5 things I’ve learned while studying Comedy Writing
28 February 2023
Having grown up watching classics like Only Fools and Horses, sharing Horrible Histories and Mr Bean with her own children, and drawing inspiration from dark comedies Inside No. 9 and Bad Sisters, Jane Harvey has always been passionate about comedy. Here she shares 5 things she has learned while studying on Falmouth’s online master’s in Comedy Writing.
When watching and listening to comedy, I always thought I’d like to give it a go but had no idea how to break into the industry. I studied English with Creative Writing at Falmouth about fifteen years ago and always wanted to do an MA, but I didn’t know which subject was right for me or whether I could afford it. One day, the comedy stars must have aligned; as my youngest child started primary school, a friend mentioned that postgraduate student loans were a thing. I then came across the online Comedy Writing master’s and was in time to apply for the May intake. And so, my comedy writing journey began!
Studying for a master’s was more accessible than I thought
For a long time, I didn’t think I’d be able to finance a master's degree, until a friend happened to mention that postgraduate loans had recently become available. I live in a rural area of Cornwall and so I thought an online course would be best. With a young family, working part-time and having a low income, returning to study felt out of reach for a long time. When I scoured Falmouth’s postgraduate courses and found Comedy Writing, my interest was well and truly piqued.
Once I enquired, Falmouth also provided me with links to charities that offered bursaries for qualifying students. As we were on a low income, I was lucky enough to receive help from a couple of trusts, which came at the best time as my laptop packed in just before a deadline and I was able to replace it without a worry - phew!
The collaboration has been transformative
When I started this Comedy Writing course the only module I was slightly nervous about was the collaborative one. I always thought I’d prefer to work alone; what if my group didn’t work well together? What if I wasn’t good enough? I was so wrong to be worried. From the very beginning of the Comedy Writing MA, we were encouraged to work with our peers, giving feedback and responding to constructive criticism. That not only helps the writing but also builds a valuable bond amongst the cohort. When you put your work out there, it’s a real moment of vulnerability, but there is so much trust between us now.
Many of my cohort work alongside studying on the course, and what I really love is the fact that we are spread all over the world - fellow students live in America, Hong Kong and Greece. There is also a real mix of ages and so there is a wealth of different experiences and cultures to work with and learn from. Bouncing ideas off each other and expanding on one another’s thoughts was pure joy; I went from being certain I’d prefer to work alone to being sure that there is nothing better than being in a bustling writers’ room.
Returning to education hasn’t been too daunting
At first, I was worried I’d be out of practice. I had forgotten all about Harvard referencing for the critical essays and was unsure how I would manage the workload. Thankfully, the University provide an excellent and comprehensive referencing guide, so you can’t go wrong. There are always advisors on hand and available for any concerns you may have, from mental wellbeing to academic support. This year, I have even become the student rep, so I gather feedback from students, which I collate and pass onto the Course Leader Simon Nicholls and the rest of the Comedy Writing course team. They are always striving to do the best job they can for the students, and I’m pleased to be a part of that. I have surprised myself how much I’ve enjoyed returning to study. My brain is no good after about 6pm and I work at weekends, so I tend to study and write during my kids’ school hours. School holidays require a little more juggling, but it always comes together in the end.
I have discovered a confidence I never knew I had
The most valuable thing I have gained has to be the confidence in myself and the things I am capable of. It is so easy to talk yourself out of things, but embarking on this Comedy Writing masters has, without doubt, been the best decision I’ve ever made. We are soon taught that practising making one-liners and entering open submission shows like DM’s Are Open is like going to the gym for the comedy writing brain: the more you do it, the better you get. I managed to win British Comedy Guide’s Gag-a-Week competition last year and am currently writing on a new Radio 4 sketch show. There is no way I’d have had the confidence to put myself out there without the support and knowledge gained from this course.
Comedy now feels like a viable career path
I firmly believe this Comedy Writing course will make my CV stand out from the crowd. The industry module provides crucial insight that newbies like me would never have known about, from the best routes into the business, to how to put together a winning pitch document. The masterclasses introduce us to incredible industry names and Simon Nicholls is a very well-respected producer in the business – he really is the ultimate comedy guru! Students on the course end up with a broad portfolio of work that is pitch-ready and so, depending on what you do with it, you have the best chance of succeeding.
I finally know what I want to do (it only took me 40 years!) I am now totally dedicated to comedy writing and intend to continue writing my own stuff as well as writing with members of my cohort - we hope to pitch a sketch show through a production company that we devised together. I’m so excited for the future and now know I’m on the right path.