TSC 2017 Panel Report: “The Beaverton Punch Up” Demonstrates Hilarious Feedback Process for Sketch-Comedy

By May 2, 2017Main

Welcome back to our rundown of this year’s Toronto Screenwriting Conference — a two-day weekend event that brings together screen-based industry professionals from around the globe for development and networking opportunities. 

We’ve spent the last couple days breaking down the conference itself, along with the odd panel report here and there. And now for something completely different, because we’re about to take a look at the TSC’s funniest, most uniquely Canadian event. 

The Beaverton Punch Up: 

The Beaverton is a satirical news series that airs exclusively on The Comedy Network (Canada only – we’re sorry). This year at the TSC, the show’s actors and writers hosted a table read along with a punch up session for three drafts of upcoming sketches — part of season two’s development.

Here’s a quick and dirty breakdown of how the process usually goes. First, the actors read through the script and then everyone offers notes. Comments initially reflect what’s working and what isn’t. Is there room for more “funny” in a bit that’s already working as intended? Is a particular joke not landing? During feedback process, a couple of new jokes might be thrown out in rapid succession, while others are further developed and fine-tuned. Does the set-up work? It there a better way to prime the audience? Are there any production limitations? How do you feel about getting rid of (insert element here)?

The team will typically go on like this for some time, throwing around ideas and going through pre-existing material with a fine-toothed comb. The sketch writers take notes, ask questions, and make decision to cut or add sections while the note giving process is taking place. Once some semblance of a consensus is achieved, the writers depart with a promise to return later with a round of rewrites in hand. 

I have to say, for all the chaos that inevitably insued, the exchange between The Beaverton’s cast and crew was conducted in a truly friendly, respectable sort of way. Of course, a live-audience might have something to do with the cordiality, but still, it was clear that this was a team that gelled. All suggestions were heard, even if some were instantly rejected – all in good humour. And since the show is already pretty damn funny, the writer in me found this sometimes-hilarious development process even more entertaining. I was really struck by the collaboration and how much time was actually given to re-working the sketch as a group. It seemed to me that the writer was given a lot of support and a lot of material to work with for their next draft. 

Showrunner Jeff Detsky described the punch-up session as his favourite part of the process, as well as the most heartbreaking. “You see all the jokes that you spent so much time crafting… Just how disposable they end up being.”

Trust me on this one – if you ever get the opportunity to spectate a live punch up session, I highly recommend it.  Especially for all you aspiring comedy writers. It’s hard to think of a more effective primer when it comes to writing on your feet.