Catch 22


You don’t have to be mad to write comedy, but it helps. I should get some mugs and t-towels made for my merch page and become a millionaire. I recently had an email with the subject line ‘Catch 22?’ and there does seem to be an impossible and conflicting dilemma for aspiring writers. While not quite as life-threatening as a Captain Yossarian situation it can drive people to the brink. Still, I thought I would answer the query while probably failing to answer the query.


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So, you’ve written something; a sitcom pilot script, short film, web series, brilliant comic feature film. You nervously send it out into the world to anyone and everyone who might just take a look at it. Chances are you won’t get many replies, but maybe one or two people respond and say nice things. If you show some promise, great potential or even generate genuine interest in your work then this is just the start of what could be a great ride. But, unless you are brilliant and lucky, it will be a bumpy one, like a comedy writer’s version of World’s Most Dangerous Roads, Ice Road Truckers or if you’re a partnership, Touching the Void.


My recent correspondent had written a web series which received some interest and nice comments from industry professionals. And you know what? That is great; it’s encouraging, someone has actually given you feedback and you feel like you’re making progress. And you are. But then… nothing. Back to square one like the worst game of Snakes and Ladders you’ve ever played and you scream and cry like a child while your competitive dad laughs smugly while he whizzes up another ladder. Then I shout, ‘It’s not fair!’ and he replies, ‘Life’s not fair.’ And I think, well okay maybe life isn’t fair but if people were less of a dick about it then maybe life would be a bit nicer. And now that I’m just as bad as my dad when I play board games, my girlfriend refuses to play Scrabble with me. It’s the circle of life.


Sorry about that tangent, but sometimes it’s good to get these things out. So, you feel there are barriers in the way of your writing moving forward, such as the fact that you haven’t got an agent when you can’t get an agent because you haven’t had anything produced. I know what that feels like, but while having an agent is great, it shouldn’t and doesn’t stop you pursuing your writing. In fact, you can waste precious time trying to get an agent when an agent isn’t going to be interested in signing you.


If producers are reading your work, enjoying it and giving you good feedback and even asking you in to meetings, but not pursuing projects further then, frustrating as that is, you just have to see it as step forward. Most industry folk do try and take time to encourage talent and even if nothing comes of those contacts now, they may do in the future. They have to look at your work and decide whether or not they have a chance of selling it and if they think that’s unlikely then they can’t afford to spend more time on it. This is particularly true if your first projects are sketches or web series. The ideas and scripts might be great, but there’s not a lot you can do with them, so you have to pursue them yourself. There are a few outlets on radio for sketches and gags but whether it’s a sketch, an online series or short film, the only way forward might be to make it yourself. And, yes, there’s probably a whole other post on this, but the only real answer to, ‘how do I do that?’ is, ‘by going out and doing it, learning from your mistakes and doing it again.’


As a new writer without an agent it is difficult to get people to read your work, but some people do and if they really love it, have time to pursue it and believe they have a chance of getting it made then they will. Those three things coming together is rare, but the issue of whether or not someone has an agent has never been an issue in my experience. In fact there are writers and performers whose scripts I have developed who have gone on to get an agent and develop a career and most of them had been through exactly this process. So, dust yourself down if you’re feeling dusty, get up again if you’re feeling Chumabwumba-y and make stuff, write more, write what you want but try and write something someone might want too. Be aware of what’s out there. Watch shows, read scripts. And one day you could be writing a blog and considering merch with snappy slogans in a foolhardy attempt to monetise it.


Just a footnote; David Quantick’s book How to Write Everything is well worth a read and will help anyone in this situation, I think.


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One Gets Overexcited

A conversation with a promising new writer has got me thinking about the perils of getting overexcited.  Not that I got hot and steamy over their well constructed first sitcom script, that would be weird.  I can promise that I did not get excited during the phone call either, that would also be weird and highly inappropriate.

There’s a thin line between unrealistic excitement and sounding like you don’t give a shit.  I try to sound genuine and be honest, but sometimes I can feel myself overcompensating for the inner worry that I’m sounding like I’m not arsed about a project the creator has put their blood, sweat, tears and possibly more into.

If I’m talking to someone about a project of mine I hate it if they are either not bothered or are ‘passionate’ to the point where the bullshit alarm starts screaming and I think there’s no way this is ever going to happen… you, mate, are just too enthusiastic, you should have been a kids television presenter.  This is nonsense, this project is not the best thing since The Office.1  Somewhere in the middle, that’s what to aim for.

It reminds me of the time I went to the televisual trade fair MipCom in Cannes.  Sounds glamorous.  It isn’t.  Or, rather, it wasn’t for me.  Want clips of men’s trousers falling down or boobs exploding Babs Windsor style on big screens?  Then this is the place for you.  I’m sure behind all this there are lots of serious meetings, deals being done and then champagne being drunk, but I was on a subsidised trip with very little to sell so what the hell.  What I did have is a series of ludicrous meetings where people from across the globe got incredibly excited about my projects and guess what happened to them… that’s right, absolutely diddly-squat.  This didn’t surprise me and, like the sugar coated triple chocolate honey smeared candies or Murphy’s apparently, I’m not bitter.

What I’m trying to say is that it is great to be excited about a project, but it’s also good to be realistic and understand the hard work that’s still to come once you’ve written a good pilot script, made a good taster or short film.  So if you’re talking to different people about your script or idea, listen carefully to what they’re saying, their thoughts and ideas for how to take it forward as much as their enthusiasm and passion.

Of course, you may only have one person interested.  In that case cling onto their coattails until they make you rich and famous and if you thought they were a dick then you can always ditch them once you’ve leapt from the stinking gutter into the glorious cosmic beauty of the stars.

1 No one has ever said this to me.