On 6 November we chatted to writer, teacher and actor Tony Kirwood, (author of the book How to Write Comedy). As one of Swanwick 2014’s short course leader, Tony Kirwood shone a light on writing sketch comedy and how to tickle an audience into laughter. For our Twitter chat, Tony kindly answered a variety of questions on comedy and writing sketches.
We kicked off with an all-important question for those who are just beginning to tip their toes in the comedy writing sea: Do you have to be in a funny mood to write funny? As Tony replied, “No, you need to learn to write even when you don't feel funny. You have to train your mind.”
Writing comedy utilizes the same skills as other writing. As one tweeter asked during the chat, “Is editing more difficult than the first draft”? Tony agreed, “It's the same as other writing. Every draft is as hard as all the others with the added pressure of being funny.”
We discussed whether there were taboos in comedy, but it was reassuring to hear that “no topic is off limits, but some are harder to make funny. Much depends on the audience and your rapport”.
Finally, of course, the topic turned to markets to sell sketch comedy. Tony confessed the current situation wasn’t great for paying markets, but the “BBC always has a new writers’ show - currently Newsjack.” He also suggested that “it's a good idea to do your own, on YouTube, or the stage.” However, he felt that sketches “always go up and down”.
We had a lot of fun during the discussion and Tony was asked if being trapped on an island of comedians would be heaven or hell, and Tony said, “Trapped on an isle full of comics? Heaven for half an hour, hell for eternity!”
Once again we’d like to extend our thanks to Tony Kirwood – please follow him (and us!) on Twitter – and to all the tweeters who took part in the discussions. The chat was moderated by Benjamin Scott. We hope you can join us for our next #askswanwick session with children’s literary agent Amber Caravéo on 9 Decenber at 8pm (UK Time).
About Tony Kirwood
The only thing Tony’s ever been any good at is making people laugh, sometimes even intentionally. He wrote for the Oxford Etceteras Revue (the equivalent of the Footlights) and since then has written for Russ Abbott, TV scripts for many European comedians, including Jacques Vermeire, and produced and written sketch shows in London. He’s been teaching comedy writing and standup comedy for ten years.
He has distilled his experiences in his book How To Write Comedy, published this year by Little, Brown. His philosophy is that the learning of technique and craft frees creativity and that anyone with a spark can learn to be funny. His workshops, which encourage both novice and experienced writers to do just that, have been well received all over the UK, including at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.
He writes about comedy in magazines and newspapers and has his own humorous column in The Greenwich Visitor paper. As an actor, he has had roles in various BBC sitcoms and was a Death Eater in both the final Harry Potter movies. He has also been a standup comic.