As someone who aspires to write comedy, I’ve spent a whole lot of time over the past 12 years attempting to get material on Newsjack. But hearing of its demise yesterday has left me… somewhat relieved, actually.
Personally I don't feel it was the same after Romesh Ranganathan left, but that's quite a record so well done all involved. https://t.co/wS2XOzhbSC— Christian Cawley (@ChristianCawley) September 17, 2021
A check in my archive shows that I first attempted to submit jokes to Newsjack back in late 2014, for Romesh Ranganathan’s final series. On this occasion I flung a few one-liners and a sketch in their direction, but as my first attempt I rightly expected nothing, and was not disappointed.
(For the uninitiated, Newsjack is typically a collection of topical one-liners and sketches, held together with a host: Miles Jupp, Justin Edwards, Romesh Ranganathan, Nish Kumar, Angela Barnes, and Kiri Pritchard-McLean, in that order.)
Since then I have submitted material to Newsjack every year until 2019 when I decided that, actually, life was too short to spend Saturday and Sunday reading newspapers and Monday morning writing one-liners and sketches in the afternoon. Despite hearing very similar material on the show I was never successful in getting my name read out and the magic email.
Here are a few example one-liners.
Although we reported that the new web domain suffix for Buddhist websites was expected to be .buddha it turns out that in the end they chose .om
My laptop was hacked with revenge porn. I haven’t left the house for days.
The price of a stamp is set to rise but there’s a price freeze on kickings and kneecapping
You know that trouble I had getting my Bluetooth dongle to reconnect? I ended up getting it reattached at the dentists.
A man who tried to put his holiday snaps online was almost killed when the train came sooner than expected.
Pinewood Studios has opened the Roger Moore Stage in honour of the late and much-loved James Bond actor. It can be found right next to the Daniel Craig lunchbox canteen, and the George Lazenby toilet block.
I also submitted several sketches over the years, with similar levels of failure. Mixing inventive settings with recognisable characters and archetypes didn’t seem to work; neither did trying to tonally match the successful contributions.
At one point, I even started carefully relistening to each show, taking the sketches and one-liners apart, finding out what worked, and what didn’t. At one point, suspecting I’d been Googled and my Brexit position noted, I even started submitting material under an assumed name.
Back to those repeated listenings, I eventually came to notice a few things. First, that most of the shows were half funny, half not. And by “half not” I mean jokes subjected to applause, rather than laughter.
I don’t know what that claims to be, but it’s not comedy, is it?
Second, the show became increasingly obvious with jokes and scenarios.
Third, there wasn’t much actual satire. For a topical news show, that seemed odd. I’m not saying I am a satirical comedy writing genius, but it seems that satire and topical comedy have had some sort of quiet divorce. These days, calling Tories racist is considered satirical and I would like to aspire to a degree of humour considerably higher than that.
One of the most racist people I ever met was in the Labour party, after all.
Cleanse that worldview-breaking thought with some more one-liners:
Paramedics called to the scene of a car crashing into a restaurant have revealed the injuries include one broken arm, two concussions, and three blunt fork traumas.
Couple divorce after wife buys expensive walk-in wardrobe. Husband complains that he’s unable to pass it on the stairs.
Giant banana refuses to buy new iPhone X, arguing that he’s not a big Apple person.
George Osborne has drawn fire for allegedly saying that he wants Theresa May “chopped up in bags” in his freezer. But isn’t that where everyone keeps their prime cuts?
Enforced unemployment of Grid Girls and Walk on Girls in darts prompted by shouty, entitled middle class feminists has left better looking, working class women between a frock and a hard place.
A wine expert has matched popular fast foods with suitable plonk. He recommends you drink Chardonnay with a KFC, Shiraz with a Big Mac, and White Lightning with a Greggs’ pasty.
A childless couple have taken out a mortgage to pay for IVF treatment. The husband has already made a massive deposit.
Humour is obviously subjective, but over the years, as Newsjack transitioned from white upper-middle class hosts to Asian males, then to women, it struck me that the show was not only as impenetrable to me as it ever was, it was also becoming less funny.
And so, I decided that life was too short; I’d flogged a dead horse to its bones, and I had plenty of things that I would rather be writing. After all, the best thing about writing comedy is writing something that makes you laugh. Those one-liners above still work, in my opinion, and projects like The Riding Officer and the Barry Meat book entertain me in a way that reshaping my life for every series of Newsjack for the slightest sniff of a modest BBC cheque simply never could.
However, I know that Newsjack has worked out for so many other people, which is why it is a shame that the show has to end now. If it had stopped finding new voices (hiya!) it would make sense, but you get the feeling it still had a few more years in it.
Whatever the BBC replaces it with, we can expect another show with an open submissions policy (so I hear). I probably won’t bother with it, however.