Armando Iannucci Comedy Writing Tips

Uploaded by BAFTAGuru on 24.08.2012

>> ARMANDO: I'm Armando Iannucci, I've worked in comedy for the last twenty or so years.
I started off as a radio comedy producer, and I did On The Hour, Knowing Me Knowing
You with Alan Partridge, which became The Day Today; I'm Alan Partridge on television.
Since then I've done shows like Time Trumpet, and The Thick Of It, and I've just finished
a series for HBO called Veep.
Endless patience. Commitment. Not being scared of the blank page, or the blank word file.
Um… and belief really: you've got to believe what you're writing is funny. Don't try and
write what you think someone else finds funny, but which you don't find funny - don't sell
yourself short.
I dunno, sometimes it's a very instinctive thing, you can see someone who maybe not has
done very much, but who is instinctively funny - I mean sometimes… For example Chris Addison,
I had him in mind for this character Ollie in The Thick Of It, just because I saw his
stand-up. And I felt his character was a bit like Ollie's, and we cast him and he was fantastic
in it. It's only afterwards I discovered he hadn't done any acting before [laughter].
So you're sort of identifying an inherent quality in his personality. I had someone
who was my assistant when I was at the BBC, who just happened to contribute the odd idea
to Time Trumpet. He was really very funny, his stuff, so I asked him to become a writer
on The Thick Of It. That's Sean Gray, who's written on The Thick Of It and Veep. Um, there's
no hard and fast rule, it's… I'm just looking for people who have a comedy brain. I think
that's it, it's difficult to categorise - it's not so much that they write or they perform,
or they act, or they do stand-up: it's just that they have a comedy brain. And then it's
finding the right outlet for that brain.
Well that's strange because, all the writers on Veep were actually my Thick Of It writers,
so we use the exact same process! But, I suppose The Thick Of It actually employs a slightly
more US-style process anyway in that it's a team show. I have individual writers writing
maybe the first draft of a script, but then we swap the scripts around and everyone has
a go on everyone else's script and then I swap them all again. So what you're looking
for in that environment is - because it's more collaborative - is people who are not
proprietorial, who are not fussed, if someone is going to come along and change a line or
improve a line or delete a line. I always believe that if you make something as good
as it can be, then everyone will get the credit. So it doesn't really matter if, you know,
your scene got cut, or whatever. If you've been involved in that process, from the start,
then you've provided the idea, that then someone else built on, that then a performer has improvised
around. You're still as equally valid a part of that process.