How to Write and Direct a Comedy Sketch for Free in 17 Easy Steps

20/02/2013 17:44 | Updated 22 April 2013

In 2006, my co-writer Nick Cheek and I wrote a sketch. Six years later, we finally managed to film the b*stard - for free.

You can watch it here.

Go ahead, I'll wait:

After you do something like writing and directing a sketch, you feel compelled to help others who might want to achieve their own dream of writing and directing a sketch. So you do what comes naturally: explain How You Did It, in 17 easy steps.

1. Write a hilarious sketch.
This is 'the easy bit' according to people who don't write comedy. Just write stuff! A snail dressed as a jockey crossing the Grand National finish line on a horse four years after it started! A woman in a business suit working out to an exercise video because she's actually in a board meeting and got her presentation materials confused but doesn't want to admit it! Easy!

So you write one down. It's funny. To you, anyway.

2. Show your sketch to someone whose opinion you trust.
They smirk. They nod. "Yeah, I can see what you were trying to do", they say. "But you know what'd be REALLY funny...?"

You'd listen but you're too busy dying inside and besides who can hear over all that crying?

3. Write 173 more sketches.
Clearly, that first sketch sucked. Unless...? Nope, still sh*t. So you start again. And again. From time to time, you show one of your new sketches to somebody whose judgement you sort of trust but not really, because you still haven't forgiven that first idiot.

They laugh. A bit. That's all it takes. You're now addicted to comedy writing.

4. Try to sell your sketches.
"Goddammit, it's time to share these with the world", you think while really bored at work. You gather up the 'best' ones and add some tenuous links. You worry about formatting and fonts because you think that's what will give you away as a rank amateur. The fact that none of the sketches is particularly funny is probably a bigger problem.

Then you send them out to a handful of very carefully selected production companies. Basically, anybody that accepts submissions.

5. Be rejected. Hard.

I'm not going to lie. This part hurts. You never really get over it. I don't want to talk about it.

6. Recover from rejection.
Clearly, you used the wrong font. Learn from your mistake and move on.

7. Write 243 more sketches.
With all this comedy gold piling up, it's only a matter of time before somebody 'discovers' you, even though the pile is hidden in a drawer or buried on your laptop somewhere.

8. Spend some quality time online.
Your lack of success baffles you. You decide to start 'networking' with 'professionals' in 'social media'. Instead you spend a lot of time exploring gifs and cat videos.

9. Decide to 'do something'.
You decide that the only way for things to change is to actually do something. Preferably something that doesn't rely on things like 'producers' or 'money'.

You decide to film one of your sketches. Preferably not the remake of the classic Glengarry Glen Ross "Always Be Selling" scene, which requires a cast of a dozen people in full clown makeup. Might be tricky on a budget.

10. Actually 'do something'.
You check your finances: you have none. You turn to your new best friend: Twitter. You ask if anybody would like to help Filming a Sketch. You make it sound as professional as possible. You make it sound like fun. You lie.

11. Assemble a crack team.
aka Drag in whoever can help make the stupid thing, including somebody with a camera. And someone who can edit. Also actors. They're pretty important.

You post a notice on a casting board online. Almost immediately, you discover there are almost as many out of work actors as there are out of work comedy writers. Almost.

You meet up with the ones who look the least insane. In public. Just in case. If you're lucky, you'll find the perfect candidates - ones with that perfect combination of looks and talent and "Sure, why not, I'll do this for free"-ness.

12. Find a location.
Given your budget, you have three options: your house, your friend's house or outside. This is where your decision not to do that clown sketch really pays off.

13. Film the bastard.
If you're extremely lucky, everyone will show up, preferably with their equipment, and the actors will turn out to be talented, patient people, especially your six-year old daughter who you ply with sweets and the use of your iPad between takes.

For the filming itself, you just stand out of shot and say things like "action" and cut" for no apparent reason. Meanwhile, the very talented patient people you've coerced into helping you do the actual work.

14. Say thank you. Go home. Wait.
The sketch is 'in the can' (as they don't say anymore, because video). You say thank you about a thousand times. Then you go home. And you wait. And wait. Because this thing is being done for free and people have jobs and frankly shut up and be grateful.

Then just a few short weeks later, it arrives. Your filmed sketch. In all its horrifying glory.

15. Watch the sketch for the first time.
This is the best part of the whole process if you like crushing self-doubt. You might want to be alone for this. I don't want to talk about it.

16. Write 'notes'.
You send your editor vital notes like "Can this be faster?" and "can you let it breathe more here?" and "isn't this out of focus?" and then you apologise. A lot.

17. Share it with the world.
One day, many months after you started the whole thing and assuming the unpaid editor doesn't kill you, it arrives. The finished sketch. It doesn't entirely suck. You're happy to show it to other people, confident that they won't hunt you down and tear you apart like comedy wolves.

So you tweet about it. You write a Huffington Post piece about it. You do whatever you can think of to publicise the bastard.

And then you have to let it go. Because that's how it works. Six months to produce two minutes of something that lives or dies at the click of a button.

And if you're very very very very lucky, a few people will like it. And then you'll want to do it all over again.