I have recently completed a week-long online sitcom writing course where for one hour a day for five consecutive days, 30 comedy writers logged into Zoom and together, under the guidance of comedian and comedy-writer Bennett Arron, we came up with the premise of a sitcom.

As someone who has done more writing courses than Katie Price has had failed relationships, this one was definitely different from all the rest, and not just for the obvious reason that this course was done via my laptop screen.

Democracy Rules and No Ice please

With the mute button an essential of any online meetings with this many participants, what was lovely on this course was how much more democratic this made the experience. Everyone got to contribute, via the chat button, if that’s what they wanted to do. If they wanted to sit back and absorb, that was an option also. No-one felt the pressure to say something, anything, just to not feel left out.

And no dreaded ice-breaking routine, the initiation ceremony of every writing class. As a writer who still carries awful memories of having to move around a room with a playing card lifted to my forehead as part of a ‘getting-to-know-you’ process, the ice-breaker can be the writing equivalent of a dentist’s injection of novocaine into an exposed gum – yes you can see the point of it but if there’s a way of avoiding it then sign me up.

The Loud-Mouth on mute

What the mute button also does is nullify the power of the, how shall we put it, ‘mouthier’ writer . Almost every course, workshop or seminar I’ve attended, has had the presence of the writer who likes to dominate the room with opinions or questions that can break the flow of the poor tutors carefully planned lesson.

Many have read all the writing books and attended, at great expense, at least one of the major script-writing gurus seminars, subsequently screen-writing psychobabble is their second language. However, as I’ve witnessed many times, talking a good script and writing a good script, are two very different things. Just ask any of those script-writing gurus still without a screen writing credit.

Quiet in good company

In a recent blog, the great comedy writer Ken Levine tells how Neil Simon was very shy and ‘not great in a room’, and cites others who were fantastic in a room but ‘couldn’t write a decent draft to save their lives’. Writers, generally speaking (or usually not speaking), are an introverted breed who have to raise themselves above this natural inclination to walk into a room of other creatives. Or anyone, for that matter.

A few years ago I met by far the quietest writer I’ve known, who, like myself was one of those selected to be a shadow-writer on the Channel 4 comedy-series Shameless. So inhibited was he in meetings that he was, to all intents and purposes, anonymous. He found the meetings incredibly difficult and stressful, and contributed little; if anything, to them. On Twitter he described himself as a ‘socially awkward TV writer’.

But boy, could he write. Since then Mark Brotherhood has written for a host of shows including a later series of Shameless, Hollyoaks, Benidorm, became the lead writer on Sky One comedy-drama Mount Pleasant and is the writer/creator behind ITV’s recent series The Trouble With Maggie Cole. Zoom was made for the Mark Brotherhood’s of this world. I have no doubt he’ll be loving it.

So yes, for me Zoom courses are the way ahead for now at least, despite those instances when, via the chat button, you type in the comment you consider to be your most hilarious or insightful, only to watch it float away from the tutors gaze like a used condom in a fast flowing river.

Image by photographer Kristina Flour

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