Learn The Secret Language Of Comedy Writers With This Handy Glossary

By Holly Brockwell on at

When we're absent-mindedly watching Peep Show repeats with a pizza on a Friday night (hello weekend plans), we don't tend to think much about how comedy writers write their comedy. But an ongoing guide from Emmy-winning scriptwriter Andy Riley – he of the suicidal bunnies, as well as writing for Veep, Black Books and loads more – has made us slightly obsessed with the niche language of the comedy writing room.

Some of our favourite examples from his crowd-compiled glossary include:

"Langdon - a joke construction named after the writer John Langdon, who loves to write them. The stages of a Langdon are: (i) two elements are introduced. (ii) It appears that we’re continuing to talk about one of those elements in particular… (iii) but then it turns out we were talking about the other one. A 1980s-style example should make it clear. “Ronald Reagan met a chimpanzee today. The simple, gibbering creature… was delighted to meet a chimp.” Pete Sinclair tells me he’s been using that example to explain Langdons since it was current. And he likes to get at least one Langdon a week into Have I Got News For You.

Lightning Rod – a joke put into a script which is deliberately controversial, tasteless or offensive, and designed to attract discussion and worry from producers, executives and (in the US) the Standards and Practices department. The lightning rod will be fretted over and eventually dropped, which is fine… because its true purpose was to deflect attention from another, only slightly less offensive joke which you really want to make it through. Jason Hazeley calls the same thing a ‘Queen Mum’, derived from a joke about the Queen Mother being pregnant which Chris Morris put in a Brasseye script as a hostage to fortune.

Turd in a Slipper – a joke which feels good, but isn’t really any good."

There are loads more – treat yourself to a read here, then practice talking the talk. As Maurice Moss taught us, you can make anything sound convincing if you know the lingo.

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