Writing for The Now Show, Part II

Or: more notes on being slightly out of my depth.

Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to do a trial writing spot on Radio 4’s The Now Show. This is the second part of my write-up on the whole process — you can read the first part here.

Step 3: The Writers’ Room

There are two writing days: Tuesday and Wednesday. Both start at 10am with the “writers’ room” — an informal (and currently Zoom-based) meeting where the hosts, the producer and that week’s writers talk through stories and throw ideas around for an hour.

Well, that’s the idea.

In reality, I threw around almost nothing, due to a fun combination of nerves, introversion and imposter syndrome. And I’m not even exaggerating for comic effect: I genuinely don’t think I said more than five words across both sessions.1 I had a chance to reset at the start of the second call, when another writer kindly threw me a bone and asked: “How’s it going, Hari?” Unfortunately, it was at the exact same time that Steve Punt joined, so I panicked and just blurted out: “Good!”

(If I had maintained enough composure to reply “I’m good, thanks! How are you?” like a normal person, then I would’ve literally doubled my word count.)

Still, it was fun to sit back and make notes while watching complete pros come up with ideas. The main thing I noted was that the discussion was very opinionated — I had spent a lot of prep time thinking about jokes for stories, but hadn’t really dug deep into questions like: what’s my stance on this? How does it make me feel? How would I solve these problems or do things differently?

I’ve internalised the importance of point of view for stand-up and improv and even writing Twitter jokes, but didn’t fully realise that it’d be just as important here. The show still has a voice — and I guess the trick is to figure out the overlap between that one and my own.

(This probably would’ve helped me speak up too: saying this is what I think about this story is a much lower bar than this is a funny joke about this story, hahaha please love me.)

Step 4: The Actual Writing Bit

We then had the rest of the day to come up stuff.

We submitted our material in two batches, one at the end of each day. On Tuesday, we had until midnight, while on Wednesday, we only had until 7pm (so that there’s enough time to actually compile the script before the recording on Thursday afternoon).2

It would be nice if I could now describe my neat, repeatable process for writing material — but in the end, the whole thing was a bit of a blur, oscillating between: researching stories, making notes, coming up with ideas, working through the joke types, polishing drafts and playing the re-release of Super Mario 3D World on the Nintendo Switch whenever I was feeling overwhelmed.3

But I’m a big fan of continuous improvement and marginal gains, so now that I’ve had a chance to reflect, here’s what I’d do differently next time:

Step 5: Showtime!

My goal was to get at least one joke into the final broadcast… and I managed to get two jokes and two mini-sketches on! If you want to guess which ones, you can listen to the full episode here.

I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it feels good to know that I’ve improved from last time — and I felt a lot less guilty when my name was read out in the credits.

Here’s hoping it’s less than five years before I’m invited back!

  1. I’ve known this has been a problem for a while, but I was so ashamed by this experience that I finally signed up for Toastmasters, which I’ve been meaning to do for years. #growthmindset
  2. The schedule is incredibly tight, and I’m in awe of how it all comes together every week. Still: for a topical show, it seems a shame that the writing sessions finish a day before the recording — which is, in turn, a day before the actual broadcast on Friday evening. It might be a fun thought experiment to think about how it could all be done closer to broadcast without sacrificing the overall quality (like, say, the hit-and-miss nature of Saturday Night Live) — but it’ll probably just end up being some combination of more money, more people and more overall stress for everyone involved.
  3. Strong recommend, by the way. Possibly my favourite Mario outing after Super Mario Sunshine.

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