Almost every industry has its own particular jargon, its own set of specific terms that only people intimately familiar with the job will understand. But there’s no insider talk that will make you feel more like an outsider than the way veteran comedy writers talk about their craft. Whether they’re laying pipe or trying to find a button, comedy writers have been coming up with silly things to call what they do since the days of Sid Caesar.
Recently, British comedy writer Andy Riley, known for his work on Black Books and HBO’s Veep, has started putting together a crowd-sourced glossary of comedy writing terms used primarily by British writers. Some of these terms, like Unfunny Moon or Evidently Chickentown, are so specific to the person that submitted them that you’re not likely to hear them outside that particular writer’s office. While others, like Vomit Draft, a term meaning the first, terribly unfunny draft of a script that you just want to get out of the way, are fairly widely used in both the U.K. and America. Community creator Dan Harmon uses the similar term “spit draft” when referring to the first pass on a script that simply get’s the beats down on paper.
The ever-growing list is filled with in-jokes and nerdy references that actually translate into some helpful writing tips. Jazz Trumpetry, Bananas On Bananas, and Jengags all refer to the impulse to put another punchline after the perfectly good punchline you’ve already got, resulting in a toppling tower of unfunny. A Bicycle Cut or Gilligan Cut refers to the cliché where a character declares, “I’ll never do X,” followed by a smash cut to that character doing exactly X. And there’s the classic Hat On A Hat or Two Sock, in which you’ve got two competing comedic ideas happening at the same time when only one is necessary.
Hopefully, some of these terms will demystify the ever-shrouded comedy writing process and soon everyone will realize it’s just a bunch of adults sitting in conference rooms talking about factory nudgers and killing kittens.