Newsjack, the topical sketch show now in its seventh series, is back on the air this month and its open format means aspiring writers like me and you - yes, you over there, with a joke in your heart and Wotsit crumbs in your beard - can submit jokes or sketches with the possibility of being broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra. It can even herald the beginning of a career in comedy writing, like it did for Tom Neenan. Having written and submitted relentlessly since series one, and having been broadcast twice, I thought I'd give you a chancer's journey through the weekly turmoil that is writing topical humour for Newsjack.
It starts on Friday morning, (the show is broadcast on Thursday nights, deadlines for sketches for each successive week being a Monday) the palpitations, the wilful neglect of basic domestic etiquette, the news, the news! Friday is all about the news. Reading it, watching it, listening to it. Every spare moment at work is filled with sneaky looks at the news sites online, the journey to and from work is either radio or newspaper or smart phone, it's all just news, news, news! News coming out of your ears, news on toast, news! Writing down headlines, picking out details of stories, all the while forgetting to pick up the cat from the vets and giving the kids tinned custard for tea.
Saturday is despair day. All the news gathered yesterday seems bland, will probably not be topical by next Thursday and today there doesn't seem to be any new news; it's a wasteland where current affairs go to die. Add to this the fact that you still haven't written a single funny line and you're home with the kids, who want to go to the Dinosaur park where there's no Wi-Fi.
So, Saturday evening comes, and News 24 becomes the soundtrack to cooking tea and getting the kids ready for bed. Then writing begins. Taking those headlines and story fragments from Friday and newly pillaged updates from today and playing with them, mixing them up, punning them, taking them out of context, placing them in different context, lists of similar sounding words, lists of related words, Cameron as Dick Dastardly, Clegg as Muttley and Milliband as leader of the opposition, you know? Absurd stuff like that.
Saturday night, and fitful restlessness leads to ideas for sketches that lead to midnight wanderings into the kitchen to scribble down ideas and to eat cheese, which leads to psychedelic dreams about Wacky Races.
Then Sunday arrives; the sketch quotient reaches a healthy level and you find that one-liners that eluded you on Saturday now seem blindingly obvious. These can be polished further as the deadline for short gags is Tuesdays, but the sketches now need to be rewritten and honed into lethal, giggle-inducing weapons of satire. Work on them till they're done, late into the night. Where once the telly was your friend, your portal to world events, now it is your sworn enemy, turn it off. The Deadline for sketches is Monday at 12.00 pm but I prefer to get them in on Sunday night as Mondays can quickly turn into an unpredictable beast. Then you wait. Tick follows tock follows... You get the idea.
And repeat. And if you're lucky, repeat fees.
Newsjack Series Seven starts on Thursday 20 September on Radio 4 Extra.
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