Being a script editor: The best and worst job in comedy

Pre-show nerves? Pah. I didn’t write it. I’m the script editor, says Andrew Collins

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When, on Tuesday night at 10pm, the first episode of brand new six-part sitcom Badults airs on BBC3, I’ll be watching it go out with the cast and the production team. Always a nerve-wracking moment. Except I’ll be the most relaxed person in the room. Why? Because I’m the script editor.

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Had I written it, or starred in it, or directed it, or produced it, I would be watching through my fingers and from the edge of my seat, praying, but I didn’t. It was written by its three stars, acclaimed sketch trio Pappy’s, namely Tom Parry, Matthew Crosby and Ben Clark. (Having long been an Edinburgh Fringe and comedy circuit sell-out with their inventive, DIY shows – and casual acquaintances of mine – I think it’s high time they transferred to TV and found the broader audience their accessibly silly comedy deserves.) It was directed by Ben Kellett, whose most recent success was the very successful Mrs Brown’s Boys. And it was produced by independent production company The Comedy Unit, purveyors of fine Scottish comedy since the mid-90s.

I just script edited it. That is, I edited the scripts. I helped make them the right length. There’s my name, whizzing past in the end credits. Being a script editor is the best and the worst job in TV comedy. It’s the best because you get to work on a TV show with really funny and talented people, and when you tell them off they have to keep quiet and take it. You’re half schoolteacher, marking essays and handing them back covered in red pen, and half diplomat, ensuring you say something positive in your notes before saying something negative. (Writers are sensitive souls – as a writer myself by trade, I can vouch for that – and comedians are fabled to be bitter and twisted, so the combination requires the protective gloves of tact at all times.) I find the act of editing refreshing: it’s not your responsibility to come up with a line that needs changing or improving – you never stare at a blank laptop. The writers do that, and all you have to do is change it or improve it, or even just ask them to improve it. In some ways it’s more like revenge than work.

It’s obviously harder to edit something that needs a lot of work – it’s too long, too short, sloppily structured or simply unfunny – but it’s also more satisfying. If you’ve done a good “pass” (to use the jargon for a top-to-toe edit – it comes from film editing), you actually feel like you might just be helping the process. I know someone whose job as script editor on a runaway hit show was simply to say, “This is brilliant!” to the writers, because it was.

In many ways, the script editor is there to reassure. It’s not a job for an egomaniac. You’re backroom. It’s not your show. It never will be. If it’s a hit, nobody will say, “I love that show, it was really well script-edited!” (Actually, they rarely say, “It was really well directed!” either, and if you’re a producer, enjoy your life of eternal anonymity.) Audiences are way more likely to notice the costumes or the set than the editing. This, I find character-building.

But here’s why it’s the best job in TV comedy – apart from the fact that you’re allowed to stand in the way of the camera operators on the studio floor if you wish, as long as you hold a script, or sit up in the “gallery” and eat free mini-flapjacks and crisps – if the show’s a flop, you can walk away from the wreckage without a mark on you.

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Badults will be a hit. I hope so. I’m very proud to have worked on it, even in a largely invisible and predominantly unsexy capacity, making the scripts the right length. I can also state that it’s a really funny and clever show without that sounding self-aggrandising. Hey. It’s nothing to do with me.