Northern Talent Network: Writing for Comedy

As part of my student placement with New Writing North, I attended and supported the delivery of the Northern Talent Network’s Writing for Comedy event, in collaboration with North East Screen. Set in beautiful South Shields, the event focused on the art of writing and working in comedy. Targeted at writers who make (or aspire to make) scripts for TV comedy, the event featured three wonderful panels and conversations with delightful participants.

Producer Hannah Rose (On Drugs, Bad People 5) and writer Chess Tomlinson (Becoming a Karen, BBC Laugh Lessons) kicked off the event with a discussion about getting a foot in the door when writing comedy. Chess spoke about finding the courage to approach people with your script and how to network successfully (particularly if you struggle with networking). Hannah and Chess highlighted the potentially life-changing conversations that can arise at festivals or professional networking events, and both acknowledged how nerve-wracking those events can be as a result. Chess talked about the importance of championing your own work, and not being disheartened by receiving plenty of rejections in the process. Hannah and Chess went on to discuss the decentralisation of London (an issue that felt prescient for many attendees), with a focus on the potential for expansion and opportunities in North. During the pandemic, it became increasingly clear that you don’t have to be geographically close to collaborate with other writers, producers, and commissioners. Zoom and virtual working has meant that those conversations and opportunties are becoming more and more viable. The room felt optimistically realistic.

Hannah was then joined by Dasiy Francis from ‘Daisy Francis Comedy Management’ for the second panel of the day. Daisy is based in York and has clients such as Joey Page (Never Mind The Buzzcocks) and Alice Frick (Shop of Little Pleasures, Curio-City). She and Hannah had a fascinating conversation talking through the distinctions between an agent and a manager. Daisy explained the advantages and limitations of her sector with an amazing presentation on how best to address professionals like herself, the importance of establishing a deeper sense of community, the varied requirements of her clients, and her desire to help them improve. Both Hannah and Daisy emphasised the importance of setting goals and having your own clear vision and objectives when approaching an agent, producer or other professionals.

‘Having artistic representation should be an asset to your artistic universe,’ Daisy stressed. ‘Determine who you are, where you fit, and where you want to go.’

The final panel, ‘Inside the Writers’ Room’, was hosted by Jason Cook (Murder on the Blackpool Express) and Emily Fairweather (Murder, They Hope). The two speakers discussed the dynamics within writers’ rooms, and how writers might collaboratively work backwards on a narrative whilst addressing character development. They explained the need for each writer to have flexibility and originality in their work, whilst maintaining narrative threads across series of episodes.

The group’s strong dynamics emphasised the power of sharing stories and characters. Emily led us through the ripple effect of creation, offering guidance on monetising your characters. She described her first experience in the writers’ room, and explained how your role might vary from being a terrific work colleague to being willing to assist and be receptive to comments. Both speakers provided details on format and the distinctions between recommissioning a series instead of a film, and the panel finished with encouraging the audience to build, explore and share their own stories and ideas.

Being in the same room with so many talented and funny people has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. The event was a terrific learning opportunity, and a great chance for professional networking. We can’t wait for the next one, which will take place in Hartlepool on April 22nd, and will explore topics relating to writing for drama.

Marie Kouppi

Read more about the Northern Talent Network

Take a look at some photos from the event