Write what you know: working in telly


A telly. Remeber when they looked like that?

The many thousands of people that read my blog will know that this is the final in the trilogy of writing jokes about things I know. We skipped a chapter because I was too busy writing a blog about New Year (in January! I got something right Mum! Though I guess if I was really trying to stand out from the crowd I would write a blog on New Year in June).

So here is the last of the three. As with the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, getting to the end may require you to be blind drunk for it to make any sense. Like Godfather III, you’ll find yourself wondering ‘why the Vatican subplot?’ Or it could even be likened to Return of the Jedi ‘cos it’s probably going to be woefully substandard.

This one’s about me working in telly. Which is something I wanted to do ever since I was making television sets out of cardboard as a child (admittedly I did also make flip flops out of cardboard and even imaginary friends out of cardboard. I’m now barefoot and lonely but at least I’m living my dream).


Knightmare (Rex Features)

TV producers are freelance so part of our year we don’t work and instead lounge around the house – which makes me feel vicariously like a dirty benefits scrounger which I like to say only because it makes me feel better about the fact that I do occasionally claim benefits. And then the rest of the year I work at TV companies trying to come up with new programmes. People in my job spend half their time considering what the next big hit to follow on from the X Factor could be, whether it would be better to re-launch Knightmare or The Generation Game (Knightmare, obvs), or how to distill the popularity of the mobile phone game Angry Birds for a television audience. And the other half wondering what in hell was the point of studying Aeschylus at University. My good friends Stu and Dan, who are development bods as well as being comedians, will know exactly what I’m talking about.

So you spend your time coming up with programme ideas and pitching them to broadcasters. The fact of the job is that 99 of every 100 ideas you come up with will never see the light of day. Some people would call that Wastage. I call it Possible Material.

There was the time I pitched Sheikhs on a Plane which was not in any way a programme idea, just a really fun pun that I LOVED (if you’ve ever said to yourself ‘gah, these television producers, they must just start with a silly title and make a television programme to fit it,’ bingo, you are correct, sir). Sadly I could not make a TV show out of it, so it has now become a joke about 9/11 conspiracists. In a similar vein, I was desperate to pitch How Deep Is Your Dove? but try as I might I couldn’t find any evidence to suggest that the skincare brand is in financial difficulty. There was the time I mistyped Bear Grylls as Near Grylls and suddenly had a ready-made joke about the TV adventurer’s very own tribute act.

Basically, my job is like the Sainsbury’s Make Your Roast Go Further campaign. All the bits I don’t use in the day get rehashed and turned into jokes in the evening. And I try and mix the really shit bits in with the prime stuff and hope no-one notices.

So, in conclusion, I don’t really write comedy about the job, I use the job to write comedy (as a purely accidental and non-time-consuming byproduct – I hasten to add for the benefit of any employers reading this!). So I’m not writing what I know, which is a shame. I guess if I was an accountant or a computer programmer or a teacher everyone would know what I did. These job titles are all shorthand for worlds which we are familiar with. But what I find often is that no-one really understands what my job is (especially not my mum and dad, much to their chagrin), so unless I do a preamble I can’t really get into the topic with ease. So I leave it to one side.

But – hang on a sec! – what I have been forgetting all this time is that I definitely *do* work with a medium that everyone knows. The TV programmes listed above we are all resolutely familiar with….oh my God, why didn’t I think of this before?


Pob (Ragdoll Producciones)


So, decision made – I will write jokes about all of TV! This is an excellent day in which I discovered another rich area of life that I can talk about. And like all the other stuff it is a completely pointless area (but one that I have nevertheless made my life’s work out of). There’s the question of what type of animal Pob actually is, there’s the pointlessness of the show Extreme Couponing, there’s the extreme superness of the show Pointless and the fact that I once knew someone who went on Jim’ll Fix It. I don’t think I am EVER going to run out of material.

So thanks for coming with me on this three-part journey on Writing What You Know. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that there’s always some prime material on your doorstep, you just have to remind yourself how it is you feel about the things that are ever-present in your life. There’s no point raging about an ex-boyfriend that you actually just feel sorry for, or pretending that you hated growing up in an estuary sink town when in truth you found it quite fun. It’s our unusual and unique responses to otherwise recognisable life experiences that make for interesting material on stage. And there’s always a way to make stuff accessible – even if no-one, not even your parents, understands what you do for a living.

But do you not know anything else about life Sarah? I hear you cry. Yes I do. Here are the other things I know about:

  • French music at the turn of the last century
  • Every world capital (if you’d like to test me on this via Skype or summat be my guest)
  • Correct use of Skype
  • How to care for Russian dwarf hamsters (apart from the one that I like to think is living a very lovely life in the wall cavities of our old house in Stevenage)
  • How to solve quadratic equations
  • How to solve quadratic men
  • How to solve quadratic quandries
  • The Montessori method
  • Red Dwarf
  • Blanket stitch
  • How to plaster a wall
  • The oeuvre of work to date created by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer
  • How to create a graveyard for Russian dwarf hamsters in your back garden when they all eventually die of natural causes
  • I also know that the capital of Vatican city is Vatican city which means that it is the capital of itself, which to my mind creates a circular paradox that will ultimately lead to the Vatican imploding, in a series of events that will ironically resemble the apocalypse as foretold in the Bible’s Revelation of John.

If you’ve managed to read this blog full of navel gazing I commend you. If you’ve spent the rest of my blog in a seething rage over my Return of the Jedi comments, you and I probably don’t need to talk so much any more.

Roll credits.

New Year’s

Yay it’s the New Year!!! Wooooooo!!! OMG it’s gonna be MEGA we are going to have a party that is OFF THE HOOK. I am going to get SO TRASHED and then SNOG SOMEONE (teeheehee!) at midnight.

Then once midnight has struck I am going to CHANGE EVERYTHING about my life. I’m going to suddenly have a completely different kind of appetite and an ENTIRELY NEW relationship with tobacco and basically lobotomise myself and then insert in my head a new brain that will mean I’ll have better attitudes to All of Life.





This ISN’T how New Year’s works and you know it and I know it and everyone else knows it. Maybe let’s NOT PRETEND it’s going to be anything other than the Bobby Davro of events – you really want to like it, it really wants you to like it and you can rely on it to appear with grim regularity, but ultimately it hasn’t been any good since the early 90′s when you were too stupid and too 8-years-old to realise how rubbish it is.

In honour of that thought, I plan to make some plans for my comedy in 2014 that are no different to the plans I made at the beginning of 2013. Just like a New Year’s party never turns out to be as good as you’re told it’s going to be, I’m not going to make some elaborate grand plan that will ultimately see me taking over the world of comedy – because that’s not going to happen, and that’s fine*.

Instead: I am going to make sure I regularly gig. I will make myself write every week.  ’ll look for small progressions everywhere. And I am going to try not to sleep with any comics on the circuit because, just as you shouldn’t shit where you eat, you shouldn’t bonk where you stand in front of a crowd of strangers with a microphone, seeking their approval (save that for Vegas). But I will occasionally slip so I will allow myself to sleep with a grand total of two other comics in 2014 – just as in 2013.

There is an understanding that if you keep doing the same thing it means you will stagnate and you aren’t really ‘reaching for the stars.’

But I say that’s bollocks. Sometimes you’ve just got to work. There aren’t that many shortcuts in stand-up comedy* – just short cu(n)ts – and you may as well spend the time you would have done chasing the shortcuts actually attempting to Become A Better Comic. Through work. Also if you wear higher heels hopefully you’ll be able to see over the heads of the short cu(n)ts and pretend they’re not there.

Lots of people seem to wake up on New Year’s Day saying that “this will be MY year.” They’re going to take on the world and the world won’t know what’s hit it! And they’re right – things can change overnight – but not just New Year’s Eve. Every day, I plan to keep working and hopefully be a little bit better than the day before.

And then in three years time I’ll take over the world of comedy. Just three more shit parties to go then.

Write what you know: really bad break-ups

My last blog was the first in a series of three on writing jokes about things that I know.  We have covered my unfortunate growing up in Stevenage (it was the Stevenage part that I meant was unfortunate but the growing up part weren’t pretty either).

So here is the next instalment: really bad breakups! Hooray!

So…really bad break-ups. I guess the reason I don’t really talk about mine in my set is that I don’t want to be an enormous walking cliché of every comedienne to ever grace a stage: a man dumped me, so here I am with a ukulele and a broken heart, telling jokes about how much weight I lost (the weight of an entire human being! Guffaw guffaw guffaw sob) and M&S meals for one. It’s depressing and moreover it’s not really true to me. Life is different, it’s not worse. And I can’t afford M&S ready meals.

And another reason is that a break up is never really one person’s story to tell. When I see people talking about their exes I always feel like I’m only getting one person’s side of the story and automatically that person looks bitter. Really, what I should be doing is bringing my ex along with me to do a double act on our break-up. But his new girlfriend might not go for that idea. And also he’s not very funny. HA! #definitelynotbitter

But since I have decided to go down this path (see the above part of my blog where I decided to write about this shit. You know what they say: what goes in a blog is binding) I should try to find the funny in the situation. Look!  Here are some bullet points!

  • You get to not have regular sex which is VERY ANNOYING because the ironic thing about sex is that if you don’t have it for a while you get IN A BAD MOOD and VERY ANGRY. And you know what is NOT a good come-on to guys who might have otherwise contemplated sex with you? Being GRUMPY and ANGRY. I could do maybe five minutes of what flirtation and sexy dancing looks like if it’s done by someone who’s raging inside because of their BURNING LOINS.
  • Everyone around you suddenly gets VERY WORRIED about your eggs. Because you’re nearly 30 and the man they thought would impregnate you has just left and OBVIOUSLY all you’ve EVER wanted in your life was for tiny humans to squeeze their way out of your abdomen like Sylvanian families that have become sentient and are escaping through a small hole they gnawed in their packaging. Suddenly your fertility becomes fair game for everyone to talk about, as if the contents of people’s organs is a normal conversation topic to bring up.
  • Dating websites. If my blog had sound effects this would be the moment a klaxon would go off. Because I reckon there are enough jokes about dating websites out there already.
  • You end up writing blogs about your break-up.

Ah, that was fun. It made me feel a whole lot better as well. Which is I guess why people write jokes about the things that go wrong in their lives.

Get me a ukulele, it looks like my set’s gonna get more clichéd.

Write what you know: Stevenage

They say you should write jokes about what you know. I didn’t realise that they said this but then lots of people started saying it to me, and then indeed the situation became my truth and I knew too that I should write jokes about what I know.

cowardly lion fancy dress outfit

The Cowardly Lion. Apparently.

So I have decided to write jokes about what I know.*

But before I start I do wonder if I was already writing about what I know all along and just hadn’t realised it. A bit like the Cowardly Lion. If he was a stand-up comedian touring London’s grottiest pubs with an electric keyboard.

*(What is meant by this is what you know of the world so far – your experience of it, rather than what your specialist subject on Masterchef would be)

So I’m studying my set and I see a fair bit about weight loss, a nod to the Nazis, a quick cul de sac into road markings, a writhing hunk of sex, and an array of other subjects including degenerative disease, the crucifixion, nappies, wild animals and gardening. I really hope this isn’t an accurate depiction of ‘what I know’ about the world so far. Even the sex stuff I only really know from Cosmo. Ahh, Cosmo, giving a generation of teenage girls already beset by bad skin, BO and bullying an extra worry: where WILL they put their TEETH when they give their FIRST BLOW JOB????

Anyhoo, I digress.

So on this brief summary it turns out I don’t really write about what I know, so I decided I’m going to. And at the same time as writing jokes about what I know I will write this blog about jokes about what I know. And in time I guess I will have to write jokes about writing a blog because that will be part of my experience of the world…and then the world will implode. And I will write about that

There are three areas that stand out to me from my life history that I think will prove fertile ground for comedy gold and these are as follows:

  • Growing up in Stevenage, also known as St. Evenage to no-one.
  • Really, really, really bad break-ups.
  • Working in telly as a Producer innit.

This is blog one in a series of three: Growing up in Stevenage.

Many people haven’t heard of Stevenage; if you haven’t then count yourself lucky. I didn’t realise that Stevenage was quite so rubbish until I left and met other people who had grown up elsewhere and told me Stevenage was rubbish. And then I looked around at the fertile greenery, the graffiti that obeyed the laws of grammar, the people who had changed out of their pyjamas BEFORE leaving the house that morning and knew that I wasn’t in Kansas any more. And that my Kansas was a shit-tip.

The thing is I didn’t notice any of this while I was living there. Like a small undernourished child born into captivity, I wasn’t given to questioning my surroundings. And actually it was wonderful, because my parents lived there with me and they were great, and my friends lived down the road and they were great, and we all had a great and lovely time together.

BUT there WERE funny things about living there, now I think of it, and these were as follows:

  • Our PE lessons rotated between the snooker hall and the bowling alley.
  • My friends and I used to turn shopping trolleys on their sides in the local park and then crawl through them, like a dystopian Crystal Maze. For fun, apparently.
  • Once someone tried to shoot everyone as they went home from school. But that’s not very funny.
  • There was a geography teacher who used to rest his balls on the table nearest him and thought that we didn’t notice.
  • Shag bands.

So actually, living in a scuzzy town doesn’t necessarily make for good comedy – as I’ve established, you’re not really deprived if the people around you are nice and wash their faces occasionally. And there’s already enough talk of growing up in shit towns from other comedians; ideally I would do something different. But it’s those crazy stories you tell people at dinner parties from your childhood that actually could make for funny jokes – and we all have stories like that, whether or not we grew up in a shit town.

I guess, really, we could all be stand up comedians based on that. BUT YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO BE BECAUSE I ALREADY HAVE ENOUGH COMPETITION.

Dual carriageway in Stevenage

Stevenage © Copyright Robin Hall and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

Intellectual property

I like the phrase ‘intellectual property’. It makes me think of someone who is able to emit a hologrammatic house from their brain. Or a library.

But it doesn’t mean either of these things.

Because I am an intellectual I do know the real meaning of the phrase. In fact, intellectual property boils down to the simple act of being able to protect your creative ideas.

Whether or not you’re entertained by this blog, by jingo you’re educated by it.

Anyway the point I am trying to get to is there is no such thing as intellectual property with jokes. You can’t piss around your ideas like a dog around a tree because your ideas aren’t trees. Things that have no physical presence at all are surprisingly easy to steal. In the end in comedy it comes down to a gentleman’s code of ‘hands off’.

In my act, the ‘USP’ is that I punctuate my chatter with spoof ADVERTS. That’s the thing I consider my hallmark: you get comedy ADVERTS with me which most people tell me they really enjoy because it’s an unusual idea. I sell a silly product or I rewrite jingles that people know really well. I have a Moonpigs advert which @nathancaton likes.

But there’s very little I could do if someone wanted also to do comedy ADVERTS in their set. So far, I haven’t seen this happen though one comic came worryingly close by doing an impression of a carpet advert. It was different enough though and we parted (bruised) friends.

There is no patent lawyer that will rubber stamp my idea of doing ADVERTS in a comedy set and protect me from others doing the same. There is no form I can submit. So, like some kind of comedic vigilante, I have to take matters into my own hands.

If only there was some place I could write about this idea of mine to do ADVERTS in my set….some sort of ‘site’ that was strictly mine because it had my name written all over it, where I could put in writing that this is MY IDEA. Where this claim could be readable to all and sundry and stay out in the ether for perpetuity.

Did I mention that it is my idea to do comedy ADVERTS in a set?