Advice for Radio Comedy

6th January 2010 by Maura McHugh

Anyone interested in writing for radio comedy will find it useful to read The Stage’s article, “Waves of Thought: Harry Venning on writing radio comedy”.

Harry Venning has written Clare in the Community a radio sitcom for the BBC, and his new show, Sneakiepeeks has just launched on BBC Radio 4.

My friend Anil Gupta, an award-winning writer and producer in both mediums, and a man who has shamelessly stolen lines from Clare in the Community for his own scripts, once gave me the best definition of sitcom – telling a story through jokes. With more naturalistic comedy in vogue, the joke is currently regarded as something of a debased currency, but I personally feel that nothing beats a good punchline. Character, plot, atmosphere and story arcs can all be revealed through jokes. The trick is finding the right balance, so that they complement rather than dominate each other. It’s also labour intensive, but ultimately more satisfying.

At which point it is worth mentioning the conventional wisdom prevalent amongst Radio 4’s light entertainment department regarding the scheduling of comedy shows. The 11.30am slot has what they call a “lean to” audience, which imagines a listener with his/her ear to the radio, attention fully engaged, apart from the quilt he/she is darning. Such listeners can cope with more complicated, plot-driven comedies. At 6.30pm, the listener is besieged by a multitude of domestic chores and distractions, which limits their concentration to the occasional quick-fire joke, funny voice or impersonation. Which means sketch shows.

Before embarking upon a radio comedy script, it is worth considering this distinction and then ignoring it completely, as it is bollocks. Funny is funny at any time of the day.

The BBC Writersroom has a script online of Venning’s series five episode, “Name Calling”, from Clare in the Community.

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