COMEDY WRITING: UK Radio “Newsjack”

There is something very satisfying about hearing words you have written, causing a (wanted) laugh from people and broadcast over the airwaves.  If this is something you’ve been secretly working towards, the UK is running an open submissions topical news show, right now and for the next 5 weeks.  It’s called Newsjack. (It will run again in the Autumn).

You can send in a brief joke called a one-liner or a slightly longer sketch where maybe two or more people speak, based on national or international news.  Anyone can write in, as long as they’re genuinely interested in writing comedy and willing to keep trying to be funny – and if you’re reading this blog post, that’s likely you.  Submissions are by email, so you can even send in jokes if you’re overseas – as long as you find out what is of interest to UK listeners in the news, and try to be funny about it.  There aren’t great amounts of money to be made, and each person is limited to how many items you can submit per week – but as a starting writer, it’s a golden opportunity.

Screen shot 2019-02-04 at 17.13.10

Where do I find out more?

Newsjack provide a series of short videos and lots of info on writing, on the BBC website here. as part of the plan to attract new comedy writers.

Submitting the scripts is easy, as the BBC provides basic rtf templates for both one-liners and sketches, so you just type into it your funny lines, then sent these, attached to an email. (There will be no acknowledgement of the email unless it’s successfully chosen to feature).

Screen shot 2019-02-04 at 17.15.05Deadlines: these are tight:

  • sketch material by NOON on Monday
  • one-liners by NOON Tuesday

The programme is then recorded on Wednesday, edited and broadcast live on Thursday.

This is a tight turnaround for all concerned.  The writer basically should be soaking up news Friday, Saturday and Sunday and Monday morning, while writing as and when possible during that period.

What happens to my scripts while I’m nibbling my nails, anxiously?

Episode 69 (part 1) of the British Comedy Guide by Sitcom Geeks is excellent for listing what you can be doing and what is going on inside the BBC.

Friday/Sat/Sunday

noncommissioned writers pay attention to news across the media, collecting ideas. Ideally, they set a regular weekly writing time to specifically write these up.

Monday

Morning. Writers – if you’re a morning person, or weekends are busy, you can get up early and put in your writing time then, listening to Radio 4’s “Today” programme to see which News stories are continuing this incoming week.

12.00 pm noon is the deadline for sketches.  There may well be 500 sketches submitted.

Evening. BBC all sketches are read by comedy staff through the afternoon, passing the best 30 or 40 sketches to the script editors that evening

Tuesday

morning – BBC hold meetings to select the 20 funniest sketches to go forward for a readthrough script; editors work on them

12.00 pm noon is the deadline for one-liners.

Wednesday

midday – 20 sketches are sifted to 15, made into a readthrough script.  After readthrough, one or two will be removed.

evening – BBC records the show to a length of about 50 minutes then edits down to 28 minutes (a further 3 or 4 sketches will be axed, to balance the programme)

Thursday

10.30 pm BBC broadcasts the show nationwide on Radio4 Extra.  Afterwards, it will be available on BBC i-player.  Prospective writers should listen and hear what has been covered that week, and how.

Recommended by the BBC: follow the prog on Twitter @newsjackBBC in case there’s a last minute request put out for material on a particular topic!

Also, you can request to receive the programme podcast directly from the BBC website.  Here’s one made earlier:

 

More info here:

Obviously, you dig around to hear previous episodes, to get a feel for the programme, Screen shot 2019-02-04 at 18.57.05and read/view all info on the BBC website for the programme.

However, also, there are two episodes of the podcast “Comedy Geeks”  from February podcasts_sitcom_geeks.jpg2018, which you can listen to: Episode 69 Inside Newsjack (1) and, as night follows day,  Episode 70 Inside Newsjack (2).  In part one, regular contracted writers for the show give insight into their learning process, in part 2, the current presenter/producer, Angela Barnes is interviewed.

Helpful insights:

*submit scripts for all 6 weeks as ALL submissions are read in the BBC Comedy department, so your work is guaranteed to be seen

*make your name by persistently writing each week, thereby increasing chances of getting your name noticed, even if none of your writing is selected to broadcast.

*the practice of writing each week, and listening to the show with frustrated rage as to why other people’s work gets aired and not yours – will improve your analysis, your comedy writing skills and your sense for when a joke is truly good

*during the run of 6 programmes, submissions drop off as people who don’t get aired immediately give up, so your competition is less in the second half of the programme run, definitely make sure you are still submitting then

*showing the producers that you can generate comedy sketches and one-liners for 6 weeks in a row makes you noticeable as a useful writer – if your writing reaches the required standard – you’re not just a one hit wonder 

*always end with a good joke, a strong punchline, don’t just let the idea fade away (repeatedly writing strong punchlines to sketches is an excellent comedy discipline)

*read aloud, edit, edit, edit (rule of thumb: almost any writing can be edited by a third; it will not lose meaning but become better and stronger)

*write for the cast.  There are 2 male voices and 2 female voices; some people just write for male actors, or write for too many characters

*if possible, come to a recording of the show, where you can meet the writers and be seen and known, hanging around

*the show wants to be surprised by the scripts, so don’t write something similar to what you’ve heard.  What is the new angle?

*sketch length should not be more than 2 minutes when read aloud, approx 400 words (including names)

*read back through your sketch – every single line should be either a joke, the setup to the next joke or a bit of essential information you have to insert (ideally, each line should be performing 2 of those 3 functions)

 

What opportunities does it offer?

From looking at the list above of the sifting process through the week, when you get to being one of the 12 sketches picked from an original 500 submissions…. you should feel well pleased!  It is an achievement.  If it’s an achievement you can repeat, showing persistence and commitment, there is the possibility of writing for other BBC radio shows: The News Quiz, Dead Ringers…

“Every single submission gets read… It’s a particular skill writing for Radio and Newsjack is one of our key ways as a department to identify new people…. if you are a new writer, this is a way for your stuff to be seen and to be treated on a level playing-field, and from that, you can build.”  

Adnan, one of the show’s Producers (in Comedy Geeks podcast 69)

 

 

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