An In The Pipeline Production for Resonance FM, featuring ten minutes of sketches. Written and performed by Simon Dunn, Iszi Lawrence, Gaz Mackin and John Robins.
Click the links to listen to each installment:
The Ten Minute Sketch Show began life as a home for all the sketches and short ideas that had nowhere else to live in my portfolio. I performed these by myself using a cheap microphone, and edited them together using Cool Edit Pro. To disguise the shortcomings of the production values, I doctored the sound, pitch, or speed of my voice, and underscored the show with some appropriate music.
After completing Lying On A Bench, I was keen to offer some more work to Resonance FM, and so I pitched them the sketch show, and they liked the idea. They asked for six episodes.
Now, that’s a lot of material, especially when they wanted it in pretty much less than a month. I knew I couldn’t write a whole new
load of stuff, so I began scouring my back catalogue of sketches, and anything that stood out from the dross was quickly re-written
and readied for the show. I also knew I couldn’t perform it all myself, because I’m not good enough, and because that much material
requires an awful lot of variation in tone, voice and style.
Some really great people offered to join the project. Iszi Lawrence, who had worked on Lying On A Bench took time out of her busy schedule to write some stuff and be a performer. Gaz Mackin was smiling and keen from the outset, as always, and John Robins leaped at the opportunity to try some of his own ideas out. This was great, because it meant a rich juxtaposition of sound and style, and everyone had a lot of fun doing it.
We had a week or two to write some stuff, and come up with ideas to be worked on in rehearsal, and then we met for an afternoon of read-throughs. This was helpful, as it generated discussion about what was strong, what was weak, what had promise, and what was the best way to approach each sketch.
Then we moved into the studios of In The Pipeline, and the wonderful Ian James once again engineered for us. He’s a comedy afficiando, and his input was immensely appreciated. And he did all this whilst selling and buying a new house.
Schedules meant that John and Iszi could not be available at the same time, so some recasting had to be done on some sketches to
allow for this. Day One started by recording a huge batch of stuff, then spending the final few hours improvising ideas, characters
and one liners. Day Two followed much the same pattern.
Then Ian and I spent the whole of the next week editing everything down, polishing it up, enriching the sound design, and structuring the shows. We used Cubase, and edited in the studio, which allowed us to record new things and improve ideas.
The Cast And Crew
I cannot thank these people enough for their help and creative input. Everyone was fun to work with, and everyone’s involvement enriched the project in a different way. Click their pictures to link to their websites.
John, whose voice was made for radio, imbued the sketches with some characters I could never have imagined when writing them. His improv was immense too.
Gaz has an infectious enthusiasm for the world, and conversely underscores this with a biting cynicism about everything except comics. Talented, funny and fun.
Iszi also has a voice that sounds great on the radio, and her tone and style really enlivened the sketches she was in. Again talented,
Ian, the most patient man in the world, offered insight and experience to the production, and made the show sound as rich as it does.
You’ll be pleased to know that the sickening love fest is over now, and the business of analysing and offering trivia for each individual sketch now begins.
Episode One – Christopher Lee And Me …
Title Trivia – a few of us are a little bit obsessed with Christopher Lee, the humble yet arrogant star of many a Dracula film. That he found his way into an episode was inevitable – and of course it rhymes, which is always good.
Overview – This being the first episode, I wanted to include as many different ideas and styles as possible, as a kind of introduction to the series. Ultimately I failed I think, and Iszi features in it hardly at all. The structure was hung around the landlord sketch, and I chose bits that were my favoured ones at the writing stage, and not necessarily the strongest ones we produced.
Smoke Detector – The opening sketch was originally written for a live sketch show that a number of writers and performers worked on in Bristol a few years ago. When performed for an audience, it was fairly well received, especially the hot orange wobbly stuff line. Because we recorded all the dialogue in the studio, we added the ambient noise of the Galleries shopping mall underneath, and for the techie types among you, implemented a slight reverb to the voice track to match the background. (with Simon and John)
The Kids Are Quiet – Originally to be the opening sketch, we had to move this one down the line slightly because Iszi’s first line did not provide enough of a segue from her title announcement. This one was also performed live at the same show, but got nothing. I always thought this was because it relied heavily on either a strong visual cue (we performed it live radio style), or a sound cue. In the edit, we felt it didn’t actually need those sound effects after all – it’s all sold by the performance. Whether it works now or not is for you to decide, but it has always been one of my favoured pieces. I think I wrote it just after series one of Smack The Pony, but never submitted it for subsequent series because the tone did not suit. (with Iszi and Simon)
Alright Colin? – Born out of an idea by John, who liked the idea of a man who was convinced every tiny moment of his life was part of a hidden camera show. He wanted to write this up as a sketch, but felt he couldn’t, so we sat in the studio, with two microphones, and just improvised the entire thing. It’s presented exactly as we performed it, with no edits or retakes – nor did we even plan the idea of the daughter’s death, that just appeared out of my mouth, and John’s reaction was wonderful. (With John and Simon)
Bomb – This is about as deeply satirical as I ever get – simplistic. I very nearly dropped this one, until we put it together. The distorted sound and the relentless hiss of the button releases gave it a rhythm that was missing on the page, and it provided a neat change of soundscape from the preceding bits. (With Gaz and Simon)
Interview With God – The number of unused sketches I have written that feature God and/or the Devil is ridiculous. I think this one made it in because of the simple crisis of faith God is having in himself. Plus, I am an avid atheist, so that helped its cause. The idea is it’s set in a hotel room, just above a busy road, so that’s why you hear the trucks going by, not because we recorded it next to an open window. John improvised the closing rant, because the written punchline was so weak. I can’t speak for him (or God) but I myself love the Hitchhikers’ books. (With Gaz and John)
Episode Two – A Bottle Of HP Sobs
Title Trivia – I do an awful lot of travelling when I gig, so many a midnight breakfast is eaten on the way home. I once mused that baked beans from service stations at one in the morning were cooked to perfection, and asked why. The response, “Because the man behind the counter lets his tears of misery drip into them.”
Overview – As I write this guide, it occurs to me that episode two may have been the better choice to open with, as it has more variance, and a better cross section of performances. Never mind.
Elephant In A Lift – If memory serves, I actually wrote this specifically for the pilot episode. It was underscored by The Who in that one, but I made the decision very early on when we were preparing the series that it would not feature music. This meant the elephant’s ejaculation could not be accompanied by a Pete Townshend power cord, which is a shame. All elephant orgasms should have those. The idea is neither big nor clever, but the child in me liked it enough to re-record it. (With Gaz and Simon)
Jowls – A bare faced rant from the bottom of my own heart, cowardly hidden in the voice of another. It was quite painful to perform actually, because I had to squeeze my own voice box to get that aged sound. In post-production we added the punchline that he was a priest, which meant the church reverb enhanced the sketch somewhat. Far from my favourite sketch. (With Simon)
One Small Step – My obsession with the Apollo 11 missions is reflected in this one. I always thought it was quite a tragic thought that Michael Collins went all the way to the moon but never got to walk on it. This used to inform a piece of material I did as part of my act, long since retired now. The sound design for this is purely the work of Ian. The geek in me resisted the call to make them sound like they were in helmets conversing over the radio, because basically, that’s not how it happened. But Ian tweaked the sound and let me listen to it, and he was right, it definitely needed that. Don’t ask me why that bothered me, while the fact Michael Collins had an English accent did not – that just seemed funny somehow. And John initially thought it was about Michael Jackson. (With John, Gaz and Simon)
Another Doctor Sketch – I wrote this sketch for Bearded Ladies, but they never used it. It’s also essentially a sequel to Something Wrong With The Photocopier which I wrote for Smack The Pony. Iszi does a nice job playing two parts, so much so we didn’t need to change her voice at all for it, which I thought we would. Maybe I’m wrong. (With Iszi)
Lump – Every now and then I sit down to write a sketch with no forethought whatsoever, just to see what will come out. I didn’t even predetermine the genders of the characters, I just called them One and Two and began writing. Aside from the juvenile punchline, I like this one a lot, most probably because it reminds me of numerous pointless pseudo-arguments I have had with friends over the years, all about nothing more than a linguistic tick. Linguistic tick? That’s a funny sounding phrase in itself. (With John and Simon)
Daily Mail Problem Page – Thinking about it now, this one should have had the title at the start of it, just to make the whole thing a little more clear. There’s a weekly new material gig in Bristol, which means a great deal of material turnover, and one night, many moons ago, I went on with a torn page from the Daily Mail magazine You, and essentially read them out with the same punchline over and over again. This evolved into a sketch for the live show we did, which was well received on the night, so it found its way into here. It’s helped I think by the old fashioned Bleep. Sure, it breaks the trusted show don’t tell rule, but sometimes breaking the rules is half the fun. (With John, Gaz and Simon)
Interview With A Vampire – Too many of my sketches over the years have relied on the notion of an under-reaction. See also Smoke Detector, which is ultimately more effective than this one. I would have dropped it, except for the wall of sound that Ian built for the devil’s voice. I hate my performance in it. Incidentally, the “I hate the shit” was something Iszi said after we had finished doing it, but I liked it so much it stayed in there with a little fade out. (With Iszi and Simon)
Elephant In A Lift Reprise – In the pilot episode, this sketch was underscored with actual lift noises, but we decided not to use them this time around. It seemed like the right decision then, but when I listen back to it now, I just think it needs a really long introduction of the doors opening, the cable creaking, and the hum of the motors, so you’re not sure what’s going on until he speaks. (With Simon)
Episode Three – Twofold Three Year Old
Title Trivia – It rhymes. Anything that rhymes is funny. Except poetry. It’s also the result of an argument I have been continuing for the past year. I love the phrase “Injecting toddlers with liquid cheese” and the follow up line, “there’s nothing funnier than a brie filled three year old about to explode”. Everyone else in the world thinks I’m wrong. This then evolved into a discussion about the relative merits of rhyming in humour. Twofold three year old is the détente compromise we have reached.
Overview – I like this episode because it breaks the pattern of the first two and uses a recurring sketch as its backbone. The lengthy patter of the AntiCapFM duo is nicely juxtaposed with the short snappy, almost overwritten intervening sketches.
Lucky Pants – Written for the live sketch show, and featuring Iszi’s best Clarice Starling impression, this sketch includes the most confusing punchline I have ever written. But then, what insult could a pair of pants rightly come up with? The Starling impression is because in rehearsals John played the part of the underwear, doing a delicious take based on Hannibal Lector. When it came to recording, I wanted the pants to sound more childish and sulky, so that’s what Gaz did, and on a whim Iszi did her Clarice. It made me laugh, so it stayed that way from then on. (With Iszi and Gaz)
AntiCapFM Part One – The genesis of this sketch will take much longer to write and read than it actually did at the time. During pre-production of series one of Smack The Pony, the cast were filmed for a few days doing improv, guided and aided by Kevin Eldon. They came up with three apathetic eco-warriors, who were dedicated to the cause but listed a litany of excuses for not bothering to do anything at all. It was my job to write this up into a workable sketch. I obviously failed because it never got produced. Then, a few months ago, I sat down and wrote a really long sketch about an Anti-Capitalist group getting advice on how to most effectively further their cause – it was an oh so biting bit of writing, in which they effectively adopted every single tactic they were campaigning against. So far, so failed. John and I were sitting in the studio, all miked up, discussing ideas for the next bit of improv. I told him both these stories. He then suggested we explore the idea of two DJs on an Anti-Global radio station. So we did. I think the full recording lasted eleven minutes. (With John and Simon)
Baby Talk – This isn’t funny. Never was, never will be. That said, it’s a nice change of tone, and both Iszi and Gaz squeeze a great performance from my badly conceived script. It also foreshadows the better sketch in episode six. (With Iszi and Gaz)
AntiCapFM Part Two – And as you can imagine eleven minutes is too long for a show called The Ten Minute Sketch Show (most of whose episodes are no more than nine and a half minutes), so some editing had to be done. I spent an evening alone on Cool Edit Pro with the raw track and trimmed and cut and rearranged it into something more slick and usable. It was still half a minute too long, as I wanted each part to be two minutes, and part three was two and a half, and the more I trimmed away from part three, the more I immediately undid and put back in. I had to make some hard decisions, cutting some bits I really enjoyed in favour of something that made the point more succinctly. (With John and Simon)
Dinner Party Confessions – I didn’t work hard enough on this sketch. The performances from Iszi and Gaz are nice, but it’s a bit that relies totally on the sound effects, and the more I listen to it, the more ineffective I think these are. In the end, time was running out, and it had to be abandoned as was. I’m too close to it now to know if it works or not. (With Gaz and Iszi)
AntiCapFM Part Three – The next morning I arrived at the In The Pipeline studios, and Ian, who I thought was getting bored by the whole process by now, played me the jingles he had spent the evening making. We’d half discussed the idea of using some really cheesy independent radio type things, but we’d decided it might be too time consuming. They were just how I had imagined they should be, and they provided an excellent in and out point for the three parts. We also quickly wrote the final button joke, about the station selling advertising space, because the DJs sounded like they were two middle class tits running a station using their Dad’s disposable income. So, Ian’s voice featured in this episode. (With John and Simon)
Episode Four – Doctor Goldfoot …
Title Trivia – It’s Vincent Price’s finest hour, and clearly one of the biggest inspirations for the Austin Powers’ films. Worth watching, if only for the amazingly hilarious title sequence, and Vincent’s leering at a gold lame bikini clad bottom.
Overview – I thought this one would overrun drastically, but if anything, it came in a tad too short. In my head, episode four is usually the weakest episode in most runs, so I was determined to make this one as strong as possible. The structure of show three was adopted again for this very reason.
Teletubbies – I have no idea why I think this is so funny, but to me it is. Perhaps the idea of a renowned writer living with the children’s television icons resonates somewhere, but ultimately it is just a really bad pun, well delivered. It cropped up in idle chit chat with Iszi one afternoon, and as always I went away and over-wrote it. My version went like this: Drinky-Winky, Tipsy, Ra Ra, Edgar Allen Poe. Horror writer, horror writer, say hello. It’s not nearly as effective as the way Iszi does it. The whole thing is helped along by her rendition of Poe himself. (With Iszi)
Scrabble Part One – We were having a break between recordings when we started talking about Scrabble. I had spent a lot of my time in Edinburgh last year playing it, and it turns out John was a rabid player himself, and he told a story about how he is often teased for how seriously he takes it. We thought this provided a good structure on which to improvise a sketch, and so the three of us did just that. Oddly, the characters immediately became apparent, and we really got into it. (With John, Gaz and Simon)
Weird Kid – Another one of my obsessions surfaces in this one. Watergate. I have no idea if anyone else will get this, but I like it to the point where I don’t care, and it’s there just for me. I had to drop another one about the affair too, not because it was esoteric, but because I felt it was a rip off of a Mitchell and Webb sketch. Basically, it was a gameshow that revolved around the contestants naming random participants of the affair, in order to score Watergate. The line about the Yellow Pages and the black marker pens makes me glow. The thing was never written as a phone conversation, but as Ian was tweaking the sound settings, it momentarily lost it’s bass, and we immediately decided to make it sound like that. Now, I like to imagine it has a hidden joke, in that the whole thing is a phone tap itself. (With Iszi and Simon)
Scrabble Part Two – When we had finished performing, Ian stormed in looking terribly annoyed, and said that my side of the microphone wasn’t plugged in. That’s why I sound so distant in the sketch, but on listening through, it actually sounds right, almost a verite style – he nearly refused to allow it to go in because of this mistake, but he came to terms with it. Please listen out for the subtlety of Gaz’s performance in this – a lot of the laughs come from John’s exasperation, but on second listening, you’ll hear some lovely nuances from Gaz. Not least his disgust at flatulence, his pouting about the letter B, and his deflated realisation that 68 beats 16. (With John, Gaz and Simon)
McFame – I have a stab at social satire in this one. I think I wrote it as a spec piece for Monkey Dust, and it was one of the bits that finally allowed me to work with the late, great Harry Thompson at Talkback. Phonically, it’s a lovely change of scene from the captured sound of the Scrabble bits, and it works as an idea, if not in comedic execution. That’s my car you hear, and me driving it outside the studio. (With Gaz, Simon and Iszi)
Scrabble Part Three – The longer recording broke down neatly into three distinct parts, each with it’s own beginning and end. This is a result of the turn based system that Scrabble employs I suppose. As I said, the biggest laughs in this come from John’s reactions, and his growing exasperation. When we finished recording, none of us really thought it was worth keeping, but when I listened back to it in the edit suite, I realised it was much better than we thought. I actually think it’s one of the best things we produced. (With John, Gaz and Simon)
Tubbytoast – A silly call back to a silly sketch, but I like it, so there. (With Iszi)
Episode Five – The Keith Bassett …
Title Trivia – I’m not telling.
Overview – This is the only episode of The Ten Minute Sketch Show that comes in at exactly ten minutes. How’s that for professionalism?
On The Hook – Yet another stab at Christianity from the lapsed Catholic in me. Neither big, nor clever, or possibly
even funny, but John and Gaz do a really good job, so it stayed in. (with John and Gaz)
Phallacy – I think I’m right in saying that this was another one I wrote for Bearded Ladies. It went on a lot longer on the page, but in the edit suite we decided to cut it short on a line that suggests a complicated backstory never to be explored. Iszi does a great impression of Penelope Keith in this, and imbues a dignity to a very juvenile idea. (With Iszi and Simon)
Alan Lee – For me, by far far the funniest thing all week – and it was all down to John. I had been feeding John some lines for ideas he was improvising, so I was in the studio for this. The stuff before had all been things we had talked about in the days approaching the recording session, but he had never mentioned this idea once in that time. He asked me to introduce him as Alan Lee, which I did, then this amazing character fell out of his mouth. It slowly builds and builds, and because I was stuck in the studio, I was trying so very hard not to laugh, and it finally just burst out of me, and John was trying very hard to stop from corpsing too. In the edit suite, we removed all of this, but oddly it detracted from the whole experience, so that’s why you hear it all, unexpurgated except for one massive laugh that belches out of John. Forgive me if the laughter seems self-congratulatory, but it’s genuine and heartfelt – and wholly unprofessional. That’s why Alan Lee has been moved back to episode five. I swapped it with Alright Colin? because I didn’t want us to be smugly laughing at our own stuff in episode one. (With John)
The Bank – This sketch really worked in the live show, but now I listen to it, I can’t understand why. It’s not very good at all, but I suppose it’s a change of pace from the one before it. (With Gaz and Simon)
Pause For Thought – Sometimes a poor idea is given life by a good performance, and then that performance is aided even more by an excellent sound design. That’s what happened here. Very sub-level Ronnie Barker if you ask me, but John really sells it. (With John)
Letters To The Queen – It’s just the imagery used in these letters that saved them from being cut. And the readings. (With Gaz, Simon and Iszi)
Episode Six – There Are No More Wednesdays
Title Trivia – When I was at University nearly a decade ago, a poster was put up announcing a change of Hockey practice times. At the foot of this, there sat the ominous declaration that “There Are No More Wednesdays”.
Overview – This is easily the weakest episode. It features far too much of me and too many monologues.
Science of Humour – Is this too similar to the endings of Armstrong and Miller? Not intentionally, if it is. No-one liked this sketch, except me. Until they heard the final edited piece. I could hear how it should sound in my head, but it never came across as well in the script. I stuck with it, and I think it works, but it probably doesn’t. (With Simon)
Sex Shop – The more I listen to this, the more annoyed I get with it. And it’s purely a fault of my direction at the time. John delivers the performance I asked of him, but I couldn’t quite convey how jovial and unabashed I wanted the character to sound. Plus for some reason, when doing it, neither of us picked up on the fact we had totally rewritten two lines on the spot that removed possibly the only actual joke in the whole thing. Where we now say “Can I order in any sex?”, it should go, “Well, can you get any sex?”, “Can I get any sex?”, “Yes, can you, good sir, get any sex?”. Given another week to put the thing together, I would have re-recorded this completely. (With Simon and John)
Ewar Woowar – I have no doubt that this joke has been done to death, and by better and more accomplished means. But I have an affection for it, so it stays in. (with Simon and Iszi)
Giant Baby – If you analyse this sketch too much it completely falls apart. If a toddler is running the country, and his lack of development has lead to nuclear holocaust, how come he is being incredibly articulate at a podium? There was lots of discussion about how to introduce the concept that the Prime Minister was only six months old – including the idea that we should introduce it with a handover from ToddlerTV News, but I arbitrarily decided the idea could speak for itself. I wanted there to be lots of camera flashes popping throughout, but we never had the time. (With John, Simon and Gaz)
Smoking – Do I like this one? I don’t know. I suppose I must do as it survives from the pilot, albeit re-recorded. Is the punch worth the journey? I’m honestly too close to it now to know. (With Simon)
Love Eggs – Probably the highlight of the episode for me, this is a nice little exchange aided by some good performances. (With John and Simon)
Suicide – This is one of Gaz’s one liners from his stand up act, and it served a useful and funny purpose. It split up my boring monologues. We treated it a lot, and now it sounds a little too much like an excerpt from Jam. (With Gaz)
Abduction – Oh, it’s me, delivering another mis-firing monologue, again from the pilot, again making me wonder if I actually think it’s any good or not. The sound design on it is nice, and the echo of the child-like Star Trek in the ether always makes me smile. (With Simon)
Pet Shop Announcement – Another well timed Gaz line, coming to the rescue, to split up my voice from my voice. Badly structured this episode. Given more time I’d have done some more improv and used it as a spine to the show. (With Gaz)
Gnomes – Nice enough. Hardly the huge ending you want to your series is it? No-one else to blame except myself. (With Simon)
The Ten Minute Sketch Show, featuring ten minutes of sketches.
Starring John Robins, Gaz Mackin, Iszi Lawrence and Simon Dunn.
Written by Simon Dunn, with additional material by The Cast.
An In The Pipeline Production for Resonance FM.
Edited using Cubase 3 and Cool Edit Pro.
Featuring home made versions of Smoke Detector, Smoking, Abduction, and Elephant In A Lift. If anything, listen to how much difference a few production values and some better actors make.