Monthly Archives: April 2007

Secrets, no lies.

I’m a couple of days behind at the moment, but I’m catching up slowly.

On Saturday night, Marion Pritchett came to stay. Marion’s producing a script of mine: The Seventh Sword of Bathrick, which popped up briefly on IMDb, but has since skulked off into the in-development section. If anyone’s got an IMDbPro subscription and wants to tell me what it says, I’d be very grateful.

It was the first time I’d met Marion, despite numerous phone calls; and I’ve got to say, she’s as pleasant in the flesh as she sounds on the phone. We worked through the script and her comprehensive, yet weirdly coherent, notes; and I’ve since done a new draft which tidies up all the little threads left hanging from the last one.

I think it’s working pretty well now. So does everyone else, judging by the impressive list of enthusiastic quotes Marion produced. Even more impressive is the current list of interested cast and crew – I can’t wait for the day I can start to shout about it all.

But wait I must, damn it.

Actually, there’s a lot going on at the moment which I just can’t talk about. I’ve had some decent job offers in the last few days and a couple of inquiring emails from people who may be sending more work my way.

Maybe.

All this secrecy is killing me. Can I just … ?

No, apparently, I can’t.

Sorry.

Bit of a pointless post this.

I’m fine, how are you?

Categories: Progress | 2 Comments

How to write sketches (The Aftermath)

I went to The Treason Show on Friday night for the usual mix of mirth, songs, nudity and corpsing. They did perform the sketch, so I can breathe a sigh of relief and actually finish the series of posts.

If you haven’t read them, they’re around here somewhere. The basic gist was: how I write topical satire; and: a blow by blow account of an example. If you really feel the need to go back over them, they’re here and here. With a brief moment of panic here.

The sketch was on in the first half of the show. This is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I’ve often heard it said they put the stronger material in the first half. The curse being, they only do this because it’s harder to get a laugh during the first half. By the second half, the audience is drunk enough to laugh at anything.

As usual, the biggest laughs went to the dirtiest swear word and the corpsing.

They’d chosen to perform the sketch as a video conference, so Blair was on a TV screen whilst Ahmadinejad was on stage. They changed the beginning slightly, adding in a secretary to announce Tony’s call.

Either there were some technical problems with the sound, or they’d deliberately put it out of synch to simulate a satellite link. Either way, I’m not sure it helped; and I’m not sure the begging worked as well without Blair clutching Ahmadinejad’s leg.

Other than that, it got some solid laughs throughout. The ending was a bit weak, but still garnered some laughs.

Throughout the show, I had six sketches performed; five of which were in the first half. (Blessing? Curse? You decide.)

The only sketch which really fell flat was one about Snoop Dogg being refused a visa. I think the main problem here was, either people had forgotten/never knew about the story; or they had absolutely no clue who Snoop Dogg is.

I suspect the latter, there were a lot of blank faces around.

All in all, I’m pretty pleased with the performances and the reception of the sketches. The one which got the most laughs, I can’t reprint here. I can’t even explain why I can’t reprint it, except to say it would cost me a lot of money.

On a weird side note, I found out they’ve produced a CD which has a handful of my sketches on. I assume it’s the best of the last year, I only wish I’d been able to write more.

So there you have it, a satirical sketch from conception, construction and onto performance. Shame I couldn’t record it to show you how it went down, but that’s the nature of the beast – it’s all disposable and when it’s gone, it’s gone.

Unless it turns up on a ‘best of’ CD next year.

Categories: My Way, Sad Bastard | Leave a comment

Well, that’s just great

Iran had to go and release the sailors, didn’t they? I mean, I’m glad they did; but they couldn’t have waited just two more days? Just until Sunday morning? Even Saturday morning would have been fine, just so I could see the sketch performed at The Treason Show on Friday.

But no, selfish bastards.

Apparently no one considered my feelings on the matter. It appears I have less impact on world politics than I previously believed.

This is one of the problems of writing topical satire, the stories change, resolve or, in some cases, just completely disappear. I scribbled a new ending down and sent it in, but I don’t like it nearly as much.

I was going to post a follow up, analysing where the sketch got laughs (if at all) and where it fell flat, but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see whether or not it gets performed now.

I’ve been telling people ‘the leaders of the world are conspiring against me’ for years, but did anyone listen? Well there’s your proof. I bet all those ‘so called’ psychiatrists are feeling pretty stupid now, huh?

Categories: Sad Bastard, Two steps back | 7 Comments

Bad reviews

Someone posted this review of ‘The Evolved’ over on Amazon:

“The description of this sounded good, anyway, too bad the movie is about negative 50 on a scale of 1 to 5, with one being the lowest, so that’s how I rated it. Strictly amateur hour stuff, with horrible acting, horrible effects, a lame plot, and SUPER DUPER bad production values. And yes I know that’s what made Troma great. Or that’s what THEY say, anyway. This reminded me of another terrible British flick I saw a few years ago called “Zombie Toxin” but none of the names seem to tie these together. Had I been in any way connected with “Zombie Toxin” I’d go under another name for the rest of my life to avoid detection, too, but I swear there’s certain people in Evolved that were also in that other travesty. Anyway, this can safely be avoided unless you do a lot of drugs that keep you immobile for long periods of time and you need something to focus on, otherwise, stay the hell away.”

I don’t know why, but I love bad reviews. Variety gave us a much worse review than this, which I thought it was great. I always thought I’d get upset about being slagged off, but I don’t. Weird.

I suppose it helps to sit in an auditorium with a paying audience. The film sold out every time it’s been screened and people laughed all the way through, so it can’t be that bad. Can it?

Apparently so. -50 on a scale of 1 to 5.

You have been warned.

Categories: Sad Bastard | 2 Comments

How to write sketches (Part Two)

Today I thought I’d walk you through a sketch I wrote.

This is a risky strategy for me, here I am telling you how to be funny (within certain restrictive boundaries) and now I’m laying my work open for a collective chorus of:

‘That’s not funny.’

But what the hell? That’s what being a writer’s all about.

So, bearing in mind all I talked about yesterday (if you haven’t read it yet, what are you doing here? Go and read part one), let’s get cracking. This is the sketch I’m going to be talking about; none of the rest of this post will make sense without reading it. For those of you outside of the UK, this is what it’s all about.

Read it? Digested it? Think it’s funny and want to know how/why I wrote it? Then read on.

Alternatively, if you think it’s a pile of shit, you can stop now and go and watch the telly. The Simpsons is bound to be on somewhere.

This is a really long post. I apologise now.

THE IDEA

I was driving along, listening to the news. They were talking about the fifteen British sailors captured by Iran and how the negotiations were breaking down. The phrase they kept using, every half an hour on every station, was ‘if Iran failed to return the sailors, we would have to move to … THE NEXT PHASE!’ The newsreaders kept using this ominous voice, without once saying what the next phase might be.

This amused me, it sounds like such an empty threat. A political version of ‘let me go, or else’. ‘Or else what?’ ‘Erm, I hadn’t thought that far ahead.’

This dialogue unfolded instantly in my head and I knew I had the kernel of a sketch. I was listening to the news with an ear for something funny, I knew the captured sailors is a big story and has to be covered. Both The Treason Show and NewsRevue will be looking to pay someone for a sketch about it. My job is to make sure that someone is me; but since satire involves taking the piss, I didn’t want to have a go at the Naval personnel involved – it’s not funny for them or their families. The bureaucratic nonsense of THE NEXT PHASE is a good way to cover the story without getting personal.

Apart from about Tony Blair; but then, he’s in the public eye and deserves it.

FRAMEWORK

The next step is to choose how to present this idea. Who performs these negotiations? Is it some faceless person in the Foreign Office? Is it a Navy officer? A team of diplomats? What’s the framework I need to contain this single joke?

The bottom line is, this is Britain talking to Iran. I don’t know whose job it is, but then neither will a lot of other people. The audience will be fairly well versed in current events, but they’re not experts. As discussed yesterday, I try to stick to two characters in a sketch; and to me, it seems obvious to portray the leaders as a representation of their countries’ points of view. Plus, the performers portray Tony Blair as ineffectual anyway, so it fits. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad isn’t a regular character, and isn’t really in the public consciousness (although he’s working on it) so I can portray him in a way which suits the sketch.

PUNCH LINE

Sometimes I start writing a sketch before I’ve got a punch line, but it’s never a good idea. Luckily, the punch line here just leapt out at me. If the joke is: Tony’s using an empty threat; then THE NEXT PHASE has to be something crap. Any kind of muscle or display of force goes against the premise of the gag and is actually what we all expect THE NEXT PHASE to be anyway. Reversing it seems to be the best way forward. Instead of shouting or shoving, THE NEXT PHASE is to beg some more.

GETTING STARTED

First thing I do when I open a new document, is put my contact details in the header. This does two things: it puts something on the page, so you’re no longer staring at a blank expanse; and it prevents me from forgetting later on, when I’m excited and eager to send it in. Forgetting to put your contact details on a sketch is silly, how do they know who to pay?

Plus, it’s all a little bit more self promotion. Hopefully, the cast get given a print out of my sketch and who knows who they might bump into whilst reading it? These people may go on to direct/produce something in the future, I want them to recognise my name.

Next step: a title. Again, it’s breaking up the blankness. You’ve actually started writing the sketch, keep the momentum going. I like to pick a name which means I can easily identify it on the provisional running orders The Treason Show produces.

I should probably explain here: for The Treason Show, you submit sketches all month; they rehearse them and whittle them down until they’ve got a show at the end. During the process they send out a provisional running order which shows you, roughly, which topics they’ve got covered. There are a lot of writers covering the same stories, so you can’t always tell which sketches are yours. With both NewsRevue and The Treason Show, they don’t actually tell you they’ve used your material until after the show. If you want to know if they might use your material, you have to be able to identify it in the provisional running order.

Gordon once mentioned he knew how many sketches I had on because I always use -ing words in the titles. I’ve since tried to keep that to a minimum, just to confuse him.

Assuming several other writers may have had the same idea as me, and not wanting to raise false hopes, I opted to corrupt THE NEXT PHASE and call the sketch A NEW PHASE. The slight difference means I should be able to identify it if necessary.

Either that or I just made a mistake when I was jotted down the title.

Whilst writing this post, I’ve just received the NewsRevue running order for this week. They’ve used the sketch, but they’ve renamed it: BLAIR AND AMADINEJAD. All that thought for nothing.

LOCATION

Where does this sketch take place? What’s going on in the background? How many extras do we need?

Nowhere, nothing, none.

There are no sets at these shows. At The Treason Show, you can create a limited impression of a location by flashing up an image on the TV over the stage (a picture of the Whitehouse and a snatch of American bombastic music), but that’s about it. Does it really matter where this sketch is set? No. It’s about two people arguing, it could happen anywhere. It’s going to be done against a black background anyway, and if either director wants to set it somewhere special, let them.

Obviously, you need some kind of stage direction, if only to let the director know who’s on stage. I try to keep these as minimal as possible, hence:

TONY BLAIR and MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD.

That’s all I feel this needs. Who’s there, nothing more.

BEGINNING

There are three things you need to do at the beginning of any sketch of this type. One: establish who these people are; two: establish what story we’re satirising; and three: as Gordon commented yesterday, get a joke in as soon as possible.

The performers do these impersonations with very little in the way of props or costume. How do you convey, without words, that this is Tony Blair and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Tony Blair is well known enough to be recognisable, he has a silly voice and weird hand gestures. The performers usually add an ‘Aha’ kind of thing onto the beginning too.

The audience does tend to recognise Blair straight away, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? I don’t want to leave the audience struggling to work out what’s going on; not when it isn’t necessary, so I always get the characters to call each other by name in the first few lines. Some people hate this, but I think it’s essential. Otherwise, in this case, the audience would have to try and guess who Blair’s talking to. They’d probably get it when I identify the story, but then they might spend the rest of the sketch trying to remember what the leader of Iran’s name is.

Which leads to point two: what’s the story? Not everyone in the room will be bang up to date with current affairs. Almost everyone in the room will be drunk. I want them all to enjoy the sketch, so I make it easy for them. I tell them who’s speaking and what they’re speaking about; but, and here’s the trick: make it funny.

I’m fairly certain Tony Blair knows Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s name; but there are two gags here. One is he’s too stupid to remember it (I know I am) and the second, the English have a habit of assuming anyone foreign is stupider than us.
That takes care of the first seven lines and look! We’ve already reached the point of the sketch. The empty threat has been made and Blair has had to admit he’s got nowhere to go. Just as the first paragraph in a newspaper article tells you what the whole story is, the first few lines of a sketch reveal the whole point of the sketch. Now we can move onto the:

MIDDLE

Now we’re working towards the punch line. The punch line which at this point I thought was going to be Blair falling on his knees and begging for the release of the sailors. I want to get there reasonably quickly, but there’s time and space to play with a few more gags first.

The line:

MAHMOUD: Your threats are meaningless.

Is a great ‘bad guy’ cliché; it’s a Bond villain’s line and identifies Mahmoud as the villain of the piece. This may or may not be true, but we’re satirising British papers and they insist he was in the wrong. For the purposes of the sketch, I’m choosing to adopt that point of view.

I also want to further elaborate on what the story is, for the benefit of those who have had their head in a bucket of pig shit for a month. I don’t want this to be boring for the rest of the audience, so I try to make it funny.

The nature of this argument: the sailors were in our waters, no they weren’t, yes they were; just reminds me of a pantomime, so I write it up as one. Tony thinks he’s clever and uses the classic Bugs Bunny reversal, which does sometimes work in real life. Here though, I want to keep up the standard portrayal of Blair as an ineffectual idiot – plus my own personal opinion of Brits abroad. So Blair tries it and it doesn’t work.

This leads to the next bit: Tony’s admitted he was in the wrong. Mahmoud would never let this go, so I put it in. Now I need to correct this odd turn before the sketch drifts off course. Tony tries to get back into the pantomime chorus, but it’s already boring me, so I get Mahmoud to knock it on the head.

Must get back to the plot. What might THE NEXT PHASE be? Would we invade Iran? Probably not, we can’t afford to fight the war in Iraq and in Iran simultaneously; Tony might try this threat though, so in it goes. This gives me the opportunity to have a dig at a different subject – the idea the government has whittled the armed forces down to next to nothing. And there it is: the budget cuts line.

Now I’m running out of space. I don’t like to write more than two pages and I’m getting perilously close to the middle of page two. I know I want a bit of back and forth; building up to what I still think will be the punch line, so I need to get there now. Tony’s got nowhere to go here anyway and his silence on the budget cuts speaks volumes. I can also get one more dig in at his inability to remember Mahmoud’s name.

We’re on the home straight now.

END

This is the build up to the punch line. Tony’s made the BIG THREAT and Mahmoud knows, as we all do, there’s nothing in it. Tony tries to bluster it out, he doesn’t want his bluff called. Mahmoud is calm, but childish (all politicians sound like children).

Tony has no choice left; he has to go to THE NEXT PHASE.

Hopefully, the audience won’t know what’s coming next. A percentage of them will have guessed, but the anticipation of the delivery will keep them entertained. I hope.

And we’re there – we’ve reached the punch line. Only, on reflection, it isn’t good enough. What happens now? Do we just fade out? The end’s not good enough. Damn.

THE PUNCH LINE

So it needs something more. It needs a better, funnier punch line.

I initially headed for the obvious one, the one Gordon warned us all about yesterday:

Bugger.

To get there is quite simple. If you had someone clinging to your leg, in floods of tears, wouldn’t you want to get away? Mahmoud extricates himself and simply leaves the stage. Tony’s made a fool of himself and it didn’t work.

A bit like this new punch line. It’s an end, but it’s a bit lame. I need to push it on one more step.

It doesn’t take me long to work it out. One of the other common portrayals of Tony Blair is of him as George W. Bush’s lap dog. In the Treason Show sketches, George thinks his name is Terry and feeds him dog biscuits. Also, the media perception in recent history is Britain has either followed America around, doing what it says; or turned to America to bail it out of trouble.

Aha! There’s the new punch line, not where I thought it was. When I first started writing these sketches, I would have specified ‘Tony whines, like a child to a parent’ or something. Now I don’t feel the need, I trust the actors to perform it properly; or even find a better delivery.

And it’s done. It’s slightly over my self-imposed 2 page limit, so I need to tweak the margins to fix it. Then I give it a quick read through and touch up. Is it funny? I think so. Is it consistently funny; a gag every couple of lines or so? Yes, seems to be. I check the spelling, check I’ve included my contact details, and it’s winging its way through the ether to the two shows. Time will tell if it gets used. NewsRevue are using it as I write, it remains to be seen what The Treason Show will decide.

So there you go. Fancy giving it a go? Want to get paid miniscule amounts for the joy of seeing people laugh at your work? Want to sit smugly and anonymously among the audience as they discuss how clever your writing is?

Please don’t, I don’t want the competition.

Here are some more examples of sketches I’ve written this month:

TONY ISN’T BOVVERED

HERE’S ONE I FIXED EARLIER

And there are older ones here on my website.

Happy writing.

Categories: My Way, Sad Bastard | 8 Comments

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