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.

Dan

Comments

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  • Comment number 9. Posted by AspieBoy

    on 9 Jul 2010 08:45

    As a listener, I can't help but feel a bit disappointed with Newsjack. Every episode seems to consist mainly of Miles Jupp interviewing a succession of Wild and Whacky Experts. Don't get me wrong, some of the interviews are quite amusing, but they do get a bit tiresome when there's about fifty per show (there might be slightly less, but when you're listening it gets a bit like a conveyor belt).

    Where's the variety? Where's the texture? Previous series had News Bullet and Archive Reports, but this one has relied far too heavily on the Jupp vs. Idiotic Spokeman confrontations.

    Definite room for improvement.

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  • Comment number 8. Posted by MaldwynP

    on 2 Jul 2010 11:43

    Is that you in Mongrels? You can get away with murder when you use puppets, even more when it's really funny.

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  • Comment number 7. Posted by MaldwynP

    on 30 Jun 2010 09:05

    Yes you're right, Sam was very polite although he does say 'Ta' a lot. I have of course assumed that he wants to be my best friend has he has texted me a few times. I hope to keep him up to date with all my personal things and will be sending him pictures of my family and pets on a regular basis. Perhaps you would like to be my best friend too and will provide your email address here.

    P.S. Only joking - but you knew that.

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  • Comment number 6. Posted by Dan Tetsell

    on 29 Jun 2010 17:39

    @MaldwynP - I'm sure any email you got from Sam was very polite. Without going into your work specifically (partly because I'm sure your real name isn't MaldwynP and partly because this isn't the place do discuss individual cases), if you're not getting stuff on Newsjack I can only suggest two things: keep sending stuff in or stop. It's a good opportunity but it's not make or break - it's perfectly possible that the show doesn't suit you. There are loads of very funny people whose style wouldn't fit on this show - and I want to talk more about that in my next blog. In the meantime, rejection's part of the business yada yada. If you're the mellow type, chalk it up to experience and try something else. If you're the furious type, put our names on your Bastards List (you should see mine) and vow to prove us wrong.

    And, I agree, The Brothers Faversham is great. The Penny Dreadfuls are on my Bastards List - the young, handsome, successful, charming, funny bastards.

    @hennell - That example sounds perfectly do-able. We'd never throw out a sketch just because it was complicated. It might be one of the contributing factors, of course, so all I'd ask is you think about logistics while writing. When you have as many sketches to choose from as we do, the easiest thing in the world is to say 'No'. Don't give us the chance.

    @AngusMcG - Glad you like them. The fish finger gag actually came from Tom Neenan, one of our regular contributors - he's a prime example of someone who's really captured Miles' voice. Hopefully he'll let it out for next week.

    @Mark C - In series 1 we were joined for a few shows by Phillip Fox, a talented actor from the Radio Drama Company. They are the rep company of actors shared between drama and comedy and they are essentially free to use. Unfortunately drama have first dibs, so we can't rely on a regular cast member from the RDC and, put simply, we can't afford another actor who isn't RDC. I liked the dynamic when Phillip was with us - it freed Miles and Lewis up a bit and gave us a little more flexibility. My ideal cast would be Miles plus two and two. That isn't possible with a Radio 7 budget though, so the decision was to have Miles, Lewis, Jess and Andi (who's got a big job on C4, so has been replaced with Margaret Cabourn Smith for this series). Too many radio shows (and even TV shows where budget is less of a problem) just have one woman, and I think it leads to a lot of sketches with sensible girlfriends or long suffering wives, so good on Newsjack's producers for moving away from that. So what if David Cameron is a man? This isn't an impressions show, there's no reason we can't have female Tory advisor or MP or an Etonian dinner lady in our sketches.

    Budgetary constraints are just one of the 'unnecessary restrictions' writers have to deal with. This show has a cast and a brief that you are being asked to write for - all shows do, get used to it.

    Also, you don't have to write for the women. I was just saying that's a gap in the market - something a smart writer is always looking for.

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by hennell

    on 29 Jun 2010 15:24

    I wrote a sketch for the first episode which featured three main characters with a very brief throw to 3 'others'. Such a sketch could have worked as the two groups of characters largely had very different accents, but is this type of thing getting to complex considering the short turn around/sanity of the actors?

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by MaldwynP

    on 29 Jun 2010 14:50

    P.S. I did get some emails from Sam Michell. I've never seen a spit ball emoticon before and it was actually wet to the touch.

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by MaldwynP

    on 29 Jun 2010 12:58

    If you want to hear Miles at his best, listen to 'The Brothers Faversham' - absolutely brilliant. In our defence I keep writing cracking jokes/sketches for him and the players without men parts, but you keep ignoring them

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by AngusMcG

    on 29 Jun 2010 03:31

    You write the Miles intros at the top of the sketch?
    Seriously, and without wanting to be too slimy, they are the best bit of the show - especially the off beat top shop/ world, fish finger/ mistake comparisons etc. Are they an original form or is it adapted from something else?

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by Mark C

    on 28 Jun 2010 19:47

    "This isn't a PC call for balance, this is a practical, artistic call - use all the talent available to you." If most of the sketches you receive call for more male than female roles, then why have two male and two female cast members (if not for PC balance)? Putting unnecessary restrictions on the writers seems a little odd. This, after all, is a topical news show and it may well be 2010, but a lot of the major players are male -- see the world cup and those who report on it, the majority of politicians, etc. Bah!

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