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What I'm up to


My autumn courses at Richmond Adult Community College start in September. Get booking now!

My article on standup comedy appeared in the Spring Young Performer Magazine

Swanwick Writers School Tweeting Chat

Read about my tweeting session with Swanwick Writers:

New Book



My book "How To Write Comedy" is now out.

It's a highly accessible step by step guide to writing sketches, jokes and sitcoms, with the emphasis on building practical skills as you progress through the different genres.

Susan Elkin in The Stage magazine said:

"It’s straightforwardly practical, there are plenty of suggestions for activities to try and Kirwood is good on advice for marketing your work and managing your life as a writer – especially when you have to deal with rejection." 


Writing Tips

"It's basically all rewriting. Most of the process is rewriting rather than writing." Richard Curtis


You don't need to be able to tell a joke to write one. It just takes practice and lateral thinking. Here's Tony Kirwood, author of 'How to Write Comedy' (Constable & Robinson £9.99) to tell you how...

Think of an everyday theme such as 'childhood'. Jot down related topics: Christmas; punishment; treats; pocket money; bed-times. By each topic write down a subtopic. For example, by 'punishment' you could put 'naughty step'.

Try to find a way of reversing it or turning it upside down. Let's see what could happen if we turned a punishment, 'naughty step', into a treat.

How about, 'My parents spoilt me rotten – they'd place my naughty step right by the ice-cream van'? Note the two-part structure: set-up (expectation) and punchline (surprise). Keep searching your subtopics for reversals till you find a joke.




A sketch is a mini play. And just like a play, it should contain drama and conflict. Nothing can be more boring than a sketch with a group of characters who just sit around and talk.

Get your characters to rub up against each other. Make sure there's something at stake between them. Maybe one of them has got something the other has, or wants to stop the other person getting something. Or perhaps they’re just in the way of the other person. There doesn’t have to be violent conflict, but there needs to be some bone of contention.

Give your comedy writing a bit of passion. The more your characters are emotionally engaged, the funnier it will be.


Cliches are the enemy – aren’t  they? As soon as an audience hears a tired gag or watches a stereotyped character, they have every right to throw their beer glasses at the stage. OK, their plastic drink containers, let’s not forget health and safety.

At the same time, clichés can be your best friend when writing jokes.  Come again? Here’s how. A joke hangs on instantaneous communication. A cliché is something in common use - it wouldn’t be a cliché if it wasn’t . So if you can incorporate one of these well-worn phrases into your joke, you’ve made a bridge to the audience. Of course you then have to do something funny with it. Twist it around and use the alchemy of your comedy skills to draw a laugh out of it.

I once heard a gay comic doing a routine about sleeping with girls to keep his parents happy (these were the days when gays still faced a lot of hostility) “I had to lie back and think of England,” he said, “well, David Beckham actually.” Brilliant. He used a cliché, thinking of England when you’re having sex as a duty, and giving an unexpected angle on the meaning of “England”.

When you’re making your mindmap to create topics and angles to help you write a joke, ask yourself if there’s a common cliché or well-worn phrase you can bring in. Then try to turn it upside down, twist it or subvert it. Every cliché gives you instant entry into the audience’s mindset.

I once did a routine about turning up early for a restaurant date. “The early bird catches the worm,” I said. “Bad idea. Not her kind of cuisine at all.” It got a laugh. 

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