Editing The Now Show

Colin Anderson, producer of Radio 4's comedy satire The Now Show, explains how the role of producer may well be the most important on the show.

The BBC College of Production recently made a film about the role of producer on The Now Show. Unfortunately the least telegenic bit of the job – where I sit with an engineer in an edit studio all day – was also the part Hugh Dennis thought most important. So here’s a bit more about editing the show.

The show records in the BBC’s Radio Theatre on Thursday nights between 8pm and whenever it’s done - you can apply to be in the audience through the BBC Tickets site. I usually come away with about an hour of show and the team retire to a nearby pub at the end of a long week’s satire.

"I mark laughter and applause on my script while we’re recording, so can look down a page and see how it flew with the audience. If it got a laugh, it stays, if it didn’t, then it goes." – Colin Anderson

Cut to 09.00 Friday morning. Today’s job is to digitally assemble the programme, edit in retakes, add extra music and sound effects and cut last night’s recording down to 28 minutes for broadcast at 18.30. Between the Friday night, the Saturday repeat, iPlayer and podcast, nearly 3 million people will listen to this week’s show, so no pressure.

Audience comedies like The Now Show have the advantage of being punctuated by laughter and generally you can edit “to the laughs”. I mark laughter and applause on my script while we’re recording, so can look down a page and see how it flew with the audience. If it got a laugh, it stays, if it didn’t, then it goes - I understand this approach is common amongst comedy producers, with only a few real mavericks daring to do the opposite.

A listen through the edit involves cutting wherever possible - lulls, lines where the audience already got the joke, small tightens of pauses and often removing applause breaks – why waste valuable seconds of the show on too much clapping?

There’s no such thing as “canned laughter”. It’s possible to take better laughs from elsewhere in the same recording to make a joke sound like it got a warmer reception, but if the 300 Now Show fans in our studio audience didn’t find the joke funny then I’d be inclined to cut it.

If I really believe in a particular joke and think the studio audience are just plain wrong, then I prefer not to add fake laughs on the rationale that I quite enjoy being the only person in a comedy club who gets a joke. But if everyone’s laughing uproariously and I don’t get it, I’ll feel alienated and if it’s on the radio I’ll probably switch over.

Gags which may be considered in poor taste have to pass a higher comedic threshold to justify the potential offence to listeners. If you’re funny enough the Radio 4 audience seem happy to go along with you, but if you’re not as clever as you think you are then you’re about to make a dirty joke at a stranger’s dinner table, quite probably in front of their kids.

The edit’s our last chance to get editorial issues right before broadcast and yet another opportunity to get them wrong. A carefully worded monologue may not feel as balanced when the caveats are cut for not being funny enough. It’s a final chance to fact-check and run additional legal and editorial referrals - all things more usefully done before the recording, but often a news story changes or a gag’s added to the script at the last minute.

By mid-afternoon we’ve usually managed to pare the show down to about the right time. Our edit system means we then have to record it into a single audio file by doing a real-time playback, which the show’s executive producer sits in for so that they can give any final notes and sign the programme off as fit for broadcast.

I sit making my own final notes of any expletives, brand names or other issues that will need detailing on the compliance form. Listening on headphones because the show’s success as a podcast means that over 400,000 people will be potentially doing the same, so a duff edit’s going to get noticed.

The day ends with me uploading the finished show to Radio 4’s computer system, checking it’s been received and scheduled, and heading for the train home, where I can watch Twitter’s live review of my week’s work: #BBCNowShow