How to avoid canned laughter in your Laugh Track script

Thursday 2 February 2012, 12:47

Paul Ashton Paul Ashton

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We've just launched Laugh Track - a fantastic new comedy sitcom writing talent search which will be judged by none other than Dawn French.

dawnfrenchresize.jpg Image of Dawn French

While you're thinking about writing your Laugh Track script, here are a few thoughts to remind you of:

There are generally up to three large sets and perhaps a couple of small ones, there is a limited amount of location taping edited in later, and the action generally happens over a short period of time - because every new day demands a change of costume that slows down the recording. And remember, physical comedy works brilliantly in front of an audience - from Basil Fawlty goosestepping to the Vicar of Dibley dancing with Darcey Bussell to Miranda falling over anywhere and everywhere.

In non-studio comedy series you can do strange, subtle, unusual things - think The Office, Peep Show, The Thick of It, Flight of the Conchords. In studio sitcoms, you have to make the people in the room laugh - out loud, and preferably as often as possible.

They need to be recognisably human (even if they're an alien like Mork or a Mongrel puppet) rather than from some kind of artificial 'sitcom world'. Make them authentic and give them a distinct voice. Find their weakness or short-sightedness and manipulate it. Don’t start with a catchphrase – create a great character in a funny situation and maybe a great catchphrase will come along…

You don't need to reinvent the wheel and go out of your way to come up with a 'sit' that's never ever been imagined before - because chances are it probably has and didn't get developed/made because it didn't seem like a good idea. Instead, bringing a truly fresh and funny perspective to a classic set-up - such as family home/flatshare or workplace - has always worked.

Give your episode story a beginning, a middle and an end. And make sure you get the story straight before you start writing your script – otherwise you’ll be desperately writing hollow gags rather than telling a complete story that makes us laugh and leaves us satisfied.

BBC writersroom and BBC Comedy Commissioning have joined forces for Laugh Track, a new writing talent search for studio sitcoms.  Find out how to enter your script.

Download sitcom scripts and watch clips on our Laugh Track resources page.

Explore comedy scripts in our online script archive.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Oh goody (yet) another talent show!

    Let me see that makes a even hundred. (I haven't counted - I just weighed them).

    The ONLY reason fro talent shows at all is the the programming teams haven't the courage of their own convictions to commission a new show or even a pilot. Guys a talent show is not a job-safe alternative to taking a risk with something new. It shows feeble thinking and lack of courage.

    Put you own jobs/pensions on the line and buy some new comedy. If you fail and are sacked that itself will make a nice sitcom - actually it wouldn't!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I like talent contests.

    I enjoy entering them and writing for them. It gets me motivated, excited and enthusiastic about writing and the occasions where I've made it onto the short list felt dynamite. I write professionally (though not for TV) and I Write For Myself, but a contest gives me a bit of both plus a taste of the dream of being a TV writer - in the days between sending my entry and the winners' announcement, it seems a little bit possible.

    Correction: I love talent contests.


  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Hi guys,

    I was just wondering if there would be room for one or two external scenes in our scripts (like most studio sitcoms) - the scenes would be logistical and not above its station (simple suburban cul-de-sac/garden type of thing)....

    Many thanks,


  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The example was referring to my script in particular, of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Also, and apologies for all the questions, does it need to be a "mid-series" episode? Or can it be a pilot? Thanks again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I had been wondering about the 'brief filmed inserts' possibility also - I'm sure I've seen these in 'Miranda', for example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Also what about the number of characters? My script has a modest four regular characters plus one guest, but I would like to write a "crowd" scene which would require a number of extras. Is this suicide for an audience sitcom?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Please can I clarify the amount of script pages?

    I've written a script using the BBC's scriptsmart sitcom format and as I understand it, and having read other scripts, it would suggest that each page equals approximately 30 seconds. Is this correct? And if so, should scripts submitted using this format be closer to 50 even 60 pages?
    Many thanks


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