Word Count 10: Comedy Basic, getting your bucket right, choose a perk, and meet Holly’s Merry Moggies

by Suw on July 19, 2022

Hi there,

It’s hot here in the UK. Very hot. Really very extremely hot. And Grabbity is making it toastier by insisting on having a cuddle. By the time you read this newsletter, it will be brain-meltingly hot and even Grabbity will be wanting a cold shower.

If you’re in affected by this ridiculous heatwave, I hope that you’ve found a way to stay reasonably comfortable. Maybe by spending the day with your head in the freezer. That’s certainly my plan.

Now funding: Comedy Basic

Every now and again I see a crowdfunding project that I have to back right there and then. This time, it’s Comedy Basic: The secret rules that make you laugh by comedy writer Joel Morris, who promises to explain his “practical theories for how jokes work”. From the description:

Comedy is a universal human game, with big social prizes, and occasionally genuine hazards. So what are the rules? What happens when we make a joke? How does comedy work? Why do we do it? And what are our brains up to when we play the game of jokes?

The book is currently 35 percent funded on Unbound with the ebook priced at only £10, so if you need this book in your life as much as I need it in mine, take a look.

Stop, look and listen: Rule of Three, Episode 1 – John Finnemore on On The Hour

As I was doing a little background research on Joel Morris for the bit above, I discovered the Rule of Three podcast that he used to do with Jason Hazeley (they seem to have stopped in May 2020). I love a bit of analysis and really need to learn more about comedy, so I listened to their very first episode with John Finnemore, from back in May 2018. Finnemore’s Cabin Pressure and Souvenir Programme are favourites of mine, so I knew it would be a good listen.

The whole episode is gold, but the bit that really caught my ear was when they talk about how parodies of news broadcasts and weather forecasts rely heavily on getting the structure right. If the “bucket” – the tone, rhythm and cadence – are watertight, you can put any old verbiage in it. That was something that Chris Morris nailed with On The Hour, as did John Finnemore with his weather forecast sketch.

This is also why news reports in TV shows and films so often sound wrong: The bucket isn’t watertight. As a lapsed journalist, I really notice when writers don’t get it right. The inverted pyramid structure, where you put the most important information at the top, and the characteristic vocabulary create a feel to a news story that we all recognise. When we come across a scene that purports to be news but doesn’t have those characteristics, we’ll be pulled out of the story because something just feels off, even if we’re not sure what that something is.

There’s a great example of this in the recent Scriptnotes 3 Page Challenge episode, in the script Halloween Party by Lucas Abreu, Zachary Arthur and Kyle Copier (PDF). The first page includes a dialogue from a news anchor and, if you’ve ever really paid attention to how the news is presented, you’ll immediately spot the fact that it sounds all wrong. Big question is, can you see what would make it feel right?

Giving you a little extra

I have a couple of ideas for extras that I could send you, but I’d like to know what you’d prefer! Here are your two choices:

1: The Gates of Balawat

The Gates of Balawat is a short story that I wrote in 2015 and then promptly forgot about. I found it again as I was packing up to move back to the UK and discovered that I still really like it.

An aspiring artist, Ella spends a lot of time wandering round London’s museums and art galleries, learning from the masters whilst trying to pick up the courage to turn her passion into a career. Sketching in the Assyrian gallery in one of the capital’s finest museums, she becomes entranced by a fellow artist who is struggling with the same problem and who shares her habit of daily practice. But why does he never remember her? And what is it about him that’s always just slightly wrong?

2: I watch Away so you don’t have to

I’ll do an in-depth critique of the first episode of Away, the Netflix space drama, which is so terrible that the first time I tried to watch it, I had to turn it off after less than 20 minutes. Netflix says:

Commander Emma Green leaves behind her husband and daughter to lead an international crew of astronauts on a perilous three-year mission to Mars.

As the mission launches, Emma finds her mettle as commander tested by an onboard accident, a divided crew and a family emergency back on Earth.

I believe there’s a lot to be learnt from really bad TV, and I’m willing to put myself through 57 minutes of awfulness so that you can learn the lessons without the pain of watching.

To make your choice, click on your prefered option below (which will open a new browser window). Or, if you’d rather, vote in this Twitter poll, which will close on Friday.

Choose your perk!

  1. The Gates of Balawat
  2. Analysis of Away

Obligatory cat photos

This week, I’d like to introduce you to Cici, Hedgehog, Scamp and Chewbecky! My friend Holly Brockwell runs a small shelter for cats that no one else will take on, often cats with serious medical problems like cerebellar hypoplasia, aka wobbly cat syndrome. These cats were at risk of being put to sleep before Holly stepped in, as few people want to take on the responsibility.

Recently, Holly was asked to look after a young mum cat, Cici, and her three kittens, because all the local shelters were full. It turns out that not only does Cici have three kittens, she’s already pregnant with at least three more!

Because Cici and her brood are all perfectly healthy, Holly will be looking for homes for them as soon as they are old enough, as well as Cici’s second litter!

If you want to find out more about Cici and her kittens – plus all the other residents of Holly’s Merry Moggies including Smol Paul, Bumble, Biscuit and Stripes McKenzie – take a look a her public Patreon post.

All the best,


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