Place four writers in the forecourt of Woolworths at Mudgeeraba and everything they say is going to be funny. That surely was not the intention of The Write Stuff, otherwise known as the Somerset Festival of Literature, but seeing Danny Katz, Rebecca Sparrow, Fiona Wood and Mark Purdoe speaking about writing funny over the sound of rattling shopping trolleys during Thursday late night shopping was very amusing. As Danny Katz quipped, “It makes me feel like I’m at ……..Woolies!”.
The four writers were gathered at the unusual venue to discuss how to write funny, and had arrived at the shopping centre from Australia’s four largest cities.
Katz (Sydney) is the brilliantly acerbic columnist behind Modern Guru for the Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers. He not only spends his time giving brutally inappropriate advice in his column, but has also written children’s books including Dork Geek Jew and Little Lunch.
Rebecca Sparrow (Brisbane) is a columnist with mamamia.com and her latest book is Find Your Tribe and 9 Other Things I Wish I’d Known in High School.
Fiona Woods (Melbourne) was a screen writer for Neighbours and Home and Away among others, and now writes children’s books.
Mark Pardoe (Perth) is a novelist whose latest book is The Andy Flegg Survival Guide to Losing your Dog, your Dad and your Dignity in 138 days.
The writer’s festival is a forum to help people get ideas to get writing. The advixe is invaluable, and in this case, well, funny.
Katz, originally from Canada, was a stand up comedian (“I was a stand up Canadian” boom boom) whose life and sense of humour changed when he had kids. So he started writing in the style of a stand up comedian and pitched his writing to The Age. They loved it.
Sparrow, who writes for mamamia, describes writing online as a ‘bloodsport’. The feedback is instantaneous and readers will take no prisoners because the feedback is anonymous. So if you’re going to try to be funny online, you’d better be funny. She says it’s like performing in front of an audience of teenagers; they are brutal. Sparrow speaks regularly in front of teenage audiences, arms folded in front of them. A girl once raised her hand and asked “Do you think you’re funny?” Her advice? You have to have thick skin. Just press ‘send”.
Pardoe says the boundaries when writing for kids are much further apart than you would realise. Even parents will laugh at some of the most extreme humour. Pardoe is a school teacher and says he rips off most of his ideas from kids in the classroom. The stuff in his latest book about what happened to a kid in his sex education classes really did happen.
According to Woods in the past, Australia has not been good at TV comedy writing (think Hey Dad). Woods says there is a huge disparity in resources for writing for TV in Australia compared to other countries. In the USA, there will be a whole team of writers workshopping stories for TV shows, whereas in Australia there may only be one writer to write a complete script. The important thing in TV is having a clever actor to deliver the lines. Woods was writing for Neighbours at the time Margot Robbie was acting in the soap. She said Robbie can deliver any line perfectly. No bias there just because Robbie’s from the Gold Coast and went to Somerset.
A final word of advice: Don’t Google yourself. Regrettably, Katz did and found a whole online group who were apparently offended by his writing. They were called Team Katz Haters.