I am the Norway of comedy

Thursday, July 8th, 2004

It's been a busy few days, and it's only going to get busier.

For starters, I'm back at the Independent for the first time since a one-off shift in September 2002, and the first time consistently since March that year. We're only talking a few nights a month at the moment, but it doesn't need to be much more than that to keep me in funds. There's also a new media agency putting forward my CV for a three-month contract and a company looking for HTML coders who I gave my card to today. So that's all good.

There's also the Secret Squirrel interview, but we don't talk about that. If I don't hear anything by end of play Tuesday I'll know nothing came of that. And if I do hear something I'll stop making even these irritatingly obscure references to it.

As part of a desperate attempt not to be overtaken in the work market by people not much more than half my age, I went on a project management course today. It was all very useful, and interesting, and it also explained a lot things I hadn't previously understood about the way things were done on the big project I finished working on in January. It's some comfort to know that what appeared at the time to be complete unmitigated confusion was, in fact, meticulously controlled and tightly managed confusion underpinned by a careful process of risk management and planned contingencies.

We didn't really have a contingency plan yesterday when we (myself, and her father) set off to spend the afternoon at the members' preview of the Hampton Court Flower Show. This was rather a shame, as high winds and torrential rain forced the show to shut at 3pm. We'd been in near-stationary traffic for some 45 minutes when we found this fact out, and it was another 45 before we could get out of the traffic jam by the cunning expedient of diving through Bushy Park, where the deer were sheltering under the trees with expressions of damp but contemplative satisfaction on their complacent faces.

That was yesterday. The day before, I'd gone into London for a variety of reasons. I'd gone over to Docklands and the Indy to cement the agreement over the new shifts, and found myself sat on the terrace of the staff restaurant watching as a Japanese coastguard vessel (complete with neatly wrapped foredeck gun and a crew dressed like the Bad Guy's henchmen in Moonraker) was towed backwards out of its berth and towards the river. I'd visited former colleagues at the Royal Mail, and got all nostalgic (but don't I always?). And I'd had a big Penny Dreadful day.

For the late arrivals in the audience, Penny is the TV screenplay that I finished writing earlier this year. As things stand, I'm nervously contemplating the re-writes that are going to be necessary before I can be serious about sending it out.

In order to find out where its flaws are, I'd commissioned two paid professional script readers to give feedback. The £25 one reported back some weeks ago and was largely positive, with some suggestions for necessary changes. The £80 one hit the doormat the day before yesterday – a much more detailed job, not unlike like receiving back a university essay scrawled all over with red ink and with several typed pages of comments. It's far from bad – the reader liked the concept and was positive about the characters for the most part – but it would appear an awful lot of work is needed on the structure and pacing.

And the humour.

It seems it's not funny enough. Or, possibly, it is funny enough, but it's not funny enough often enough. This conclusion was reinforced rather brutally that evening when I went to my first meeting of the London Comedy Writers Group. There were 21 people there, and seven volunteered to take part in a 'pitching contest' – spend a few minutes pitching your script idea to the group, who would respond with questions and then at the end vote on the best performance. This would be a combination of the strength of the idea and the manner in which it was pitched.

The problem with Penny at a comedy writers' group is that it's only half a comedy. It's also a murder mystery / amateur detective thingy. And as the questions came in, I realised my pitch (gabbled at a speed incomprehensible to several people there) had barely touched upon the comic aspects of the script, dwelling exclusively on the investigative / thriller side of it.

No wonder they looked baffled. And no wonder either that when the 21 people there voted, I was the contestant who got no votes.

Now I understand how the Norwegians feel at the Eurovision Song Contest…

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.