that starred in them?

My particular favourites are Dad's Army and Rising Damp and they still make me laugh. But when I watch them now for the millionth time I begin to wonder whether the script is really all that funny. Is it just the brilliant comedy actors that are turning poor jokes into pants-wetting crackers? In other words – is it the way they tell 'em? And just because someone has had a successful series are they allowed to get away with substandard stuff the next time? Because there have been a few turkeys on the telly lately.

I personally think Leonard Rossiter was in a league of his own and could probably make the telephone directory sound funny. So where does that leave us budding John Sullivans? We can't approach the BBC and say 'I know this script is crap but get David Jason and Julie Walters in it and it'll be a BAFTA winner'. For us unknowns I suppose we just have to try and make the first few pages catch the attention of the reader so that they are encouraged to read on and give us a chance. Just one chance... just a little bit of encouragement... please... the blokes down the pub think I'm funny... my mum says I was always making people laugh...


  1. Dad's Army and Rising Damp - classics! But I agree with you about the recent turkeys. I think pathos is an important element of successful sitcoms and it's there in the best ones.
    I wish you luck with yours - it certainly sounds as if you're on the right track with it!

  2. I think the writing still had to be great for the actor/actress to carry it off. I think like us newbie writers you have to be careful about saying things like my mum thinks I'm great etc. Your script like my MS has to speak for itself. I wish you lots of luck, Keith. Have you tried posting some of your writing on ''?

  3. Good point about the pathos, Teresa. You've given me something else to think about.
    By the way, just got the latest T-a-B. Is that 3 or 4 stories you've had in the last couple of months? Not that I'm jealous... well, a bit... well, a lot really.

    Perhaps I've seen them so many times that I know which jokes are coming up, Jarmara. And they say that familiarity breeds contempt.
    I've been on but not I'll take a look.

  4. Two things come to mind. One is that I think humour (and taste, come to that) change over time. This may not apply to everyone, but I find that things I used to find hilarious now leave me cold. Maybe they were of their time, like, for example, Charlie Chaplin?

    The other point is - do you listen to the "comedies" on Radio 4 at 6.30 in the evenings? Most of them are so awful that it beggars belief that they wre ever paid for and performed. Not very encouraging for anyone trying to get into that kind of thing.

  5. You are right of course, Frances, about changing tastes. I used to find On The Buses funny but seeing some of the repeats now make me cringe. They are awful! Maybe I've just grown up. (No that can't be right).
    I've followed some of the radio comedies and the sad thing for me is that, if one is successful, it gets transferred to TV. And that usually kills it.