When was the last time you watched a decent sitcom? I’m not talking animations, or something we first saw in the nineties, or some relentlessly hip twaddle designed for people who enjoy in-jokes; a real, decent situation comedy, made recently. It’s not likely that that question doesn’t come with a serious amount of baggage: repeats of great shows; once great series, now failing; big piles of shite.
I mean, I’m currently enjoying Catastrophe, but it’s a massive downer, and it’s only on for six half-hours every other year. It seems that I’m in the genuine minority when it comes to still enjoying The Big Bang Theory. I tried to watch Motherhood, but was put off by the people and their personalities. Yeah, I like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Rick and Morty, but they are increasingly rare beasts it seems.
In completely engrossing, but not enough to hold my attention news is the ever brilliant It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: I can watch several dozen episodes in a row, I laugh, I cringe and I tell myself how much I love it, but never enough to be up-to-date with the most recent four series. It being sat on an external device is my excuse, but I have such a lot cluttering up my box that it would be a lie.
I trained in screenwriting many moons ago, and I always had that desire to write a sitcom. It went further than that: I did write one, and a radio version. I wrote six episodes in various formats, and I submitted them to every open call for talent that I could find, and I got nowhere. Then one day a wonderful production company – Pozitive – told me why: my comedy scripts weren’t actually funny.
Other people would have collapsed at that rebuttal, fallen by the wayside, but I actually identified with it. Here were a group of people who had made real comedy that I had enjoyed, telling me the truth. It felt like a weight lifting off my shoulders. Instead I started writing things which were never meant to be funny, free of the self-imposed weight of writing things to make other people laugh.
The problem is that I love comedy too much and, although more than a decade has passed with me writing lots of deeply unfunny scripts, books, blogs and the like, I still miss that fantasy of having put together a really good comedy. It’s not that I think it’s easy; it’s that I think it’s important. Comedy is important. It’s not about the times we’re living through, but the nature of human existence itself.
I get lost; it happens. You can’t keep a whole world of thoughts inside your head without getting a little lost some times. There are so many things which I want to do – tough things, worthy things, things which may or may not make me happy. The problem is that I get lost. Life is a difficult thing to navigate: there are so many things to do all of the time. Right now I should be mopping the kitchen.
There will come a time tonight where I will have been sitting looking at Facebook and Twitter for several hours, where I will realise that I could have been practicing the guitar. My wonderful partner bought me a spectacularly beautiful guitar for Christmas, replete with the means to learn it, and it is still sitting in my office, not getting learned. It hurts my fingers when I try to press the right strings.
I have, on this very computer, the first 40% of a sitcom script I have been writing recently. The script is entitled “If Percundis”, because once you have a good title, why come up with a second? I spent a couple of days thinking about it, then I started writing. I set out a few rules and started assembling scenes. It went well at first: Then I got lost, doing something else, and now I can’t get back in to it.
The pressure on the public purse means that there are now far fewer opportunities for aspiring sitcom writers to get scripts read without contacts or representation. The increase in the number of platforms and the democritisation of the production of content means that there are now far more hours of moving images which need to be produced, at least in order to satisfy the public demand.
The fact of the matter is that I am not funny, so why would I want to chase down that rabbit hole again? Yet again, I am making precisely no effort whatsoever to write anything even remotely resembling a joke – Ah! That’s where I’ve been going wrong – so why would I expect my experience to be any different this time around? I was utterly satisfied with the non-comedic route before.
The consensus seems to have shifted from the things I watched when I was a child – sitcoms, game shows and science programmes – to a different paradigm, of great quality dramas, beautiful and immersive documentaries, and glamorous talent competitions. Sketch comedy died, and is waiting for resurrection, but sitcom feels oddly old and out of place: comedy needs to be a bit “meta” now.
These aren’t criticisms, and I really enjoy the TV I watch these days. We get the media we deserve, and it has always been like that. We are uncomfortable in our own skins, so our comedy doesn’t really know where to put its feet, as it dances for our attention. And maybe that is the answer: do not be funny, but do be a comedy. Dramedy has been on the rise for years: aim for that, perhaps.
I’ve always found dramedy to be rather uncomfortable: it’s funnier than real life, but it has a serious face on it, as if it’s about to give you some bad news. I find that when I try to be not very funny with a serious face, people assume that I am being deeply sarcastic and taking them for a malicious ride. Or they make me repeat what I have said a few dozens of times, and that kills an unfunny comment.
What’s the difference between a comedy script and a dramedy script? About twenty pages, if truth be told. That’s not a lot. I’m basing my scripts on my blogs – the first one is based on “On Friendship (2017)” – which is just tapping a non-comedy goldmine. If I can spin an idea out for 1,100 words of prose, then surely 45 pages of double spaced script shouldn’t be too tough an ask; should it?