When I arrived, I had no idea whether I'd have a sketch performed or not. The team move fast, and quite understandably don't have time to contact each writer individually and say, "Hello sir/madam, we're performing one of your sketches tonight." Besides, there's the matter of the pre-show afternoon read, in which the show's six fine performers plough through the night's material. During that process, it could well become apparent that stuff doesn't work when acted out loud.
So my main priority was to see the show recorded; get a feel for the performers, the style, the audience, what worked, what didn't. It was very good to meet one of the show's core writers, John Dorney, in the queue into Broadcasting House - he's a fellow Doctor Who fan, who has also written for the officially-licensed audio play company, Big Finish.
Christ, have you been to Broadcasting House lately? It's literally like airport security. Everything goes through an X-Ray machine. Belts off, the lot. Reassuring to know, though, that we're not about to be blown up while having a good laugh. That'd be a terrible business all 'round.
Passing through into the cafe, I'm relieved to see that alcohol's on sale, as it might promote extra chuckles from the audience. We're soon ushered into the theatre, which as tousle-haired producer Ed Morrish points out onstage, is one of the BBC's most expensive assets. Microphones dangle from the ceiling to record mirth (can you tell I've never been to a radio recording session before?).
The show's in two 45-minute halves, Ed explains, with an interval in between. The show begins. I'm laughing along with everyone else, while finding myself unable to stop wondering if my sketch System Of The Damned (about hospital appointment lines, and involving geese) will appear.
Then it does, about four sketches in. And let me tell you, you find yourself praying for that first laugh. Interestingly, it comes on an early line which I didn't think of as a funny line at all - but it's funny now, thanks to the performer's delivery. A bit later, a line which I thought was funny barely gets a chuckle. Thankfully, though, there are laughs where I hoped there'd be, which is a thrilling relief (my favourite kind of relief).
It's educational - as is the entire show. You realise things, pretty quickly. If there's a Good Laugh, for instance, with Something Else Funny straight afterwards, chances are that the Something Else Funny will be lost in the Good Laugh's wake. Plenty of mental notes to self about pacing are made.
System goes down well, I'd say. At the end of the first half, Morrish leads the performers through some "repeat takes", repeating certain moments or segments for various reasons. Two lines of System are performed again, which seems to be a good sign, in terms of the sketch actually being broadcast on the show.
It starts soon - this Thursday, in fact, on Radio 4. Hooray. If my sketch is broadcast, it won't be in this opening episode, but I'll keep you posted. I also have four other sketches currently being considered, so hopefully another may make the performance grade.
Now, while I remember, here are a few boiled-down sketch pointers which the RFTP team gave us assembled new scribes during that pre-Christmas meeting. All simple enough, yet vital:
- Don't over-explain a joke, or you might actually piss the audience off.
- In real-life, people tend to say one sentence at a time, before the other person speaks.
- No-one's ever said, "That sketch was too short".
- Keep a sketch about one thing.
- Get into the sketch late. Don't start with the characters' births!
- Get your best, original idea upfront.
- Confusion is your enemy. Be clear.
- Tell the audience where they are (ie tobacconists, glacial icy wastes).