Advice on breaking into comedy
Jon Mountague has produced a number of sitcoms including I'm With Stupid, and 10:96. He's currently head of the BBC Comedy North unit in Manchester where he scours the region to find and develop new comedy talent.
He tells us about his experience in the industry and gives us an insight into the world of a commissioner. He also gives us his view on what makes a great sitcom and how to make your work stand out.
Q1. How did you get into comedy?
At university I shared flat with a stand up comedian. I helped out with writing material, and then created my own material. I was always a fan of comedy as a kid. I was lucky enough to get a job on BBC comedy radio after graduating from university.
Q2. What is it about a script that makes you sit up and take notice?
First is good story and second is lots of jokes. I’m in the business of creating comedy. If a script has not made me laugh by page five I probably won’t read on.
Q3. What one person thinks is funny is not necessarily the same as the next person – how do you make an overall decision as to what the general public will think is funny?
I have got a good take on the broad remit of BBC Comedy which serves four different channels four different flavours. If I see a comedy that I think will fit on BBC Three but not BBC One, I can identify that.
Q4. How important is a technically accurate script – eg will you only consider correctly laid out scripts?
I think writers should adopt a professional approach. We encourage professionalism and we want it to be easy to read as we receive a lot of scripts. But we always keep the door open.
Q5. Is any topic taboo in your mind when evaluating potential comedy scripts?
I don’t think anything is taboo. We like sophisticated and we like clever. Racist and sexist are not sophisticated and are not clever.
Q6. What is the difference, for a scriptwriter, between writing for a sketch show and writing for a sitcom, and would you consider either?
I look at both. Sketches are a bit like jokes. They are shorter. Sitcoms are more comic stories. Sitcoms tend to have a single authored voice whereas sketch shows are created by lots of different writers.
Q7. What do you think is the best way a scriptwriter can improve his or her skills?
I don’t think you can teach someone to be funny. The only way to improve is to keep writing. You are a better writer if you sit down and write a sitcom and see how bad it is.