Clausewitz on Comedy

There was a fashion in the closing decades of the last century for books aimed at businessmen based on the great military strategists of the past. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for HR managers, that sort of thing.

Well, as Picasso I famously said, ‘Good borrow, great artists steal’. Here’s a guide to writing comedy based on maxims from Carl von Clausewitz‘s seminal post-Napoleonic military tactical discourse, On War. The internet is full of people giving #writingadvice while they should be #amwriting, so why shouldn’t a Prussian major-general get to stick his oar in. After all, he’s written as many sitcoms as Robert McKee and Syd Field combined. None.

So, does Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), who served at Borodino and Waterloo, know anything about today’s comedy industry? Check out this inspirational-meme-style quote.

CvC b

So he’s clearly been involved in developing a sitcom. He also has something to say about planning your sitcom.

CvC d

What about taking notes? The Prussian who never saved a cat but probably shot a few Frenchmen presents us with this excellent maxim.

CvC g

Notes are a stage in the collaboration not the passing of Old Testament judgement. Engage with them. However, it’s important not to be a dick about it.

CvC e

 

For it’s also important to remember that, like thousands of men exchanging musket fire at 50 paces, this business can be rough.

CvC f

Before you can get to the notes, of course, there’s the writing to get though.

CvC a

 

Don’t play safe.

CvC i

Obviously, for ‘war’ read ‘sitcom writing’ throughout. The thinking-Junker’s William Goldman also has wise words about brevity in scripting that doubles as sage advice to the self-employed to get their finger out and stop mucking about with dead Germans.

CvC h

 

Though his magnum opus went unfinished at his time of death and he was never asked to do a blogpost for BBC Writersroom, Carl von Clausewitz knew how important it was to write regularly and freely.

CvC k

Forget Aristotle, Clausewitz is the patron saint of writing theorists. He even had time and foresight to address Dapper Laughs.

CvC c

Remember though, when reading all these writing advice things (including this one), a final quote from Carl von Clausewitz:

CvCj

So can I have my book deal now?

Sitcom Bugbears

There are some plots, settings or situations that appear again and again in sitcom. We all know that, nothing new under the sun, etcetera. Vast rolling swathes of the Internet are devoted to classifying ‘tropes’ to the point where ‘troping’ has really ‘jumped the Potsie’. This is just the beginning of a personal list that I’ll be returning to as the mood and the bile takes me. These aren’t writing rules or tips, more a public record of things I find tiresome so that if I’m ever guilty of them someone out there can call me on it. Of course if I am making these mistakes it means one of my sitcoms will have got off the ground so I’ll probably be all like whatevs and shit, kiss my Radio Times cover.

So…

1. NO MORE FANCY DRESS PARTIES

Ha ha, everyone’s dressed differently – often in a way that is somehow at odds with their personality! Free joke per character. Lazy. If you have to do a fancy dress party, do it from the third series onwards when you’ve earned it.

The other irritating thing about sitcom fancy dress parties is the quality of the costumes. Real fancy dress parties are marked by one thing – most of the costumes are crap. Look at those pap photos of footballers going to fancy dress parties. They’re millionaires and most of them couldn’t even throw together a passable Iron Man. Sitcom fancy dress parties, though, are dressed by the costume department. They have style, they have a visual sense, they have a budget – real fancy dress partygoers have none of these things. No one in real life has ever thrown together a photo realistic lobster costume but every sodding sitcom party has one. Stop it.

2. NO MORE STRIP CLUBS

Gender power and politics aside, sitcom strip clubs are just so tedious. It’s always that same mimsy shot of a stripper’s legs, not showing anything naughty, then a comical reaction from Lee Mack to show her bra’s come off. Yawn. Stop it.

3. NO MORE ‘TO BE CONTINUED’S

To Be Continued…

Death to the Script Editor! (Myself Included)

Brothers and Sisters,

I’ve been doing a fair amount of script editing over the last few years. That’s the way it goes sometimes; the work as a poacher dries up so you start exploring the gamekeeper options. Now I actually think I’m quite good at the job, and even enjoy it – and the same can be said of many of the script editors working out there today. However if we’ve learnt anything from Jimmy Savile it’s that just because you’re good at something and enjoy doing it doesn’t mean it should be allowed.

As a script editor I have looked at the state of modern comedy, made some notes, sat twiddling my thumbs, changed a few words because otherwise it’ll look like I’ve not done any work and, finally, come to the conclusion that script editors are a plague upon the earth and need to be done away with.

Worse than that, we are a possibly pointless plague. Some plagues are a necessary evil, you don’t need to be a evil misanthrope to see that – though it does help. In all honesty though, what fucking good are script editors to anyone? We are the non-Jonathan Rosses of writing. Script editors aren’t even writers. We’ve crossed the line. The script editor is the producer’s hired gun. We’re Pinkertons, Sheriff’s Men, strike breakers, Red Caps, hired muscle. We’re the deputies in a one-horse Klan town, we’re the hobbits that sided with Saruman, we’re camp capos. We’re overseers and house boy Uncle Toms. We’re some Harry Potter reference I haven’t read enough of the books to make.

Script editors are the sort of people who say ‘You see, I’m all about story’ and expect not to get punched. Our whole career is based around persuading grandmothers that there’s a secret to sucking eggs that only we know. You know where ‘script guruism’ leads? Hollywood. Not in an exciting, ‘they’re making a film version of Citizen Kahn but set in a newspaper baron’s castle’ way but to the Hollywood of inciting incidents on page 10, act one breaks on page 25 and fat chance validating your parking if you attempt anything different. It’s a structural approach that may have had its roots in something organic and artistic but now is as calcified and proscriptive as Noh theatre. It’s a system primarily geared towards allowing illiterate executives to judge a script by weight and pagination without recourse to any actual artistic judgement. It’s a world a lot of our TV execs would love to live in. Firstly, they could pretend they were big important Americans, which they love. It would also allow them to remove the difficult, unglamorous, troll-people with all the words and the ideas who keep asking them to imagine things and make decisions not based on audience research.

Is it possible that the rise of the script editor in TV comedy is part of a broader move towards disempowering the writer in the creative process? Rather than the sole originator of the idea and the concept, without whose script nothing could get made the writer becomes part of the crew, answering to their department head, attached and detached from a project at the producer’s will. It’s interesting that the BBC’s current hit sitcoms Miranda and Mrs Brown’s Boys are essentially writerless. Miranda is so focussed on the central character, and that central character is so widely accepted as a straight projection of the ‘real Miranda’ that people can con themselves into believing it springs fully formed onto the screen, like a slapstick Made In Chelsea. Mrs Brown’s Boys is obviously scripted – otherwise the actors wouldn’t know exactly when to make their ad-libs – but it’s such a collection of old jokes, borrowed set-ups and traditional routines that it’s not written so much as channelled via Ouija board from the fevered dreams of Old Mother Reilly’s deathbed. The important thing is Hart and O’Carroll are bona fide stars, so any pesky habits they may have of putting pen to paper like massive nerds can be overlooked by those starfuckers who want to make television but can’t bring themselves to be horny-handed sons or (unfortunately statistically fewer) daughters of toil craftsmenfuckers.

So, we should pick a side. Let’s just get rid of the job title. If you want to be on the writer’s side, if you want to help make scripts better, then do it as a writer. If you want to be the Head of Cotton Commissioning’s Uncle Tom, then be a producer. When the Bastille falls do you want to be tugging on the ropes of the lanterne or passing on some notes about act three from Louis XVI?

Yours,

Camille Desmoulins

PS. Let us – writer, script editor and producer alike – never forget, however, that the real enemy is, and always will be, Sam Wollaston in The Guardian.

Get ready for some Amazing Spiderfacts!

  • After mishearing his character’s name method-acting Brit Andrew Garfield spent 6 months picking pecks of pickled peppers.
  • In one of the film’s most moving scenes, Spiderman finally learns responsibility after his Uncle Ben burns some rice in the microwave.
  • Rhys Ifans actually cut his own arm off to audition for misguided tri-limbed Dr Curt Connors. It was a risk that pulled off! Unlike Rhys’ gloves, with which he now needs help.
  • Martin Sheen’s performance in the film (along with every performance he’s given since 1979) will eventually be edited into the Director’s Cut of Apocalypse Now Redux Redux Redux.
  • The film’s original title was the more honest but less grabby The Latest Spiderman.
  • Director Marc Webb isn’t the only spider-themed crew member. Others include stunt coordinator Justin Tarantula, focus puller Michaela Cloacalchamber, designer Billy ‘8 Legs’ Eightlegs and location caterer Peter T. Amazingspidermanparker.
  • Stan Lee makes his traditional cameo as Peter Parker’s backpack.
  • Aunt May isn’t as annoying in this one.
  • Though a big fan of the Tobey Maguire version, Andrew Garfield decided to approach playing Spiderman a different way. By using his face to act with and varying the tone of his voice to convey thoughts and emotions.
  • Don’t forget to stay until the end of the credits for an extra scene where some guys from Marvel just come right out with it and ask if anyone’s got any crappy old comics at home they can bleed dry, cos frankly they’re running out of shit to reboot.
  • Hugh Hefner’s granddad makes his traditional cameo as Stan Lee.
  • This is the first Spiderman film to properly explain which bit of arachnid DNA makes them so good at sewing and costume design.
  • The Amazing Spiderman is the third film this year where audiences forget to bring one of the millions of bloody 3D glasses they’ve got at home and end up paying an extra pound. Yeah, piracy’s killing cinema.
  • Denis Leary stole the idea of playing a police captain who chases Spiderman but eventually learns to respect him from Bill Hicks.
  • Having appeared in every Marvel comics film adaptation since 2002, Stan Lee is keen to start working on his own projects. Stan Lee: ‘That’s Another Fine Mess, Stan Lee’ is on at the Pleasance Dome from August 6th. He’s also been commissioned to write a treatment for a Radio 4 panel show hosted by Gyles Brandreth. Stan can be contacted through his agent, Vivienne Clore.

GOOFS

  • The characters played by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are supposed to 17. Seventeen? Fuck off.
  • Neither Joseph Gordon Levitt nor Emily Blunt appear in the film. There must have been some sort of mix-up.
  • In the film, Andrew Garfield plays a man who is bitten by a spider and given amazing powers. This would never happen.

Dad’s Army Fanfic

Warmington-On-Sea burns. The butchers shop, the undertakers, the church – its smashed spire still just visible above the smoke. The bank. Oh God, the bank. Mr. Mainwaring will be furious on Monday morning. He likes a neat bank, does Mr. Mainwaring. Except Mr. Mainwaring isn’t ever going to be furious again, is he?

Keep running, boy. Scared boy. Coward boy. Stupid boy.

They were supposed to have come from the sea. Or the air. That’s why they’d spent so long guarding the pier. It stuck out half a mile, perfect for spotting Jerry. Except Jerry had come from behind. Typical Jerry trick, Mr. Mainwaring had said, your Nazi will never play fair. Trick? Play fair? This wasn’t a game anymore – why was the fat idiot still insisting it was a game? No, don’t call him that. It’s not nice. Don’t speak ill of the dead, that’s what Uncle Arthur would say.

Wipe the sick from your mouth, boy; stiff upper lip, whistle while you work. Mum’s going to kill you when she sees the state of your scarf. Run to you mother, boy, tell her what happened. She’ll want to know about Uncle Arthur. She won’t blame you, she’ll keep you safe.

Walker had died first.

‘The fucking thing’s jammed’

 The boy’s shocked. Joe never swears, least not round him, round the platoon. He swears now, stabbing at the Bren gun’s breech with his penknife, cigarette still clamped below the pencil moustache.

‘Get to Mainwaring. No, wait, get to Wilson. Tell him we’re fucked’

‘No, Joe, I want to stay’

Joe chucks the Bren, picks up his rifle, starts banging away.  Black shapes, moving along the tree line. The boy sees one drop.

‘Bullseye, Joe’

‘Piss off, kid – I’m busy’

He runs, runs while the shooting continues behind him. The crack of Joe’s rifle. The ground shakes, the roar of engines. Like the tractor display at the County Fair before the war. When he’d been a boy. A younger boy. Tanks. Panzers. Rolling off his bedroom wall, out of the newspapers and nightmares and over the fields towards him. Joe’s rifle stops.

Real soldiers. The Germans were real soldiers. Why did we think we could fight them? We shouldn’t have been here. We’re civilians, bank clerks, shopkeepers, retired tailors – who did we think we were kidding?

He stops running. Voices up ahead. He hides, crawls behind a low wall. The stench of piss and sick burns his throat. His trousers are dripping. He must have wet himself.

Nazis, real Nazis. Two of them, a motorcycle and side car. One pulls at a couple of logs, strung out across the road as a barricade. That had been Jones and Fraser’s station. The old Scotsman had moaned about the waste of good wood.

He was right, wasn’t he, boy? You were all doomed.

Fraser’s body is on the verge. Death suits his face, somehow. The flames from a burning cottage dance in his staring eyes. Bloody hell, that’s Godfrey’s place. Well, he wasn’t going to be able to get home for a piss now anyway. Even in his fear, the boy thinks of Godfrey’s sisters. Dolly and Cissy, interchangeable, with all their luggage on the station platform, refusing to believe that the German invasion would interfere with something as important as the railway timetable. Poor bloody cows, they might as well have waited for a ghost train.

One of the Germans shouts. His prisoner babbles incoherently. Jones.

‘Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic’

The German slaps him. Like in the movies. The boy stands, shouts.

Stupid boy.

The German turns, his gun snaps up. The boy waits an age. But he doesn’t die. Not yet. The German’s gun barrel flicks upwards.

Hände hoche. You know that much German, boy.

The platoon is all gone. He’s the only one left.

He raises his hands. Steps over the wall, walks slowly towards his captor. The fight is gone from him. He’s crying. Crying in front of the enemy, of adults. He doesn’t care. He just wants to crawl into a hole. Be a child again. Live. Whatever it takes. Whatever he needs to do. Whatever they want to know, just tell them, Pike.

An Actor Prepares A Venn Diagram

Typecasting can be a terrible thing. It behoves any actor who takes their career and themselves seriously to draw up a Venn diagram of their roles to date. This will allow them to not only spot any typecasting pattern before it gets out of hand, but also to have a useful handout if they are ever asked on Inside The Actor’s Studio.

So what has this taught us?

Nothing.

THE FIRST THING I DID WITH MY 2:1 IN DRAMA FROM BRISTOL UNIVERSITY…

… was, apparently, write time-wasting letters to the National Theatre. I recently found copies, which I leave here for the crows who feast on youthful hubris.

19th December 1995

The Chairman,

Royal National Theatre,

South Bank,

London,

SE1 9PX

Dear Sir,

I am writing to you to apply for the position of Richard Eyre advertised in The Guardian, Monday 18th December. As a recent graduate with a 2:1 BA (Hons) in Drama, I have a wide range of experience in all types of theatre, including front of house work. My current job of working in the Cash Office and on the Information Desk of a busy high street chemist has provided me with the administrative and problem-solving skills necessary to be Richard Eyre. I work well under pressure.

I have visited the Royal National Theatre several times, most recently to see ‘An Inspector Calls’ which was quite good, and this has provided me with a good working knowledge of what the job of Richard Eyre would entail. The current Richard Eyre is, I understand, quite old, but I feel a more youthful approach may bring a new slant to the position and I am younger than Sam Mendes. I also own a light cotton safari suit.

In my spare time I enjoy fencing, watching television and socialising. I have good communication skills and I work well both on my own and as part of a team. I was a prefect in my secondary school and was secretary of the University of Bristol Drama Society.

I am required to give my present employers, Boots the Chemists Ltd, one month’s notice but after that time I am available to work every day except Saturday. If I am accepted in the position of the new Richard Eyre I am willing to relocate to London so there will be no need for me to commute.

As I am aware that the Royal National Theatre funds are limited, I have enclosed an SSAE.

Yours faithfully,

Daniel Tetsell, BA(Hons) 

Fair play, they did send me a polite letter, including an application pack. Having nothing better to do than avoid moving back in with my parents, I replied.

29th January 1996

Dear Sir,

APPLICATION FOR APPOINTMENT AS SUCCESSOR TO RICHARD EYRE, DIRECTOR, ROYAL NATIONAL THEATRE

Following your letter of 4th January, I thought I should address each of the points outlined in the ‘Qualifications and Qualities’ section of your infobooklet in order.

1. A commitment to artistic excellence.

Yes, I have a commitment to artistic excellence.

2. A track record of success, preferably at first hand as a director, in the production of British and international drama.

I have first hand experience at directing British drama and have been in a play in Edinburgh written by an American.

3. A clear and distinctive vision of the National as a national theatre.

It is clear to my vision that the National should be distinctly national as indicated by the name. If it catered purely for a minority of London-based artists and critics it would not be held in such high regard by people in Hull or other such places.

4. The gift of communicating that vision, effectively and persuasively, to the staff of the National at every level and to the public.

Learning from my experience at Boots The Chemists Ltd, I would hold weekly ‘team meetings’ every Tuesday morning. This would necessitate opening later, probably about 9.30am but I would communicate the need for this effectively and persuasively to the general public who would be sure to be accommodating.

 5. The ability to be an effective team builder.

 I am an effective team builder.

6. The ability to motivate and to inspire.

I believe the appointment of a relatively inexperienced successor to Richard Eyre, Director, Royal National Theatre, would motivate and inspire the staff to achieve better things.

7. Experience, or understanding, of strategic management, including the management of financial resources (particularly at a time of constrained budgets), as well as project and staff management.

Once again my experience will stand me in good stead in meeting the requirement of this slightly longer paragraph. I am an unemployed Drama graduate and thus have ample experience in the management of financial resources (particularly at a time of constrained budgets).

8. An awareness of the major issues facing the National, British theatre and other major Arts companies.

I know, I know. Just do not talk to me about it. I blame the government. I have recently written an angry and pompous letter to The Guardian about it, which I got 39 of my friends to sign.

9. Practical experience of running a theatre would be highly desirable.

I have built and sold tickets from the Box Office of a busy Edinburgh Fringe venue.

I hope these points will clarify my application and make your choice a bit easier. 

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours faithfully,

Daniel Tetsell, BA(Hons)

I didn’t get the job. Which is lucky as I would probably have passed on Warhorse.

LOW BUDGET INDIE FILM TITLES: A PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY

So, you want to make a low budget indie film.

You’ve booked Laura Linney and/or Mark Ruffalo; you’ve location scouted some really moody wheat fields; you found a Moldy Peaches CD in a bargain bin so the soundtrack’s sorted; you’ve arranged a screening at Sundance and Raindance and Riverdance and are mentally prepared for all the months of adulation and years of disappointment a indie film festival hit can bring. There’s just one problem – your low budget indie film doesn’t have a suitably low budget indie film title. Well, do what I do; take a walk down the street and steal one off a sign. Any street will do. Take for instance Dawes Road, Fulham. After just a ten-minute stroll I had enough low budget indie film titles to fill that snooty independent DVD rental place where all the film studies postgrads work.

How about…?

The Fish Bowl

THE FISH BOWL: Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo excel in this intense drama about the breakdown of a marriage seen through the eyes of the people who live opposite.

Heritage Ltd

HERITAGE LTD: Mark Ruffalo uncovers corruption in the corridors of the National Trust.

Same Day

SAME DAY: Laura Linney stars as a jaded socialite, trapped in a loveless marriage. Across town her cleaner Rosario (a stunning Mark Ruffalo) tries to catch a bus.

The Fulham Dentist

THE FULHAM DENTIST: Chris O’Dowd, Chewitel Ejiofor, Catherine Tate, Bill Paterson and Gillian Anderson star alongside Laura Linney in Jez Butterworth’s darkly comic thriller.

Single File Traffic

SINGLE FILE TRAFFIC: Sally Hawkins gives an award-nominated performance as a traumatised Territorial Army quartermaster getting back on the dating scene in Bristol. (Dir: Mark Ruffalo)

Curtains and Duvets

CURTAINS & DUVETS: From Annie Griffin, director of ‘Festival’, this new ‘comedy’ takes place over one day in the stock room of a John Lewis. Stars Mark Wooton, Gillian Anderson and Jessica Stevenson Spaced Hynes. “Finally, a comedy for people who don’t like comedy” Time Out

Any of these

Yeah, any of these would make a perfectly servicable indie film title. If NO LOADING was on at the Curzon they’d eat it up.

Homestead Road

HOMESTEAD ROAD: In 1970s Arizona, dying farmer Ed Harris awaits the return of his estranged, gay, Vietnam veteran adopted son (Laura Linney). Contains scenes of mild family secret unearthing.

Tea with Jesus

TEA WITH JESUS: Every  week for twenty years four black women meet at their church to talk about life, love, children and being a black woman. Stars Mark Ruffalo, Chris O’Dowd, Eddie Marsan and Gillian Anderson. “Deceptively racist” Time Out

Sitting Pretty

SITTING PRETTY: Blah blah Mike Leigh blah blah heart-warming comedy blah blah stupid Cockney voice blah blah shocking rape scene blah blah Palm D’or.

Lannoy Point

LANNOY POINT: Twenty years after her daughter drowned on a family holiday, Laura Linney returns to Lannoy Point to confront her ghosts. Not real ghosts, unfortunately. Co-stars Tim Lovejoy in his first film role.

See you in Aspen!

IN OTHER NEWS…

If you’re the type who keeps up with these things, you may have heard that Newsjack, Radio 4 Extra’s premier open-door topical sketch show (formerly BBC 7’s premier open-door topical sketch show) is returning in a few weeks. I’m no longer involved but I have been thinking about my time as Newsjack script editor recently and, more specifically, my unwritten hit list. This was an ever evolving checklist of jokes and joke structures that I thought were too trad, hack or rubbish. If I came across them in the slush pile of submissions they’d automatically get a line through them.

You might be thinking ‘Too trad, hack or rubbish for Newsjack? Wow. What are these monsters?”, so I’m going to share one of them with you in an attempt to stamp it out forever.

Please, please, please can we read the last rites to the ‘And in other news, bears shit in the woods / Pope’s a Catholic’ trope?

You’ll be familiar with the basic structure, it goes something like this:

‘In a statement released today, glamour model Jordan has admitted having plastic surgery. In other news, bears admit to shitting in the woods’

Sometimes it’s the Scientist Variant, along the lines of:

‘After six years of research, scientists have released findings that prove chocolate and alcohol make you happy. Meanwhile, bear scientists say they are close to discovering who shits in all those woods’

You’d be amazed how often that cropped up amongst the Newsjack submissions. Or maybe you wouldn’t – perhaps you have a lower opinion of mankind than I do or perhaps you actually like that joke. Well, I hate it. It’s an annoying Joke-like Substance, the absence of wit masquerading as wit, it’s hooking a cadaver up to a car battery so that its lifeless features spasm into a rictus grin. At best it’s a socially lubricant noise that people might use if they’re having a post-work banter. It is not comedy writing that I would be willing to pay for. You might as well scrawl ‘Sumfin bowt da newz’ on a napkin for all the comedic insight you’re bringing to the table.

There is a place for Catholic Popes and shitting bears. In the mouth of a character, in a sitcom say, it’s perfectly acceptable for what it tells us about that character. The repeated ‘That’s what she said’ from The Office is a perfect example – it’s funny because of what it says about Michael Scott.  If you’re suggesting though that the Pope / Catholic / Bear / Woods thing is funny in and of itself then you need to give yourself a slap and try harder. Or maybe try advertising copywriting – they always need more people to churn out banal, unfunny ‘comedy’ dialogue.

Is this trope one of the laziest fallbacks for topical gag writing?

Are bears responsible for covering up years of systematic child abuse?

THE DICK RULE

This is a blog post about the business of being a writer. It contains no tips on formatting, or structure, or character development. It actually contains only one piece of advice and it is this:

Don’t be a dick.

There comes a time in every writer’s career where they move from sitting in a room on their own eating crisps, to sitting in a room with other people (crisps optional). Even J D Salinger had to come in for the odd meeting – and with J D they really were odd meetings. Aha ha ha. No? You didn’t like that? It was funny. No, it was. Look, let me explain it. J D Salinger, right, was this famous reclusive. So, right, he comes in for a meeting and it’s odd. But it’s also odd, as in occasional. Because he was a recluse. You know what? Fuck this. I’m giving you gold here and… Fine, fine, I get it. Dumbass.

And… scene.

That’s how NOT to handle your joke bombing in a writers’ room. Move on, pitch a different joke, if the first one died really badly maybe make a joke about that but what you must never do is take it personally. No screaming, shouting, crying or sulking. In fact, all writers’ room rules (which include turn up on time, respect your colleagues, buy your fair share of coffee and don’t smell of BO and/or semen) all boil down to…

Don’t be a dick.

A group of comedy writers throwing jokes around can be the most fun you can have with your clothes on (and in most writers’ room you really do want everyone to keep their clothes on) but if someone makes a scene it’s the worst place to be in the world. Yes, facetious internet comment, worse than Darfur. You’re a comedy writer; you’re allowed to be weird, socially awkward, nerdy, creepy, sneezy, bashful and Gimli but  what you must be, above all,  is nice to work with. Being good at your job will get you in the room but it won’t necessarily keep you there. No one is enough of a genius to get away with being a massive dick.

So don’t be a dick.

The Dick Rule is even more important when dealing with non-writers – those sometimes-wonderful, sometimes-infuriating people who stand between you and the finished product. Producers, actors, editors, directors, location managers, camera assistants, script supervisors, receptionists, security guards, drivers – don’t be a dick to any of these people. If any of them are dicks to you, rise above it. Start a ‘Dick List’, put their name on it and try to avoid working with them again. You may also want to think of a better name than ‘Dick List’, particularly if your Mum’s likely to come across it while cleaning your room.

Before you get on set or into the studio there are, of course, lots of hoops to jump through and each one is a chance to practice not being a dick. A script editor might give you notes you disagree with – don’t be a dick about it. Take them on board, think about them, be honest, take what’s useful and be ready to defend (without being a dick) your decisions. A producer might suggest Jack Whitehall to play the part of Josef the Holocaust survivor – don’t be a dick. It’s their job to sell your project to their superiors, they don’t know the script as well as you, they don’t / can’t care about it as much. Tell them why you think they’re wrong but while you’re doing it…

Don’t be a dick.

Trust me, I’ve been a dick on occasion and it did me no good. There was a sitcom project that became mired in the sort of mire that always mires sitcoms. Several changes of personnel took place and I found myself in a situation where I was unable to work with our executive producer. Did I take my own advice, did I rise above it? No. I sulked and tutted every time he spoke and gave him the old crazy eyes. In short, I was a dick. Eventually I had to walk away from the whole project, just to save my sanity and my writing partner’s career.

When I was in Lab Rats, a short-lived BBC 2 sitcom, it was a dream come true. For various reasons the rehearsal and filming process was stressful and a little disorganised and I reacted badly – I seized up, I stopped listening, I became snappy. I thought at the time that my short temper was a valid response. It wasn’t. All it was doing was masking my fear and panic – I wasn’t being the type of actor or co-worker I would want on my own project. Here was a delicate, wonderful thing and in my desperation to hold on to it, I crushed it.

The best reason not to be a dick is that being a dick is easy. Writers and comedians live a toddler’s existence, paid to play and doodle – no wonder a tantrum comes so easily to us. It’s much harder to be calm and controlled and friendly, even when our guts are churning because some dick hasn’t read your script even though it’s been on his fucking desk for six months. Instead of a toddler we should be the toddler’s natural enemy – the swan. Regal above water, never letting on that deep down our big ugly legs are flailing.

Yours truly,

A Dick (Recovering)

PS. Leaving mean comments after a blog post is the ultimate in dick moves.