Rob Gilroy

Writing for Newsjack

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This week, I’ve been writing a lot of sketches. Don’t blame me; blame Newsjack with its bi-annual championing of new writers. Its arrival means I have to write topical sketches and, unfortunately, I’m not really up on current events.

It’s not my fault; I just struggle to take it in. Like watching the weather report, my brain suddenly switches off when I glance over the BBC News site.

No matter how determined I am to find the perfect sketch fodder; I get halfway through a story about the EU’s legislation on increasing the parameters of the value of the pound or something or other, and my eyes start wandering over stories like ‘Dog eats Ferrero Rocher’ or ‘White Chicks reboot in the works’.

Those stories might sound like a good foundation for a sketch, but it’s very hard to make the ridiculous funny. So I’m back to reading articles about the introduction of new trading laws in Gdansk. What a riot.

So why do I do it? Is it because I enjoy reading about Ed Milliband’s latest failed attempts to ingratiate himself with the rest of the human race? No. It’s because I like writing sketches. The fact that I haven’t the sense, nor the patience, to act like a grown up for five minutes while I read a story about benefits, shouldn’t get in the way of me writing hilarious sketches. Yet it does. Often.

It’s a very quick turnaround for Newsjack – your submissions have to be in by noon on a Monday, the show records on Wednesdays and broadcasts on Thursdays. This means that, for a weekly topical show, you need to have formed pretty strong opinions on the latest news stories before the week has really begun.

Of course, you could use stories that popped up over the weekend or from the back half of the previous week, but by the time they reach the Wednesday night record, they’re about as satirical as a time capsule full of Punch cartoons.

Where possible, I try leave the writing as late as I can – last thing on a Sunday/first thing Monday morning. While my bosses no doubt disapprove of my two hour writing session at the start of the week – apparently it ‘contravenes the conditions of my contract’ – it lets me stay as current as possible.

Trying to get the things written reminds me of GCSE revision. You spend ages cramming, writing down bits of notes to help spark off thoughts (covalent bonds anyone?), then you get to the exam and piss it out in a flurry of activity, with no real idea whether it’s comprehensive or even literate.

The way I work is; I cherry pick my favourite ideas and jump straight in on the one that makes me laugh the most – then it’s a case of working and reworking the concept until you’ve got five minutes till the deadline and no clue whether you’ve written something genuinely innovative, or the equivalent of a fart joke stretched over three pages.

It’s dispiriting stuff and yet, like Mr Grey, I proper get off on it.

The reason is, in the first week I’ve really got to squeeze the ideas, like whiteheads, out of this heap of mush I call a… whatyamacallit. But by week six – I’m struggling to narrow down the ideas I like most.

Submitting to Newsjack every week turns you into a sketch machine (not to be confused with an Etchasketch). The more you write, the easier it is to get into that mind-set and mine stories for jokes.

So if you’re thinking of writing for Newsjack but don’t really do topical stuff, I urge you to give it a go. It will be some of the best sketch-writing training you’ll ever get.

That said, writing loads of sketches is great but that doesn’t mean they’ll be funny. That’s my next goal. By series 50 I’ll finally get a commission.