We are thrilled to say that we have gotten a HUGE number of fantastic submissions for our monthly sketch podcast Sketch, Please!, and now that we’ve done three episodes, we thought we would provide some tips and tricks for any prospective sketch writers about what we are looking for. These are not hard and fast rules for sketch writing, but they are some of the things we consider when deciding a running order for the podcast.
What we look for:
- Matches our format guidelines – These can be found on the submissions page of the Sketch, Please! website.
- 3 page limit on sketches, but aim for 2 if you can.
- Written for an audible format i.e. no visual gags!
- The script will be performed by a cast of up to 2 men and 2 women
- No limits on how many submissions per author but time limits how many we can include in each show
- All sketches are sent to email@example.com
- Jokes and Characters – Not every sketch we pick will have a joke every other line. Sometimes we enjoy pieces that have a slower pace and get in a bit deeper with the characters or relationships. This is partly why we have the Soapbox Monologue segment.
- Simple premise – we’ve only got a couple of minutes to tell our story, so the premise needs to be clear and simple. A good way to tell is if you can summarise your story in a single sentence. e.g. “What if characters recorded the DVD commentaries rather than the actors” or “What if your significant other took everything you said 100% literally”.
- Who, What, Where? – It may seem rudimentary or obvious, but you would be surprised by the number of sketches we receive that don’t cover this! We have no set, no props and we can’t even see our performers faces. It’s therefore very 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 we’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 we receive submissions with stage directions that actively describe the actions of what they are doing rather than what would indicate that practically. We can do some of the leg work for you and 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. We’ve had some great sketches already where people are really provoking 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”.
- a) Write for format – We’ve been sent several sketches that 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 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 our radio show.
- b) 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.
Admin Elf Bonus: You can submit as many sketches as you want, and even send them all in a single email, but try not to send them all in a single document. They’re much easier for us to organise if they are in individual documents. Thanks!
Thank you to Jon from The Comedy Crowd for suggesting we post some tips for writers!