Funny business

July 2012

“I swear, you could write a sitcom about this place!” Ever found yourself saying that? Most people have had a sneaky feeling that their experiences would make brilliant material for a TV comedy. In my case, I found myself saying it so often that I wondered if I should just get on and try to write one.

The BBC’s Laugh Track competition provided me with the perfect motivation. It also provided me with that essential element for a journalist to get anything done: a deadline. Entrants had to send in a 30-minute script for a sitcom episode by 21st March.

I was amazed to hear that my script had made it into the top 25. My reward for getting this far was a half-day masterclass at BBC White City in April. We heard from producers as well as from rising star Adil Ray (creator of Mr Khan).

Unfortunately, the masterclass made me realise that there were serious flaws in my “winning” script. The next stage of the competition was to rewrite a section and I took the opportunity to try a different approach.

It must have worked, because I was one of eight winners to get the ultimate prize: a week’s residential course in an idyllic rural setting. We were given insights into what works on screen and what doesn’t,  hearing from people in the production and decision-making side of the business as well as from writers like Richard Hurst of Miranda. There were sessions that pushed us all outside our comfort zone, like the live read-throughs, but these were more than balanced by the supportive atmosphere, the gorgeous setting (a Kent farmhouse run on sustainable principles) and the amazing food.

The whole thing for me was a massive privilege – and a massive learning curve. Hearing from the professionals made me realise that the concept for my sitcom was unworkable. After some agonising, I’ve thrown away my original script and started work on a completely new idea – and I have no idea whether this will work either. Bittersweet, but then so is some of the best comedy. If you’ve ever thought about writing a sitcom, my advice is just to try it, and enter Laugh Track. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life. And that’s no joke.