I know nothing about comedy

...says BBC comedy supremo

BBC comedy chief Jon Plowman has admitted he knows nothing about comedy.

But he added: "Nobody does."

He said comedy is impossible to analyse or predict, and that you only know what will get laughs when it's shown to an audience.

Plowman, the BBC's head of comedy entertainment and producer of such shows as Absolutely Fabulous, was giving advice on the Edinburgh Fringe to those wanting to break into TV.

He said: "We have no rules about what we make. You laugh because you haven't seen something before, because it's a surprise. We're looking for things which catch the imagination.

"We're more inclined to commission ideas that are bizarre, dark and feel unusual - rather than a second-hand version of something we're seen before - either in form or content.

"TV is a huge monster, it eats up material and artists fast - but as a result it's always on the lookout for new ideas."

But he told stand-ups that the route to the screen wasn't easy.

He said: " How does a stand-up get on TV? The answer is slowly. There's a big difference between an hour on the fringe and having enough material and enough sense of what you are doing to be on TV."

"Stand-up on TV doesn't suck viewers in in the same way that a show with narrative does.

"Comedians aiming for TV need to work out what is unique to them, to make them a must-see. TV likes characters, so learn to act!

Plowman, who was in Edinburgh to judge the BBC New Comedy Awards, also had some advice for aspiring sitcom writers.

"Sitcom is notoriously difficult - and it's getting harder," he said. "Reruns mean they are constantly being compared to what has gone before - and it's an unrewarding critical atmosphere.

"Sitcom has got to be about something - a lot of writers forget that. They either write a situation and put characters in it, or write characters and put jokes in it. It's the characters and the core idea that makes sitcom good"

Published: 12 Aug 2002

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