Andy Riley |

#comedywritingsowhite, and one thing I’m doing about it

***UPDATE, MARCH 9TH: OK – I now have a mentee for the year. I’ve already contacted everybody who sent something, but if for whatever reason the e-mail didn’t arrive, and you’re reading this to find out you’re the mentee… sorry but not this time. But, assuming the year goes well, I will be repeating the selection process in February 2017. Anyone who submitted this year will be more than welcome to have another crack. Cheers, Andy***

Here’s what I’m offering –

A year’s free mentoring, primarily by email, to one comedy writer (or writing partnership) from a BAME background who is either at the start of their career, or very much wants to be.

And here’s why. Lack of racial diversity in the media is a hot topic. And the media loves hot. Absolutely can’t get enough of the stuff. A thing can never be a big deal, it seems, until it’s a big deal at the Oscars.

I’ll narrow the focus to something I know a lot about, which is comedy writing. I’ve done it since the 1990s. Mostly in Britain, sometimes in America. In both countries, the number of non-white comedy writers doesn’t reflect the make-up of the population, that’s the no-shit-Sherlock headline.

Things are beginning to move a bit in the UK. The BBC have been running the Writers Room scheme for a while. Last year it sprouted the Comedy Room, a sixth month part-time training programme, and the non-white writers number comfortably above thirteen percent – which, says the 2011 census, is the BAME percentage of the UK population. Sky has pledged to have 20% of its writers (on team-written shows, anyway) from a BAME background. That’s a big deal. That’s money. Writers aren’t primarily motivated by money, on the whole; if we were we’d be estate agents. But we need to buy milk and bread like everybody else. The Sky thing will probably affect drama more than comedy, but it’s still important. So: there’s this problem I’ve been fully aware of for ages, and Rupert Murdoch’s been doing more about it than I have. Time to get off my arse.

For the last few years I’ve volunteered as part of a mentoring programme run by the social mobility foundation, helping bright sixth formers from low-income backgrounds navigate their way into universities and careers. You get paired with a mentee for one year, who is interested in getting into whatever area it is you work in. It involves no more than a couple of actual face-to-face meetings, and the rest is done by email. E-mentoring, that’s the clumsy term for it. But it works well. So I’m going to re-tool that approach.

I’ll read any comedy stuff that the writer sends me over twelve month period, and offer notes and advice. I can also be a sounding board, and offer advice in a more general sense about any aspect of the profession. I’ve got a couple of decades of professional experience; I’ve written sitcoms, films, more sketches than I could ever count, a lot of animation, and there’s Baftas and an Emmy on the CV. I’ve got to have some knowledge worth imparting. I hope.

It can only be one person (or a partnership). I’ve got my own scripts to write, books to write, cartoons to draw, so one is my limit. I’d prefer to have at least one face-to-face meeting if it’s practical for both of us – I’m London based – but if it’s not practical that’s fine. No regional bias on this.

It’s not an internship. I won’t be asking anyone to help me with my own work. It’s not any kind of course, with accreditation at the end. And no money will change hands in either direction. It’s all informal. But I think it would be a help to somebody starting off, and when you’re starting off, any help’s a good thing.

So if you’ve read this far and you’re a BAME comedy writer who likes the sound of it – I’ve devised this highly scientific selection process…

Use the email to send me:

(i) a paragraph or two introducing yourself. Who you are, what sort of comedy you’re into, credits if you have them, anything else you want to say.

(ii) a script sample of your comedy writing work, in PDF, Word, or Final Draft. This could be some sketches, a sitcom script, even something longer – I don’t really mind what, so long as there’s enough to give me a good sense of what you write. But it must be a script written for TV, film or radio. I won’t consider anything in the form of blog posts, articles, journalism, or links to YouTube clips. You may well be a great blogger or journalist or performer, but the script’s the thing here.

Please put your name and email on the script sample itself, so I have everything I need right there if I want to get back to you.

As and when I find something I’m sent that I really like, and makes me go yes, I’d love to read more from this person, I’ll be in touch. I won’t go ahead until I’ve got that feeling.

Some provisos – please read these before you send –

– You MUST be eighteen or over.

– You should live in the UK or Ireland.

– I can’t commit to a time scale for the selection part, because I haven’t done this before and I have no idea how big or small the response is going to be. If I get sent loads, that’s more reading, and reading takes time. I’m not the BBC, with the budget to pay someone to read; I’m just one feller. I’ve got to fit all this around my own writing, cartooning, and life. So please no follow up emails. Unless your server pinged it back, assume I got the first one.

– I’ll announce on twitter (@andyrileyish) and on this blog when I don’t need any more script samples, and when I’ve found someone for the 12 months.

– A point I have to cover; when throwing the net wide like this, there’s a chance I’ll be sent something that’s in a similar setting to a project I’m currently developing, that may even be quite far along. There are, at any one time, dozens of people working on a sketch about a man arguing with a taxi driver. Or on a sitcom that’s based in a Gregg’s. Or a Wolf Of Wall Street-type financial office. Or an art gallery. I’m not working on any one of those four, but you get the idea. I’m not going to stop developing a thing I was already doing just because somebody happens to send me a script set in a similar situation. And I’m certainly not going to steal any of your material; professional writers don’t do that. Most likely I’ll stop reading your script as soon as I realise.

– People sometimes read blog posts very very fast and miss big things. So I’m going to restate the key point for anybody who hasn’t managed to take it in: this is only open to people from a black/asian/minority ethnic background…

– Comedy! Not drama!

So that’s it. Send me your stuff, and let’s see what happens. If this works, I’ll do it again.