I have a passion for television comedy, that little 30-minute holiday you get from your stressful day when you sit down, watch a favourite sitcom and escape into your happy place once or twice a week. But what is it that makes my toes curl with cringing embarrassment at the local fare being offered up as situation comedy?
Having been through the experience of writing and producing one myself, I think I may have a little insight into why we fall short of international standards. Oh let me stop talking in euphemisms... I may have a little insight into why our comedy is unfunny crap.
But first, let me come clean right here - I conceived The Coconuts (recently aired over two seasons on M-Net). I was also the head writer and the director. And, let me say, I am not for one minute holding up Coconuts as the shining beacon against which all others must be compared. Not at all, but I did learn a couple of things from both the mistakes we made and the ones we didn't make.
Number one, we didn't insult our audience with a laugh track. Yip, we had a real studio audience of about 100 - 120 people a week, not because we couldn't afford to buy the laugh effects disc used on other local sitcoms but because we actually needed to know if what we were writing was funny.
And let me tell you, there is nothing more humbling than the silence of a studio audience... and nothing more heartening than when they break into uproarious laughter that takes forever to subside while your actors wait to deliver the next gag.
More than that, we also learnt not to insult the audience with old gags, tired puns and the temptation to resort to slapstick.
South Africans are seasoned TV viewers now, with access to the world's best. A corny crack in a SA accent isn't going to cut it anymore - that novelty died with The Dingleys (who remembers that?)
Secondly, we learnt that one writer cannot a sitcom script write (bad grammar intentional), or two writers or even three! You need a team! And you need really funny people, seasoned story editors and gag writers and recognised stand up comedians whose stock in trade is laughter. They will tell you if your script is funny, and yes, you will have to lose some of those lovingly written lines that just won't make people laugh!
Our scripts often went through between 8 - 12 people and many, many rewrites before the final draft. There's a reason the top international sitcoms have massive writing teams. What makes us think we are so funny we don't have to have the same to get the same kind of laugh count per page?
And thirdly, dare to be daring, fresh and take risks. The best comedies are never "safe". If political correctness is the trend, dare to say, ‘stuff that' and write the most politically incorrect stuff you can write, as long as it's funny, and you'll be amazed at how well it is received!
People (of all colours and persuasions) hate to be patronised, so don't try to be funny while also trying to sanitise it into what the powers that be deem to be acceptable. That's why we have the crud we have on TV now!
I'll end off with my favourite quote about political correctness: "Political correctness is a doctrine fostered by a delusional, illogical liberal minority and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end."
It's anonymous, but I sure as hell wish I'd said it!