Great profile of Armando Iannucci (known most recently for his UK political comedy The Thick Of It) ahead of the launch of Veep, his new (US-based) political comedy for HBO starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Also contained in the piece are some interesting observations about comedy, not just from Iannucci but also from his writing partners Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche.
‘It’s the weird thing about comedy,’ Roche said. ‘It’s sort of like boxing. You’re constantly throwing punches, and you might have one really big punch that everyone remembers — the really funny moment — but you’re trying to soften them up the whole time: joke, joke, joke, joke.’
‘Whereas drama’s two people in a boxing ring just looking at each other,’ Iannucci said.
There’s a weird thing where a lot of the best comedies, certainly in this country, seem to come from a place of coming up with really good clever set pieces and then finding a way to join them… conversely, it’s also where a lot of the worst comedies come from, because people come up with set pieces and then find this sort of artificial way of sellotaping them together.
In the second half of this episode of the What Are You Laughing At? podcast, UK sitcom script editor Andrew Ellard (The IT Crowd, Red Dwarf), regular guest James Cary and host Dave Cohen discuss, among other things, finding the middle ground between writing gags and set pieces and motivating characters in believable ways, and the value of writing for dramas and soaps as training for writing comedy.
A new series of the BBC Radio 4 sitcom Cabin Pressure began earlier this month, and in his blog post introducing the first episode, writer John Finnemore shares a page from his notebook, offering a fascinating glimpse into the process of constructing a half-hour comedy. I especially like the emphasis on what each of the main characters wants, the ‘value at stake’ and the ‘question’ of the episode.
Incidentally, John Finnemore was a guest last year on an episode of the Rum Doings podcast, which features an agreeably geeky and rambling discussion between Finnemore and hosts John Walker and Nick Mailer on the subject (mainly) of British sitcoms.