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Write great radio sketch comedy

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Thanks to ‘Podcast Adventures’ for tips for submitting scripts for podcast and radio.  The full article includes specific tips for submitting to their ‘Sketch Please’ show, Sketch please and can be found here.

Here are some tips and tricks for any prospective sketch writers and NB – these are not hard and fast rules for sketch writing but all / most are there to improve the material.

Who, What, Where? – It may seem obvious, but you would be surprised by the number of audio sketches that don’t cover this! Radio comedy has no set, no props and we can’t even see our performers faces. It’s therefore helpful to establish the setting, who the characters are and what they are doing in the dialogue or sound design of the sketch as early as possible. Once you’ve laid the foundations, we can build from there. It’s hard to care about characters or what they are doing when you don’t know who they are or where they are doing it. So tick “who”, “what” and where” off the to-do list and then have fun with your premise.

Think audio, not video – Again, this should be obvious, but we can’t “watch” the sketch. Yet, very often  submissions arrive with stage directions that actively describe the actions of what they are doing rather than what would indicate that practically. So think about how to build the soundscape of the action you describe, but there are limits to that when you have not considered how to represent the action audibly. So keep that in mind. Think about each sound individually and how it will build the environment and/or action.

Use the format – Not being able to see the action is actually a blessing. It allows radio comedy to be a lot more versatile and a lot less limiting than it gets credit for. You can jump cut like you can on TV and film. You can have bold characters in incredible settings without having to spend a penny on sets and costumes. As long as you audibly establish the context of the scene, there’s virtually nothing that can’t happen. Some great sketches really provoke the listener’s imagination to get their premise across and take the scenes to bizarre and fun places. So have fun with “the theatre of the mind”.

Write for format – often submitted sketches are adaptations of TV or stage sketches, or even different types of radio comedy. That is absolutely fine, but at least rewrite it so that it resembles a radio comedy sketch. We will try to develop the sketches with their authors, but it’s a bit of a turn off to read a sketch for a YouTube video that would need to be turned upside down to suit any comedy radio show.

Consider the structure – A well-structured sketch is a beautiful thing. The laughs have a kind of tempo. There’s a template to some; they establish the premise, they escalate it three times or so and kick the exit down with a killer punch-line. It’s not a concrete rule and there are other sketches that will successfully break that template, but it’s not a bad guideline. (Further from the above point, you can immediately tell when a sketch has been repurposed from a radio sitcom, TV sketch or a stand-up set because the structure is off.) But we very much enjoy a funny sketch with a strong structural backbone.

Make it fun for the actors – It’s always a plus when we get to record a sketch with some fun roles that our voice actors are going to enjoy. It means that the actor is going to give it their all and the entire process is more enjoyable. If you have a clear idea, by all means add some suggestions for characterisation in the notes.

That’s it. grintageireland.com were very much involved in Comedy Showhouse RTE Radio 1’s first ever radio comedy festival and if we are successful with further funding from the BAI we would be keen to seek the best radio sketches for recording live at the Project Arts Theatre in early 2017. More news anon.

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