A certain number of years ago, on this very day, I was inflicted upon the Earth. Yes, yes, thank you very much, you're all too kind (oh, and it's fellow blogger Rob Stickler's birthday too, except he isn't shouting about it like me, demanding attention and gold ingots). The picture to the left of these here words, was created by my friend Ray Zell and craftily incorporated into the design of a shop-bought Doctor Who/TARDIS card. He's a clever one, that Zell.
Tonight, I'm going to a try-out/read-through session for the next run of Radio 4's fine sketch-show Laurence & Gus: Hearts & Minds. No idea if any of my material will be road-tested during this event, but I know it'll be a hoot, regardless. Obviously, having stuff performed would be just peachy, but we'll see. Having made a little headway into the world of radio-sketchwriting since December, I've come to realise just how many sketches you need to run up a flagpole before the producer and/or talent salutes it. Which is only natural and right.
There are, after all, various reasons why things might not make it in. Firstly, of course, it could be rubbish. Let's not discount that possibility. Or it could be good, but just not right for the show, tonally - getting the tone right takes a while. Or they might already have a sketch about a clockwork walrus which masturbates every day at 4.22pm. Or it could be 80 or 90 per cent there, but there's simply no time to conduct a rewrite, or even get you to conduct one. Radio moves surprisingly fast, and producers work blisteringly hard - to the extent that, unless you attend the recordings, you might not know your material has been accepted and performed until listening to the broadcast. It's certainly not the done thing to pester them, asking for updates and reasons why your stuff didn't make the cut. I like that speed, though, including the rush of a producer sending an e-mail asking for sketches by a certain deadline, usually in a few days' time. Time to get that thinking cap on and make with the funny.
Back in December, when I attended a writers' meeting for Recorded For Training Purposes, it was sobering to hear the three script editors of that show say that their own hit-rate for getting sketches into RFTP was one in six. Jesus! That shows how tough it is - and why, as the BBC's comedy guru Micheal Jacobs freely admits, radio sketchwriting (or, I'd imagine, even TV sketchwriting) ain't ever going to pay the lion's share of your mortgage. Better, I'd say, to think of it as a lovely handful of hundreds 'n' thousands on top of whatever your preferred cake happens to be. Mine's drama, which will remain my priority - especially now with Red Planet Pictures developments presenting such opportunities. But there's no doubt that radio has presented lots of fun so far, along with a challenge to relish -and over in the world of TV sketchwriting, the Splendid project becomes more incredibly exciting by the day.
I submitted five or six sketches to Recorded For Training Purposes and got one into a broadcast episode. Out of 12 sketches I submitted to Laurence & Gus, one has been performed and recorded (which isn't the same as actually making the show, as they record six hours of material for a three-hour series!). I've submitted a further six to them, plus another dozen to another radio sketch show, and a couple to a recent, sudden opportunity, so we'll see how those pan out.
It was a joy, a few weeks back, to see Laurence Howarth and Gus Brown, along with voice-god collaborator Duncan Wisby, performing that sketch of mine live at the BBC Radio Theatre. I'd become nigh-on obsessed with getting something into that show, mainly because the duo are just so darn funny and their standards are high, with a really clever, cerebral approach, as well as some utterly abstract silliness. Typically, I'd written the chosen sketch merely two days before, in a last-minute mad rush to make a deadline. Compared to other material which I'd painstakingly honed, peer-feedbacked and all the rest of it, it was raw. Once again, you just never know what reaction comedy is going to provoke. To a large extent, it's easier to cite specific reasons why drama doesn't work, but comedy feels more nebulous and far more dependent on the gut reaction.
As I think I wrote in a previous post, though, watching one of your own sketches being performed in front of an audience is a simultaneously triumphant and terrifying affair. I think I finally have a suitable simile for hot it feels. Yes: it's like being in a space suit which is slowly being deprived of oxygen. Every time the audience laughs, oxygen gets pumped into the suit. If they don't, oxygen continues to vanish and you internally start flapping about like a fish out of water. As it was, my sketch went down okay, with some good hoots. As ever, though, there's stuff you expect to get big laughs that doesn't, and stuff you didn't even realise was funny that elicits a positive response - often down to the performers approaching it in a certain way.
Wish me luck for tonight, in a room which holds a maximum of 50 people. With beer. Oh yes, there will and must be beer.