Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Comedy Lab

Channel 4’s Comedy Lab is now in its seventh year. I was lucky enough to be part of C4’s entertainment department at the time of the Lab’s inception and launch in 1999. It’s proved to be an extremely successful strand, if not entirely high-profile, and has launched the successful careers of many of Britain’s leading comedians (Peter Kay, Dom Joly, Jimmy Carr). The invite for applications for this year have yet to be announced but now’s the time to start thinking about any potential project that you think might make a good Comedy Lab.

Essentially, the programmes are comedy pilots to embrace new and exciting talent: to see if the particular situation in the pitched sitcom is engaging or if the comedy performer in question suits the format given to him (panel show, stand-up, sitcom, off-the-wall etc).

"Cutting-edge", daring and alternative ideas are very much encouraged, although there is a lot to be said for standard formats like panel shows and sitcoms. Animation might get a look in but no-one's ever sure about animation so they generally try to steer clear. It would really have to be very good indeed.

While the brief is very much focused on comedy performers and writing talent, it is with the former that proposals will gain more favour. In addition, proposals that come with a production company already attached will have more of a chance than an individual/lone writer submission. And a production company with a proven track record, or a regular comedy supplier to the channel, will also be more favourably assessed than other wannabe proposals.

Production companies to consider and approach include Hat Trick, TalkBack Thames, Objective Productions and Absolutely Productions. There are many others but these would be a good start. Ask to speak to a comedy producer (get their name preferably beforehand), chat to an assistant and get the lowdown on what they might be interested in and what they want. Send your proposal and wait for their reaction. Now’s the time to do this as everything inevitably takes longer than you expect so getting the ball rolling sooner rather than later will be a plus.

To check out last year’s comedy brief, follow the LINK, then click on ‘Commissioning’, then the ‘Comedy’ section. For some reason, the direct link to this page doesn’t work.


Dan Owen said...

Just to clarify; to have the best chance of winning, you have to first get a script approved by a production company and then enter the Comedy Lab competition?

Wouldn't it be simpler if all scripts were just entered to the Lab directly, who selected the best, and then used their own contacts to get the winner made as a Pilot? Sort of like Project Greenlight in the US.

It just seems very unlikely someone will be successful in getting a production company interested (if you're not represented by an agent, etc.), and that's just the first hurdle it seems!

I get the impression this competition is really for writers with agents, those who happen to know up-and-coming young comedians on the circuit, or friends of producers. Is there really any chance a budding amateur could hope to have a chance purely with their written word?

Danny Stack said...

It's best if you attach yourself to a pro co or comedian before to beef up your chances but an unknown writer getting a submission through is not unheard of (the channel will steer them in the direction of a pro co anyway as all C4 shows have to be made independently).

Dom Carver said...

I think the system is designed in such a way that people with no talent are discouraged, a subject Danny touched on in an earlier post. The idea being those with talent and commitment will eventually get through. Of course that doesn't mean that some of those talented writers won't give up and be lost along the way.

I read an article about lucky people in the Sunday Telegraph once and I tore it out and stuck it above my computer monitor where I can see it at all times. There's a part you might find useful, "Doing anything is better than doing nothing. It's no good saying: 'I won't apply for that job because I'll never get it.' Apply anyway. The more you do the more opportunities you'll find yourself presented with."

The point being: stop thinking about what if's, sit down and write, then enter.

Or as another philosopher put it, "Do, or do not, there is no try." - Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

Lucy said...

Or, as that eminent philosopher and speaker for our times ICE CUBE said:

You can do it, put your ass into it!

If I didn't live by this, I would still be a single mum and working at Superdrug. Seriously.

Dom Carver said...

Danny, do you have any advice on trying to 'attatch' yourself to a comedian?

Obviously it's better to approach new up and coming talent, but how whould you go about finding 'who' exactly they are?

Danny Stack said...

Good question. I think a good way would be to check out the 'comedy listings' and look for a name that recurs over the same weekend, i.e. is doing a fair few gigs. Go to see their show. If you like it, approach them (it's easy in comedy clubs, they're usually having a pint while another act is on) and say: "Hey, loved your show. I'm an amazing new writer and I've got a fab idea for a Comedy Lab that I think you'd be great for. Would you like to be involved?" And see what happens from there...

Dom Carver said...

While on the subject of comedy do you think it's OK to have a character in a sitcom with a disbility (like dyslexia) and to put the charcater in situations where this disability is highlighted but to comical effect?

An example of what I mean is below:

Michael is reading Winne the Pooh to his two year old nephew, Darcy.

MICHAEL:(Throwing the book at Darcy) Just look at the pictures, it's easier.

sam morrison said...

I think Dom's question is a tricky one, and something that's been highlighted by Little Britain recently. Classically it depends on who is doing the 'saying' - for instance the word "faggot" has a different resonance whether it's said by someone straight or gay, to name but one example, and that's before you get into the nuances of delivery, who is listening, etc. Go one way and you offend people, go another and you end up in PC hell (like PC world, but no staff). I guess you can get away with almost anything if you make it funny - that's the bottom line. Sadly 'funny' isn't nailed down though...

Danny Stack said...

Didn't Jasper Carrott's sitcom have a disabled character? Interesting what Johnny Knoxville and the Farrelly Brothers' new film, The Ringer, will be like as it's about Johnny cheating his way into the Special Olympics!

Nick said...

Surely one of the most notable examples of disability being used in a sitcom is the girl in the wheelchair in The Office. The humour was centered around Brent and Gareth's attitude towards them rather than the disability itself which I think is perfectly OK in highlighting a charcter's ignorance. Although you might prefer to take Brent's attitude: "I don't do comedy about the disabled...mainly because there's nothing funny about them..."