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Tom Neenan

· Interview,Writing,Comedy,Tips

We delve deep to find the secrets of one of the top comedy writers in the country...

Hey Tom, thanks for chatting with us! You recently finished your fourth successive solo Edinburgh - the highly rated 'Attenborough'. Would you say it's a 'must' for comedy creatives to take their work to the Fringe?

Not at all. There are now so many avenues that people can take in order to get themselves noticed. I like creating live shows but other people find they work best in different ways. Ben Partridge has created great fringe shows, but with his Beef and Dairy Network Podcast he has found a way of reaching a huge number of people with his comedy. So podcasting is one route. Similarly, YouTube and the ready availability of recording equipment means if you have a sketch then rather than renting a venue and performing it for a month you can record it and have it online within minutes. The fringe is no longer the be-all-and-end-all. Far from it.

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"The fringe is no longer the be-all-and-end-all. Far from it."

You're a writer-performer, but I get the impression that writing is something very close to your heart?

It is. All of my favourite people are both writers and performers who maybe err closer to the writing side. Not that I am comparing myself to him, but John Cleese always said he felt like a writer who performs. There’s also the League of Gentlemen guys who write and performed and love the writing process.

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"Everything needs to come back to clarity"

In your solo shows, you tell vivid, exciting and fantastic stories. How important would you say the art of storytelling is when considering sketch and one-liners?

They all come down to the same word, a word I always bang on about whenever i am asked to talk about writing, and that word is ‘clarity’. Everything needs to come back to clarity. A story can only be entertaining if you understand the stakes involved, the motivations of the hero and the dangers they face. Similarly all sketches come down to clarity. Is the premise clear? Is it clear up front where it is set or who the characters involved are. Sometimes you may wish to keep something deliberately ambiguous, nevertheless make it clear, as a writer, that this was your intention. Also thanks for the compliment.

You've just finished recording 'The Hauntening' for Radio 4 - what can you tell us about it?

Its a modern ghost-story anthology /sitcom which I wrote and star in with a brilliant cast. I don’t really want to say too much about it. I’d like people to tune in and sort of find out what it is for themselves. Its produced by David Tyler who is just the best at what he does.

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"Trying to take a step back from your work is crucial, and one of the hardest things to do"

When teaching new writers, we like to point people in the direction of your fabulous sketch introspective. As a writer and script editor, how important do you find the process feedback and self-examination when writing new material?

Its so useful, providing it doesn’t send you mad. The best thing o do is try and give yourself time away from something. be it a day, a week or just a few hours. Pick it up again and try and read it as if it isn’t you baby you’ve slaved away for hours on, but the work of a stranger. You’ll instantly start seeing the holes and begin the improve the work. I stole that format from Stewart Lee’s books where he annotates his old stand up routines. Trying to take a step back from your work is crucial, and one of the hardest things to do.

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It's a very competitive world out there for comedy creatives - what advice do you have for new or up and coming comedy writers?

I would steal words of wisdom from Aziz Ansari when he is giving advice to new stand-ups: “Be undeniably good”. That script you're working on, work it harder, rewrite until its amazing. If anyone gives you notes, really think about those notes. It's such a competitive world out there so make yourself stand out and the best way of doing that is making what you write brilliant. Also really dig deep into what makes you stand out. Do you have a unique perspective? Is your upbringing unique or strange or brilliant or strangely brilliant? What about the things you think are a hindrance, can they help? I suppose a lot of writing is about taking all of your experiences and using them to inform what goes on the page, use all your negative experiences as well, particularly if they are real to you. Does that make sense? I've just come back from the dentist so this all may be nonsense...

'The Hauntening' begins Wednesday 11th October 11:15 pm on BBC Radio 4!

(Also, check out Tom's work on series 2 of the fab 'Spotlight Tonight With Nish Kumar', Tuesdays at 11:00 pm, again on Radio 4)

If you want to learn more about the world of comedy writing then check out our courses page or get in touch to ask a question!