Ahead of his Comedy Writing Weekend at Filmbase (8 – 9 April), award-winning comedy writer Stephen Shields gives us his top ten tips for Comedy Sketch Writing.
- BE OBSERVANT AND KEEP NOTES
The world in day to day life can be full of comedy gold. Most hilarity comes from noticing the obtuse in what is normal to others. Comedy has always had an anchor in what people see and take for granted being presented to them in an alternate light. Always be observant into what you find funny in the world and note it down. Even if you do not know why you think it’s funny at that moment, it’s always best to have a written reminder that you can call upon later on a future piece of work.
- READ AND WATCH AS MUCH AS YOU CAN ABOUT CURRENT EVENTS
The news from at home and around the world can be a great source of content for a comedy piece. With so much happening in the world from politics, sport, celebrity news etc. It’s hard not to absorb something funny from either current events or current pop culture trends and incorporating them into a sketch or a joke.
- DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRY A JOKE
The word “taboo” is the name of Tom Hardy’s TV show on the BBC that I only watched the first episode of and thought it was just okay. In day to day usage it means “restricted” or “prohibited”. But in comedy, no one will know what works until you try it and it’s been evaluated either by a producer, executive or the audience. But above all else, be respectful. But try a joke, if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t and try again.
- WATCH AS MUCH COMEDY AS YOU CAN (PAST AND PRESENT)
There have been funny people before you and there will be funny people after you. If you don’t know where you’ve been how can you know where you’re going? Watch comedy. Past and present. Absorb comedy like a vitamin you sponge through your eyes. Anything and everything, from Monty Python to SNL. From The Fast Show to Seinfeld. Watch stuff. Study it. What makes it funny? And how can you learn from it.
FIND WHAT YOU’RE SUITED FOR
Some people find their humour from the crazy world of politics, home and abroad (Donald Trump). Others find humour in the day to day lives of ordinary people. Others think that cats are funny. Cats think humans are funny. It’s a win win situation. Find out what you’re interested in talking about and make it funny. You may even surprise yourself.
A lot subjects have been touched by the comedy greats gone before us. Always look for the new and improved hook. Has this been done before? If not, why? And how can I make it my own comedy gem? Most comedy works when people think outside of the box or rip the box up completely. Do your thing. Make it your own and stand out from the pack.
Comedy writing is a tool and like all tools, it should be locked in the shed and forgot about until the moment a few years down the road when you think “I have a tool for that job”. Sorry I mean, it needs to be sharpened. Try write something every day. A thought, a line of funny dialogue, a whole sketch, a sitcom, a three hour art film about paint drying on a wall somewhere in eastern Europe. Anything. Just write.
- MAKE SOMETHING AND GET IT OUT THERE
YouTube. We have cameras on our phones. You think you’re funny. Make something and put it online. Think how lucky we are that we now have the means to broadcast for free. YouTube is a great training ground and means to get your comedy out to the masses. And if you’re lucky and the right person sees it you could go on to bigger and better platforms. If you don’t swing the bat, you won’t hit the ball. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. If you feed rice to pigeons they will explode. Sorry, I ran out of positive messages you read on Facebook set in a nice font with the background picture almost always a sunset at twilight hour.
Basic story telling rules. Beginning, middle and end. Setup, confrontation, resolution. Not all sketches apply to this format but these are still good rules to follow. I will explain more during the comedy weekend, when you attend *COUGHS* plugs comedy weekend that he’s teaching. Check details on Fimbase here
“Some people are born funny, some have funny thrust upon them and some people are just not funny, let’s face facts, they think they are but really, they’re not. There are funny people though, really funny people”
- William Shakespeare. (May not be original quote)
If you think you’re funny, give it a go. But above all else be funny.
Stephen is an award-winning comedy writer who has worked on some of the most popular comedy series broadcast on national TV, with some of the funniest comic talent the country has to offer. Since winning RTE Storyland 2010 with his web series Zombie Bashers he has gone on to work on numerous comedy shows on RTE including Callan’s Kicks, Foul Play, This is Ireland with Des Bishop and is the longest serving sketch writer on RTE’s The Republic of Telly.