Each week, during the run-up to the Newsjack recording, I'm struck by the fact that Miles Jupp is a cursed man. A curse so rare that you can go a month of Fringe Sundays before you find someone bearing the same cross. It's the curse of being a good straight man.
This isn't to say Miles isn't funny. He is - very funny indeed. He's the lynchpin in the Newsjack (Heath Robinson) machine. Part of what makes him so suited to the role of Newsjack anchor is how he knows his way around a joke. Never be afraid to give Miles a joke. I've been asked by a few writers whether they should include stuff for Miles at the top of their sketches and my answer is always the same - absolutely. I tend to write the opening monologue but everything else comes from the writer of the sketch. If your sketch needs and intro and there isn't one, I just have to write it so all you're doing is adding to my workload and cutting down on your minutes. Honestly, a nicely written Miles intro is a joy and a relief to read.
However, and I mean this as a compliment, what makes Miles almost unique is his skilful way with a feed line, a set-up, with the unglamorous spadework of the straight man. A bit like Kenneth Horne (who I always have in my head when working on Newsjack), Miles is a man who it's a pleasure simply to spend airtime with. Very few people can deadpan through a 'crazy spokesperson' sketch as well as Miles.
And it's not fair, goddammit!
The good straight man is the un-squeaky wheel that never gets the comedy grease; the clumsy metaphor that never gets rewritten. Sometimes I suddenly spot Miles hasn't had any jokes for four pages. He's been good, and amusing, but Dr Funnyname, has all the laughs.
So what this is, I suppose, is just a request. Think about the spread of your jokes. The straight man / funny man paradigm is as old as sketch comedy itself. The cashier, the customer, the Journalist 2, the Woman - these are the characters we've all written who's only job is to say "How can I help?", "I'm sorry?", "You want to do what?" and other thankless feeds lines. Sometimes their sacrifice is necessary - they die so that others might laugh - but often it's just a matter of having another look and seeing if there's a more interesting way of doing things. Why not have sketches where everyone's funny?
There's a brusque bit of TV sitcom writing advice that's applicable here: protect your star. The name on the marquee should get the best lines. Miles (or anyone in his position) with no jokes works OK, the show still rolls along but it's a waste. I've no idea if Miles reads these blogs so I'll spare his blushes and move this from the specific to the general. A sketch needs to be as funny as possible in as short a time as possible - if half of your lines are just feeds, is that the best use of your printer ink?
While I'm talking about spreading the love - women. Remember the show's cast is two men and two women. Sketches where three men talk and then are joined by a fourth man (and we get a lot of those) are not much use to us. Miles, of course, is one of those men so even sketches where Miles speaks, then hands over to two men talking, who then hand straight back to Miles can be logistical nightmares. Write more sketches with good parts for women. It seems crazy in 2010, but if you looked at the submissions we get, you'd assume that a lot of people don't know women can be doctors, police officers, MPs, scientists.
This isn't a PC call for balance, this is a practical, artistic call - use all the talent available to you.
As always, not rules, just thoughts.
I'm going to the TV Writers' Festival this week, so the script editing duties on Newsjack Show 3 will be in the capable hands of Gareth Gwynn. If the drama people don't spot me for a comedy interloper and beat me to death with their copies of Robert McKee, I look forward to reading your stuff for Show 4.