#051 Dan Sweryt

“You have to really NEED to do it.”

Welcome to Writers in Various Stages of Development #051 with Dan Sweryt.

Dan is an absolute legend in the world of comedy writing. Whether working solo or with his teammates (Stephen Mawhinney and Stu Cooper), Dan’s made an enormous contribution to UK comedy – across radio, TV, the stage, the web and just about everywhere where there’s a need for laughs. He’s a champion of new writers and is dedicated to supporting the next generation through advice, script editing, mentorship, and good old fashioned encouragement. He’s also not afraid to sugarcoat the life of a writer… things are about to get REAL!

When did you start writing?

I did ‘funny’, before I did ‘writing’.

Boringly, for the beginning of a comedy writer interview, I realised I had been doing ‘funny’ since I was young. I’d always (try to) make people laugh at school including things like mocking up fake ads and film posters (in fact, a whole series of film parodies on one teacher in one case). But it never occurred to me it was ‘a job’.

I moved down to London for a very different kind of job in 1999, but as London is, it’s really quite hard to make friends if you’ve moved there without knowing people in the area. After a couple of years, I found a couple of ‘Creative Writing’ day courses at a community college (dammit! It should’ve been my idea!) that I only really did in the hope of meeting some new people outside of work. Anyway, I did these courses and enjoyed reanimating – Frankenstein-like – the creative side of my brain, instead of the analytical side I had been using at work.

I received the community college’s brochure for the next academic year, and had a look for a few more similar events, that I saw ‘30-Week Comedy Writing’. Like a boring cliche from a movie, it jumped out at me and made me realise that was what I wanted to do. I think that advert was the first time I realised that people are actually paid to write comedy for a living. And if somebody has to do it, it might as well be me!

That course, run by Tony Kirwood in Richmond, was great. The first term we wrote gags and sketches, which were then performed by the ‘Introduction to Acting’ class in the final week. The second term we (tried to) write an episode of an existing sitcom (I did The Thick of It) and the final term we wrote our own sitcom, again having it performed, and it went down pretty well.

29 of us started the first week. There were three of us left by that final performance. Comedy writing is hard work.

What was your first credit as a writer?

Bizarrely, I got two separate credits confirmed within an hour of each other!

By the end of that comedy writing course, two open doors opportunities had come up: one for Angel Eye’s Grrr! sketch show for BBC Radio Scotland, and one for BBC7 (as it was then) called Play & Record. I received an email from the BBC saying they liked one of my sketches mid-afternoon, and I was over the moon. Then, a little over an hour later I received an email from the Angel Eye producer, saying the same!

The actual shows went out months apart from what I recall, as I think ‘Play & Record’ took a really long time to get aired. But I had the bug by then!

The Angel Eye producer was Seb Barwell, by the way, who’s since produced – among other things – Stath Lets Flats and Bloods, and is now Commissioning Editor for BBC Comedy, which is a great advert for staying in touch with the producers who are there are the start of your career!

Comedy writing is hard work.

You’re a full-time writer. At what point did you know it was time to give up the day job?

I had been doing 2.5 days a week writing and 2 days looking after a toddler. Tuesdays to Thursdays was writing but, since the Ukraine war broke out, I’ve been helping out translating with Ukrainian refugees on Tuesday mornings. All my grandparents were Ukrainian refugees during the Second World War and I appear to be able to speak fluently enough to be able to help out. As of September, the little one started at nursery and that freed me up to be ‘full-time’.

In terms of giving up the day job: I worked in IT for 20 years (alongside this comedy writing ‘career’), 16 years for the same employer and a very generous voluntary redundancy offer appeared in 2019. I’d always talked a good game about needing this to really give it up and go all-out at comedy-writing and this was the chance I had to see if I had the balls to really go for it. It was either go for it and take the opportunity, or admit that I really was an ‘IT Consultant’ rather than ‘Comedy Writer’. At the end of the day, I always say it’s better to give something a go and hate it, rather than never giving it a go, so I went for it.

The obvious sitcom-esque complication I haven’t mentioned is that we were pregnant. I left work on the Friday and kid was born on the Monday.

My single most important piece of advice to any writer is ‘WRITE YOUR SITCOM BEFORE YOU HAVE ANY KIDS!’

Being a full-time writer is THE dream. Can you describe an average day for you as a writer?

It depends on the work you have that week. Also, as the ‘self-employed one’, school drop-off and pick-up is my domain, so I very often work well into the evenings to get stuff done. But that’s a flexibility I didn’t have for 20 years and enjoy very much. Also, you don’t really have a direct boss, which is lovely, as there’s little politics or bureaucracy in which to get involved, but means if you don’t do the work, you don’t get any money.

The adhoc work tends to fit around the scheduled work (BLATANT PLUG:) I offer a script editing service for writers (yes, that means you) which started out as doing it just so ‘unknown’ sitcom writers (for want of a better term) could get decent notes for an affordable price. I spend 4 hours on each half-hour script, and you get a two-page analysis as well as your script back as a PDF with orange scrawl all over it pointing out how I think it could be improved, so this takes up quite a bit of time as it’s quite popular and I try to get feedback to writers within two weeks.

I’ve also been doing a bit of this for a couple of production companies recently but, you know, quite happy to do more if anyone’s interested!

Other adhoc work is writing gags for stand-up comedians, be it their main act or appearances on TV/radio panel shows, interviews, corporate appearances, and then there’s ‘non-industry’ stuff, such as punching up awards ceremonies (not a phrase you can use anymore, as Will Smith does all that work now) and even things like making presentations more engaging, as some (and believe me, I worked in IT!) can be rather dry. I just help make them a bit more user-friendly, I guess!

If anybody needs anything made a little more humorous or to be able to better connect with an audience, I’m here to help!

If Breaking The News is running (which it does for 30 weeks a year), Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning are churning out gags from the brief(s). Then more on Wednesday afternoon and evening. Thursday there may be more BTN to do (especially if you’re Lead Writer that week), but that’s the day where I’m usually developing or writing whatever sitcom I’m working on.

If The Skewer is running (again, three series a year, but around 7-8 episodes), then Thursday night and Friday morning is trying to come up with suitable pitches and, if producer Jon Holmes okays them, Saturday late into the night and most of Sunday is spent writing them up. Monday and Tuesday (and sometimes Wednesday) can be putting together one-liners.

If both shows are running concurrently, it’s mentally knackering, frankly. If not, there’s usually some other shows to be working on, either commissioned pilots, or putting together ideas to pitch somewhere or other, or following up some leads on some potential work.

Most evenings are generally spent working on writing funny radio, TV and internet ads (basically sketch-writing but with a corporate punchline!) as that’s where the guaranteed money comes in, to help fund the speculative ‘in development’ stuff you’re trying to get off the ground.

As well as script and story editing, I’ve been hired for things including editing non-fiction books, award ceremonies, presentations, speeches, wedding/best man speeches, even a school nativity play (admittedly that was a request from my sister, but it still went down pretty well!).

What advice do you have for anyone who’s looking to go full-time?

Wait for a redundancy offer! My wife and I agreed I’d do it for a year and see how it goes. That was over three years ago and we’re doing just-about-okay (inflation-and energy prices-permitting!).

If you’re used to money in other industries (or indeed at all!), it’s quite the comedown, so you really have to WANT (or even NEED!) to do it.

Practically, make sure you’ve paid everything off bar the mortgage and maybe the car and have a pile of savings to get you through the first year or so. Have a plan that you’ll do it for a year or two and then reassess. Certainly do not do it if you have mountains of debt on a credit card because not only will you not be able to pay it off, you won’t be able to get any other 0% ones to balance transfer to, in your new ‘low-paid, self-employed’ status!

And don’t do it without some sort of ad-hoc income coming in. If you can find something that can help with that, be it writing funny tweets for someone, or some copywriting, that is fairly flexible, that really helps you get by. Or, you know, win the lottery.

My single most important piece of advice to any writer is ‘WRITE YOUR SITCOM BEFORE YOU HAVE ANY KIDS!’ If you think ‘I don’t really have time to write sitcom’, you don’t know anything about that until you have kids. I once heard Jon Plowman say you won’t be making good money in comedy-writing until the third or fourth series of your sitcom is on telly. It’s better to be in that situation BEFORE all the chaos starts!

[Characters] have to get into trouble or we don’t have stories!

One of your services is story editing. What common issues do you find with stories in the scripts you read?

Story editing came about from reading so many scripts over the years. Frankly, I can’t recommend reading other developing writers’ scripts enough. I think I’ve learnt more from those about writing than I ever could from ‘just’ writing myself. You see the same errors being repeated by everyone (myself included!) and these errors seem to be some sort of rite of passage for sitcom writers.

But, what’s been clear from these thousands of scripts now, (and the Sitcom Geeks podcast will agree!) is that the big main problem with comedy writing of new (and even many experienced!) writers generally is the stories aren’t working particularly well. Basically, writers are itching to get the script done (been there, done it, still wearing the t-shirt – though it does now need a wash) and just don’t plan it enough. And then the hardest thing to take from any feedback or notes is ‘this isn’t really working’ precisely because you’ve spent ages writing it, and really can’t face writing it all over again, but different.

I’ve made the same mistakes over the years and the only way I’ve found to have even half-decent scripts is to not write the scripts! At least until you’ve written and rewritten and rewritten and (…) and rewritten the outline to the point where everything in the outline is working logically and the story is compelling (and hopefully funny). And, what I’ve found, is catching the writer at this point and even just having a discussion with someone else, whose heart and soul is not into ‘their baby’, really helps them and even motivates them into getting that story done much more clearly. That’s where I’m trying to help people – an external POV of their idea before they commit to writing it, so it helps in the writing of it rather than that downbeat feeling you get from feedback after you’ve written it.

The common problems with scripts – that happen in 99% of cases – are: characters sitting around ‘bantering’, stand-up comedy observation material in lieu of plot, characters all sounding the same, nothing actually happening plot-wise, characters talking about funny things that happened (rather than those funny things happening on screen) and, most commonly of all, a ‘setup’ episode that explains the premise of the sitcom but is not at all representative of what all the other episodes will be like!

Then we get into the more technical errors such as: the consequences of one scene not leading to another, no consequences happening in the first place(!), characters not creating problems for themselves, ‘coincidences’ happening to help the plot.

A common one there is the ‘use THEN instead of AND’ between scenes (something Adrian Pointon once wrote off the back something Matt Stone and Trey Parker said) and Dave Cohen perhaps puts better in his ‘Write a Sitcom in 8 Weeks’ course as ‘AS A CONSEQUENCE’. Write the inciting incident (the stupid thing your character does as a result of their unique character traits) and then write ‘AS A CONSEQUENCE’. Then write ‘AS A CONSEQUENCE’ seven or eight times underneath. Then each scene should be a result of what happened in the previous one, right back to the initial decision your character made (and they’re a sitcom character, so it was a stupid thing they did in the first place!). Get your character into as much trouble as possible, an ‘ALL IS LOST’ moment. Then you have a story! (You can worry about getting them out of it later on!)

I think part of the reason for stories not being compelling is that it’s taken a really long time to create these characters; these characters are our babies and, after all that work creating them, we don’t want to see them in trouble! But they have to get into trouble or we don’t have stories! So get them in as much trouble as possible. And the audience will be entertained!

More technically (and thanks to John Vorhaus because when I read this a big lightbulb switched on in my head!) there are often no emotional changes in characters in each scene and, in the rare case of that happening, not happening to every character in that scene. He says (correctly) that an emotional change in character is, in fact, exactly what a scene is! That pretty much blew my mind.

If you DO want to write a sitcom quickly, by the way, I can’t recommend Dave Cohen’s 8-week course enough. I’ve done it three times now as it’s the quickest way to get your idea from concept to first draft, with feedback from an experienced professional along the way, helping massively with motivation.

You often write as part of a team with Stephen Mawhinney and Stu Cooper. Am I right that you met on the British Comedy Guide Forums?

Kind of. I knew Stu by name because I knew his previous writing partner (don’t worry – he lost interest in writing comedy, I didn’t ‘steal’ him away, soap-opera fashion) as we’d written on a lot of the same open doors shows. Then I ‘met’ Stephen at a workshop Newsjack set up for new writers who’d done quite well on series 1. I say ‘met’ because I think I spoke to everyone at that workshop except for Stephen!

Around series 5 or 6 of Newsjack, we (and I mean a lot of writers) were all posting a lot of rejected sketches in the BCG Forums and giving each other feedback. One of those writers said to us: “why don’t we get together and read through these?” Which turned into “Well, if we’re going to read them, why don’t we record it?”. Which turned into “Well, if we’re going to record it, we may as well get an audience and perform it”. So this writer-with-a-can-do-attitude (the definition of a ‘producer’), Alison Pritchard, then suggested we all turn up at her house, ‘bring all the family!’, “I live on an island in the Thames!” to essentially make this show of, essentially, Newsjack rejects.

Stu contacted me to ask if I was up for it, as he was considering it, admitting it sounded 50% a really good thing and 50% like a serial killer trying to lure us all to our demise.

I, diva-like, because I had been invited into the Newsjack writers’ room by then (and was for series 5-8), demanded to be script editor; expecting some sort of resistance. Ali, of course, said ‘Yes. Well, we do need someone to do it’. I suggested Stu help too, as he’d been previously commissioned for Recorded For Training Purposes by this point, and was thus similarly underqualified.

Quite bizarrely, about a week before we got together, Alison bumped into someone from an internet radio station at a village fete; the result being that she and I met for the first time ten minutes before pitching to them our ‘radio-show-that-we-didn’t-know-would-work’!

And the Live From Kirrin Island podcast was born!

I think there were about 12 writers that got together to write and record it over a weekend; spending Saturday writing, rewriting and editing and, on Sunday, recorded it featuring such luminaries as ‘some of the writers’ and ‘the guy from the copy shop where we printed the scripts who said he’d done a bit of acting’, but – spectacularly! – with an audience of about 40 other people who lived on the island! Then we released it as a podcast. We learnt a lot, such as ‘don’t put your Zoom recording device next to the tea urn that boils every 90 seconds’, had a great time and thought ‘let’s do this again’.

Despite all the writers being very good, it was clear Stephen knew his comedy onions and we coerced him into being an additional script editor going forward.

Then it went a bit mental. Not least from connections we’d made and followed up on. By episode 2 we had ‘proper’ actors: Alex Perkins (The Office) and Rachel Esposti (News Revue) were acting our sketches out properly! By episodes 3 and 4, Stephen Hope-Wynne, Lewis Macleod and Debbie Arnold were involved!

We also ran it as an ‘open doors’ opportunity for writers, as it was important to us that new writers had an outlet to get their work performed. From that, we invited the most consistent writers to join us in later writers’ rooms.

Fast forward a few months and Alison and I found ourselves in the British Forces Broadcasting Service offices, pitching a military-based sketch show to them, and getting a commission for four episodes and a live special of Damn The Torpedoes! We’ve now recorded three live specials for them at RADA Studios in London (the old Drill Hall) where a lot of BBC Radio comedy shows have been recorded in the past, now featuring still more acting talent! Obviously, our professionalism has come on in leaps and bounds, but I don’t think I’ve had a bigger buzz in my writing career than sitting in the sound booth with Steve and Stu whilst the script was being performed by professional actors in front of a full house of over 200 people laughing at the script the writers had put together.

Out of this, more and more people are involved and more and more connections are made.

One of the performers asked us to write some stand-up for them and Stephen, Stu and I provided a sample of our gags and they went down quite well. From there, our name got passed around a bit, and we followed up on connections, and found ourselves providing material for a number of stand-ups and after-dinner speakers.

By this point, Stephen, Stu and I were just naturally working well together and have continued to do so since then. Mostly happily, I will add.

So, in answer to your question of three weeks ago now: yes and no.

Can you describe the way you work as a team?

We’ll receive a brief from whatever project it is and I will create a Google Doc with the details of that brief. (For instance, the Breaking The News brief or a WhatsApp message from whoever needs gags and what they need it for). Then I’ll share it with the other two and it’s a free-for-all within the doc.

Since Kirrin Island, we’ve always used Google Docs, primarily because it’s (a) easy (you only need a web browser to use it and it works on phones – and you’ll be surprised how much of our writing is done on phones: putting kids to bed, waiting outside changing rooms, on the toilet) and – more importantly – (b) you can all write in a doc simultaneously.

We bang out all our ideas, then – crucially – each gag or idea gets two edits: the best benefit of working in a trio. After 12 years of working together, we’re no longer precious about anything anymore, so there is little attachment to any gag, and the other two are allowed (in fact, encouraged) to rewrite the gags/ideas as they see fit. We then polish everything up and do what needs to be done.

With regards to following up on work: we try to network as much as possible, so if we hear about someone interested in our work, we follow up with that person. This is one of the difficult things about being a writer, as we’re generally all huge introverts, so that part is not really in our nature. However, we seem to have picked up ‘something of a reputation’ (not sure whether that’s good or bad!), so sometimes we get contacted out of the blue by ‘someone you’ve heard of(!)’ to write something for them. (Which we’re more than happy to do, obviously, if anybody in or outside that category is reading this!)

Try to find someone with a similar but not exactly the same sense of humour as you.

What advice do you have for anyone who’s looking to work in a writing team?

Writing with someone is brilliant for two reasons. First, you’ll spark ideas off each other, those ideas will create new ideas that you will then bounce off each other. Secondly, and I cannot stress this enough, you will be more motivated to write; if nothing else, you don’t want to let the other person down. And that, in itself, will spark ideas and make you more creative than staring into the abyss yourself. Quietly.

Try to find someone with a similar but not exactly the same sense of humour as you. We have slightly different senses of humour between us, but – as a three – a voting system works well. You don’t get that in a partnership!

It’s probably easier than you think to find someone due to social media. The ‘easiest’ thing to find a writer partner for is gag-writing, and there are lots of people posting unused gags for Breaking The News on Twitter, it’s worth approaching them to write together. Obviously, approach people whose gags you like, as this is not a charity “You’re not funny, I can help”-type scenario.

Try it for a series (or even half a series). If it doesn’t work out, no hard feelings, find someone else and try again. Eventually you’ll find someone.

I’ve mentioned this way of working to other writers and they’ve subsequently paired up to give it a go and, in the case of Breaking The News, one pair had a joint credit within a few weeks! So it’s worth doing.

You have to share the money though. But you’re a comedy writer, so you’ve already made the decision you don’t need money.

Obviously the same applies to other comedy: find somewhere where comedy is being shared or ‘performed’ textually. ie. The British Comedy Guide Forums* used to be a hotbed of ‘open doors’ sketch shows (such as Newsjack and, I assume now, DMs Are Open). Find the sketches therein that make you laugh, message the writer. Even if nothing comes of it, you’ll find yourself in a comedy writer support group of some kind, so it’s not wasted effort.

*- In the interests of balance, other forums and media are also available.

You three must hold the record for the most credits on BBC Scotland’s Breaking The News. What does it take to write a good BTN joke?

We’ve done alright. At the time of writing, we’ve had 377 gags broadcast, one for every day of the year. We heard about the opportunity just before series 5 started (they’ve now just finished series 22) so we sent a few pages of gags in and tuned in to listen. The first three openers of that first show were all ours! Then we had another gag on later in the show and we thought ‘Well, this is easy’. Needless to say, we didn’t get anything on the following week!

First, like anything, listen to the show! You can’t expect to write for anything if you don’t listen to the show, as you’ll have no idea what you’re trying to write for and how to write for it. Stephen, Stu and I are massive fans of the show, so that really helps. If you want to write topical gags for shows, you should probably be a fan of topical shows. Why else are you doing it? For the money? [SOUND OF LAUGHTER]

A good BTN joke is one that follows the rhythm of the show: Feedline. Gag. Don’t write a topper. Don’t put your funniest word or the actual gag anywhere but the very end of the line. Des [Clarke – the host] shouldn’t be talking whilst the audience/guests are laughing; they laugh afterwards. Ideally it’s 2-3 lines long in the formatting they specify.

The odd gag may divert away from this style, but you’re increasing your chances if you write all your gags to follow it.

Oh, and don’t be ‘The Pun Guy/Gal’. An occasional (very high quality) pun is okay, but you don’t want to be the person where they see your name in their Inbox and think ‘Oh balls, it’s 2 pages of puns again’, as they’re already on the back foot not wanting to laugh at your gags. Use a bit of psychology.

You’ve been a lead writer on BTN many times. What does this involve and how can people progress to this role?

Basically, you’re the go-to writer(s) for that week, so if there are stories where they need more gags, they’ll come directly to you for more gags. It’s very much like writing for BTN normally, with no pages limits on what you send in and you need to provide eight broadcast quality gags per story.

This doesn’t actually differ from the amount of gags we generate a week because we made a conscious decision to treat every week like we’re lead writers, so we generate about 20 pages of gags a week, editing/honing and basically arguing about the best until we’ve cut it down to the limit.

To progress to this role, the producers are willing to help you, if you’re keen and show promise BUT you will need to generate shedloads of material week-in, week-out to show you’re putting the effort in. I would expect you’d need to hit your full limit of (solid quality) gags for certainly the Tuesday and Wednesday briefs every single week. That shows both ability and willing. Then follow-up and ask, especially if you’re getting multiple gags on regularly. Sounds easy. It’s not. It can wear you down, especially if the same stories are coming up week-after-week, series-after-series, and don’t forget it’s on 30 weeks a year, with perhaps another TV special or two on top! The first few series we took a mid-series break around week 5 or 6 because it was just exhausting. As you do more and more series, your comedy writing muscle improves and it becomes easier (not easy, just easier!). Like anything else: the more you do it, the better you’ll get.

You write jokes for stand-ups. How does that work?

It very much depends on the stand-up and the booking! From the material request that’s incomprehensibly far in advance right to the ‘I’m on the radio in 10 minutes. Have you got anything on Russian literature?’!

We usually meet-up with whichever stand-up it is (used to be in person, now it’s very much over Zoom) and have a discussion about what they want to do in their stand-up. We’ll take notes, go away and come up with a bunch of gags/routines. They’ll go over them and note what they like and what they don’t, add a few more ideas and we’ll go over it again with more stuff. It’s very iterative, collaborative process.

The high you get when your stuff is used is one of the best highs you’ll experience from any of your credits!

You also have a great track record for BBC Radio 4’s The Skewer. This can be quite an intimidating series for writers as it really isn’t like anything else out there. What was your reaction to The Skewer when you first listened and how did you initially tackle writing for it?

There’s a contributor guide for The Skewer that Jon Holmes wrote that’s on the Unusual Productions website. I wrote a ‘POV of a writer’ version – originally for Sitcom Geeks – that Jon asked if he could put on the website too! So if you scroll down from Jon’s advice, mine’s underneath and if anyone’s interested it may help with the process. (Note from Chris: it does help. Go and read it!)

I completely agree it’s intimidating as it’s unlike anything else you’ve ever heard! In fact, the only way to describe it is to say go and listen to it, as it’s indescribable! We didn’t think we could write for it, either. And it took us a good few weeks to get anything on. Then we sort of started getting tuned into it and started regularly getting things on in the last few series.

I don’t think I can add anything that I haven’t added in the contributor guide, as that’s basically a ‘how the process works in your head’ run-down over the week. I would suggest not going beyond an idea until Jon gives you the go-ahead, as trawling the internet for clips can be utterly soul-destroying, especially if your idea isn’t then used. However, I will say the high you get when your stuff is used is one of the best highs you’ll experience from any of your credits!

Just remember when writing for anything: persistence is fertile!

What’s your top tip for anyone who wants to contribute to The Skewer?

Listen to the show. You don’t stand a chance of getting anything on at all if you don’t listen to it.

That’s advice for any show really, but much, much, much, much more relevant for The Skewer.

Do you remember your first time in a writers’ room? How did it go?

My first time in a writers’ room was the invite I got into a sort of ‘test’ writers room they ran after series 1 of Newsjack, where successful writers from the first series were invited to be treated as though they were the team for the week, with the producers and script editors. Then at the end of the day, the cast turned up and did a read through of the sketches we’d written. It was great experience and knowing that it wasn’t a ‘real’ show meant the pressure was sort of off.

My first experience of a ‘real’ writers’ room was Series 5 of Newsjack. I barely said anything, didn’t really pitch much and everyone in the room was much funnier than I was. I volunteered to do a couple of sketches, and left with a huge migraine. So my advice is ‘have some lunch’.

Luckily they still invited me back a few times after that!

What are you working on currently (that you can tell us about)?

I have a few radio sitcoms in the works, as that’s what I really would like to do full-time. I’m co-writing a couple, and have some individually written ones I’m rewriting (for what feels like forever). Also, we’re constantly coming up with new ideas for shows as you never know when somebody might ask you for a big list of ideas at very short notice!

What are your current goals as a writer?

Just to have something on the radio – sitcom or show – that we can think of as ‘ours’; ie it was our original pitch making it to the airwaves. That would be pretty cool.

It makes sense to me to make it as easy as possible for people to see examples of your work, your past credits and to get in contact should they so wish.

You have a website. What are the benefits for you?

I get quite a lot of work through the website, as well as, bizarrely, through Twitter and LinkedIn. I’m often not sure what came from where but I imagine people who see me on one click through to the others to check out what my sense of humour is like and check out my CV, so I imagine they work in tandem. There’s probably some technical way of proving this but I’m not keen on extending my IT career at the present time!

I think a central point to which you can link from all your other work/social/non-social media can only be of benefit to you in the long run. It makes sense to me to make it as easy as possible for people to see examples of your work, your past credits and to get in contact should they so wish. And my surname doesn’t make it easy (despite the fact it’s basically all together in very almost the correct order on the left of the keyboard!)

If you could reboot a TV series or movie, what would it be and what would you like to do with it?

Something crap and make it good. I don’t really understand why good stuff is being remade, when that stays the test of time. There’s plenty of really crap stuff that needs remaking much better. Do that instead!

Basically, they’ve tried with Knight Rider. But the original Hasselhoff version is pretty much perfection.

I do like when they bring something back much later on rather than nullifying the previous versions with a ‘remake’. So when everything tied up together in Avengers: Endgame, the payoff was awesome. And Spiderman: No Way Home. And I’m sure I’d love Cobra Kai if I ever had time to watch it. AND I hope the next James Bond acknowledges the Daniel Craig iteration rather than starting it all again. I’m a sucker for a bit of continuity, even if it’s decades later!

Are there any books (or podcasts, videos, blogs etc) or scripts that you recommend all writers to check out?

For sitcom writers, Jon Vorhaus’s Little Book of Sitcom is the book you should be reading whilst you are writing a sitcom. Every sitcom you write. Read it again and again whilst writing. It’s kind of a how-to for the duration of writing your show.

Tim Clague and Danny Stack’s The UK Scriptwriters Survival Handbook is great too. It avoids any of that technical ‘how to write’ nonsense, assuming you know all that, and tells you how to do the proactive side – the chasing work and getting yourself out there. It’s frankly terrifying for a writer, but it’s all great advice.

If you want to get your idea to a draft script, I can’t recommend Dave Cohen’s ‘How To Write A Sitcom in 8 Weeks’ course highly enough. Stop sitting on your hands, unmotivated. Book yourself on it and get to script stage. It’s really, really difficult, but totally, totally worth it.

And listen to the Sitcom Geeks podcast. It’s exactly what you need as a comedy writer.

If you could travel back in time to when you first started out as a writer, what advice would you give yourself?

Buy bitcoin.

What’s the worst part of being a writer?

The income. You have to really NEED to do it.

(Everything else is great! You’re writing funny things for a living, for goodness sake!)

What makes you laugh more than anything?

Recently, Breeders on Sky. The first two Red Dwarf books. That scene from Joey where he and his sister have a robot baby.

It gets a lot of grief, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe is really funny. All the way through all the films there are great gags and lots of laughs. Thor: Ragnarok is basically buddy comedy Forty-Eight Hours but with Thor and Hulk, and Guardians of the Galaxy made me laugh so much I basically had an asthma attack. The DC stuff is utter bollocks by comparison, as they appear to have forgotten to put any humour into it.

And, after biting my lip until they were out the room, when the 3-year-old said ‘Ha! Fucking hell!’ correctly in context. (I would have had my money on ‘For fuck’s sake’ if I’m totally honest.)

Thor: Ragnarok | Marvel Studios

You’ve very subtly mentioned a whole bunch of services through this interview. Why don’t you wrap up with some promotion?

If you want some notes for your script, or help with the story before you commit to writing your script, I’m happy to help. I’ll also funny up anything you need to help make it more engaging. So speeches, presentations, award ceremonies, anything you like; give me a shout.

Contact me via my website dansweryt.com.

Similar to the script notes, I realised there’s no way for non-performing writers to get their scripts recorded by professional actors, so I set up RecordMyScript.com. Obviously it costs a little more than the script advice options as I have to pay the actors, but you get a ‘first read through quality’ recording to see how your script sounds being read out loud, and having first hand aural guide as to what is and isn’t working; useful if you don’t have ready access to any actors.

And, if you want to learn how to write topical material for shows like Breaking the News and The Skewer, you can join one of our courses. We’ve had pretty high success rates (somewhere around the 40% mark!) in terms of students subsequently getting credits on radio comedy shows.

You can follow Dan on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, visit his website, and view his British Comedy Guide profile.

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If you REALLY enjoyed this interview, please consider being awesome and buying me a coffee.

Back to: Writers in Various Stages of Development

The Comedy Loser

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