Forget the quickie, I'd rather teach;Comment;Opinion

20th February 1998 at 00:00
In the early hours of the year I discovered that I had finally broken into the television comedy writing market. Having recorded the BBC Scotland football show Only an Excuse, transmitted late on hogmanay, I found my name was there in the "additional material" bit.

Wooooooh fame! I wanna live for ever! I watched the rest of the show and found my gag, greatly cut down, about a third of the way through. (It was the one about the Rangers players starring in a television show called the Teleproddies.) Two weeks later I got the contract I had to sign in order to be paid for my artistic endeavours. It ran to about a dozen pages and was full of the percentages of my original fee I would get if my work was repeated in various parts of the globe. The only part I was really interested in was how much I was going to get for my quickie (their word, not mine, though it reminds me of a joke set in Edinburgh during the General Assembly). The answer was a four-figure sum: sixteen pounds and fifty pence.

This was the end result of around two years of attempting to crack the comedy writing market. My previous attempts - material sent to a profit-sharing theatre group in Liverpool - netted me 50p in stamps. They only used a fraction of the material I sent, rejecting my favourite piece. (It was a public information advert about vasectomies and featured the aggressive nerd who used to promote Thomson's Waterseal: "So there you have it. Get the snip or have eight kids and buy a Renault Espace. But don't say I didn't warn you.") So it was with the Teleproddies. You never saw the red, white and blue furry creatures, nor Tim the green one (a bit of a misfit with his shamrock antenna), nor the laughing Gazza in the sun. Everything was condensed to 16 seconds.

Around the time that this was happening, I got another contract to sign, this time an acceptance of a promoted post. Though from a council not shy of paper consumption, it was considerably shorter than the BBC one. I began to draw further comparisons. How many 16-second jokes equate to an assistant principal teacher's responsibility payment? Answer: about one a week, initially.

I looked, too, at the rate of pay. More than a pound per second. At last I'm getting paid like a lawyer. Sixteen pounds fifty is about what a teacher gets for a whole hour's supported study. It's no' fair.

The 16 seconds does not represent the time that went into preparing the joke. It must have taken at least double that to type it. Once more I am reminded of teaching, when my first Higher lessons seemed to take longer to prepare than to teach.

But here come a couple of important differences. First, I was able to compose my one-liner with - and I hope this does not get me thrown out of the Sean McPartlin Supporters Club - virtually no background knowledge of football.

Second, the quickies, and any that may come after it, will not help anybody pass an exam, progress to a career or even understand the world any more clearly. It was nae use, beyond giving some pre-new year revellers a bit of a laugh. Money for nothing, as the song says.

Now, what I have to ask myself is: supposing I could write and market enough gags to make a living from it (unlikely). Would I give up teaching? I don't know. If I did, I can be sure of one thing. I'd miss the laughs.

Gregor Steele

Gregor Steele apologises to regular reader Mrs Y for the lawyer crack.

Forget the quickie, I'd rather teach

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