How to write sketches by Armstrong & Miller

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Sketch show kings Armstrong & Miller return for a third series of their BAFTA-winning show this saturday on BBC1 at 9.45pm. New characters include no-nonsense self-made men Phil and Ken, pretentious ex-pat ‘Simpkins of the France’ and out-of-time vampires Pharius and Horschtadt, who bemoan the modern age of younger, cooler, Twilight-style vampires. For those of you harbouring comedy-writing ambitions of your own, we got the men themselves to lay down some guidelines:

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1 Keep a notebook

Carry a notepad in your breast pocket. Well actually you can carry it where you like. Just do it at all times and write down anything that occurs to you or that you think is funny. You’ll soon learn that jokes have many different formats.

2 Get annoyed

One of the things we say to our writers is to go to things that get your blood up. Go to things that make you angry. Go to things that irritate you. Quite often in our conversations we just pick around for what’s irritating us and take it from there.

3 Find a kindred spirit

A healthy writing session should always start with a fair bit of chitchat which inevitably turns into letting off steam, and the best sketches tend to be written by partners - you can put flesh on the barest bones just by chatting things through. The person you think about telling your sketches to is most likely the person for you.

4 Beware of imitations

There are no rules so don’t just try to replicate sketches and styles you think you like. Find your own voice and make up your own rules. Whatever idea you have, you’ve got to find the best way to frame it, so approach it as a completely new problem.

5 Find the engine

On the face of it, our ‘Pilots’ sketches is just about putting modern language in the mouths of posh pilots – but deep down it’s about the clash between the culture of sacrifice and the culture of entitlement.

6 Enjoy the exposition

It’s not just about the idea, you should enjoy the process of sketch writing. We always have and often fight over which ones we most want to write up.

7 Don’t become too wedded to it

You’ll need to learn that throwing out individual bits you love is necessary to give a flabby sketch momentum and make it sharper.

8 Break it down

Once you’ve got it working, try to figure out: ‘Why is it funny? What makes it work?’ If you can analyse this, you can start to take out the stuff that’s not working and pump up the stuff that is.

9 Get on with it

Film it, put it on the web, hire a theatre, just get on with it. If you’re serious about being a writer/performer, if you’re not performing you should bloody well be writing and if you’re not writing you should either be having lunch or a shit.

10 Don’t forget…

Comedy is mysterious. There are dark forces at work. Who knows how it really works?

Words by Will Hersey

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