Rob Gilroy

9 things we learned from the Craft of Comedy Conference

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I hate conferences: they’re dull affairs with lanyards and open sandwiches. Yet last week I attended the Craft of Comedy Writing Conference in Llandudno. Dull it was not. And what’s more – they had paninis.

It got off to a slightly shaky start – I checked into my budget hotel room only to find a bottle of anal lubrication waiting for me. I’ve yet to work out whether it was left by a previous resident, or a complementary gift, laid on by staff. Either way; it convinced me that £35 for a hotel room wasn’t as enticing as it first seemed.

The conference promised to be a weekend of learning and laughs – although we couldn’t contractually hold them to that claim. I can definitely say, however, that I learnt – and re-learnt – some important things. It also raised a smile; but that might have been the bum lube.

Here is a precise of what I learnt at the conference:

Tip: Networking is important.

I’ve attended a few writerly events over the years and if one thing remains constant – it’s that getting a large group of socially awkward people, who usually work alone, to network successfully, can be very tricky. Thankfully, with the important staple of teas, coffees and small individually packaged biscuits, the wheels were greased early on.

It’s hard knowing what to say or how to initiate conversations but frankly, everyone’s in the same boat and terrified of looking stupid. So be the first one to speak – no one will judge you.

Tip : Trust an audience.

The conference got underway with a Friday night screening of Raised by Wolves, followed by a Q&A with co-creator Caroline Moran and producer Caroline Norris. It was like Inside the Actor’s Studio – only in a dark backroom in North Wales.

What was interesting was watching a single camera comedy with a live audience. Suddenly, the intimate, personal experience becomes something much more communal. It certainly hit home the importance of having a script rich with jokes and funny lines – which Raised by Wolves definitely has. It made me see that, even with single camera shows, it’s important to try it out in front of an audience to see if people laugh.

Tip: Things take time.

The two Carolines had some incredibly useful insights on getting a show to screen, but most important of them was: having patience. It took Raised by Wolves 12 years to get to TV. There was an audible gasp in the audience when this bombshell was dropped, but that’s just the sad fact. Whether it’s a change in the televisual landscape or a nuclear holocaust that wipes out all comedy commissioners – you can’t control this, so just make your script great.

Tip: Be ready.

One of the reasons Rasied by Wolves was eventually picked up is because of the increased interest in Caitlin Moran. I overheard a couple of the writers saying that the answer to success was being a popular newspaper columnist with a best-selling book about feminism. While that would probably help; I think the real thing to understand is that the sitcom script was written years before; it’s only when Caitlin was given the opportunity to do something for Channel 4, that her idea was finally accepted. When opportunity knocks, be ready. And ideally get a doorbell, that way you’ll still hear it if you’re in the garden.

Tip: Be nice.

It’s easy to think that making it in comedy requires you to be a ball-buster, yet if I learnt one thing over the weekend, it’s that groping testicles does not a commission, get you. Instead, many people reiterated the important of being nice.

Kate Haldane from PBJ Management talked about the great Simon Blackwell and how his talent was present, if not fully-formed, when he first approached her, but what stood out most was how pleasant he was. This was corroborated by the fact that every expert at the event was kind, gracious and eager to listen and talk to us newbies. Especially conference-mastermind Steve Doherty.

Tip: Just do it.

Nike clearly know something because this point became staggeringly clear; from the perspectives of both industry bods and amateurs. If you want to do something – get on and do it. One clear example was Meat Bingo’s John Panton who, with very little money, creates staggeringly epic short films with a host of big names including David Quantick and Simon Evans, and it’s all created through favours and good deeds. It’s easy to think something is too complicated to try, but if you don’t do it then it won’t happen.

Tip: Accept notes graciously.

If you’re a script writer, one of the biggest fears is getting notes. It’s worth being open to them –they’re only there to make your work better. I sat down with one of Script Angel’s expert consultants and found her advice incredibly helpful; unlocking an idea and encouraging me to develop it further. It’s a gentle nudge in the right direction.

Tip: Have something to say.

Sounds obvious but far too many of us write with no real desire to say anything in particular. To be fair that desire fuels the majority of my output. This point was raised at a topical comedy writing panel with Radio 4 peeps, Ben Partridge, Ged Parsons and Caroline Raphael. If you want to write for Newsjack, Newzoids or anyone, really; make sure you have a point. No matter how silly, or elaborate; find an angle, then write the jokes.

Finally, and possibly most importantly…

Tip: Always pay a little more for your hotel.

The Craft of Comedy Writing Conference is a yearly event, so make sure to catch it next year.