Comedy is not a piece of cake

Jon Plowman at the University of Westminster
Photo Credit: Cristiana Ferrauti
Jon Plowman, included in the ’50 Funniestor Most Influential People in British Comedy’ list – compiled by The Observer in 2003 – has been at the University of Westminster on the 2nd of October, as guest during Harrow Conversation.

The question “How to make great and funny comedy?” has been the starting point.

The initial answers have been a little bit hesitant: a funny comedy is made of surprise and recognition.
About this last element, in particular, Plowman specified that in general the audience loves comedies because, watching them, they can think: “that’s me” or “that is something very similar to me”.

Apart from the various elements cited, nearly at the end of the meeting, he tried to summarise with a phrase how to make great comedy: “we are trying to create a parallel universe”.

It means that the job of the comedy writer (or whoever works in this field) is based mainly on telling something that might be the truth, instead of the truth itself.
Events that could happen are the basis: credible (not totally fiction), but still not the pure reality.

During the hour available, Jon Plowman has cleared the definition and the features of the comedy by showing some clips from Twenty Twelve, the BBC television comedy series of which he has been the executive producer.
The episodes, first aired on BBC Four in March 2011, follow the organisation of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

The series can be classified as an on-location documentary, that is presenting the events in a documentary style, but with a parodic aim.

Along with its follow-up, that is W1A (2014), Twenty Twelve has been one of the last product of Jon Plowman, after a long career at the BBC which started in the 1980, with Harty – the Russell Harty’s chat show.
In 2013 was appointed Officer of the Order of the BritishEmpire – for the services to the British Comedy -, whereas in 2006 he was honoured at the Royal Television Society awards with the ‘Judges’ Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Television.

BBC is a news organization, therefore comedy or drama are not their priority.
The challenge consists in “annoyingly interrupting news programmes” –as he said - putting on comedy episodes which entertain the audience.
Jargon, overanalyses and stating the obvious twice are some of the tools which help to make the people laughing.

And here is the matter.
“News” is what has just happened. A “documentary” shows the reality. But it is a difficult and not obvious deal to understand why the audience watch the TV comedies.
“We laugh”, the producer said, “because we love the characters”. We become fans because in the characters we find ourselves or a personality that we would like to have.

In conclusion, “Comedy is the hardest thing to produce” Jon Plowman declared.