So today, I’m going to be screaming at a burglar alarm. And my 3-year-old daughter will probably be joining in. And my little baby too. It’s going to be awful. But potentially very useful. Let me explain. And it does relate to sitcom-writing. I promise.
I live in a rented house with a burglar alarm that I don’t understand, with a manual written by someone who’s never met another person. We’ve lived in the house for 18 months, and have never switched the alarm on, mainly because I can’t face looking at the instructions. They are so annoying, unclear and counter-intuitive, they make me both drowsy and furious simultaneously.
But now it’s starting to bleep occasionally because one of the batteries is flat. And this looks ominous and potentially noisy. So I must take on the task of getting my head around it. And while I’m minding the kids while my wife goes out for a couple of hours later today, I’m going to try and do it then. I’m already doomed. I can’t be with my kids and achieve anything else at the same time. But let’s pass over this mild delusion. That’s not the point.
The point is this: I am embracing this situation in the hope that jokes and comic situations will be forthcoming. I am going to learn the ins and outs of burglar alams. Or at least one burglar alarm. And this may come in handy one day. Maybe along these lines:
Int. Writers Room. Day.
Eight writers are sitting round a large table in an airless, windowless room. There is a problem with this week's script. The story isn’t working. Our main character has to break into his own house for some hilarious but subtley contrived reason – but it’s not as funny as it could be. After a third coffee, Sitcomgeek’s brain finally kicks in and he speaks.
Sitcomgeek: What about the burglar alarm?
Writer 2: They don’t have one.
Sitcomgeek: Maybe they should have one.
Writer 3: But are burglar alarms? Are they funny? Really?
Sitcomgeek: They are if you don’t know how they work and you have to learn very quickly.
Writer 3: But you just punch in the code, surely? Every one knows their code. Who’s not going to know their code?
Sitcomgeek: I don’t know my code.
Writer 3: How could you not know your code.
Sitcomgeek: I never use mine. I rent. It was fitted before we moved in. It’s a hassle. And we have kids and I mostly work from home, so we’re always in.
Writer 2: So how does that help?
Sitcomgeek: I had change the battery on one of the movement sensors once. While I was minding the kids. Disaster. Kind of. It could have been catastrophic, though. It would have been if I’d had to have worked it out at night. Like our hero would have to.
Writer 2: That could work.
Sitcomgeek: Do you have any idea how hard those things are to work if you don’t know what you’re doing? The manuals are written by droids and pretty much everything triggers the alarm. It’s a nightmare.
Writer 4: When did this happen?
Sitcomgeek: Ages ago. I remember thinking at the time that this experience could be useful. It was the same day that I went to the gym, got out of the pool and discovered someone walked off with my towel and key. But that’s another story.
If you’re a sitcom writer, the upside of personal catastrophe is that you might be able to use it. Embrace that. Everything you do, the every day trials of life, are material. Go to gigs you might not like. Agree to do stuff that you might hate. Live life. And if possible, write it down. Keep a list that you can refer back to when the stories aren’t flowing. They might trigger something. And alarm bells might start to ring. Except in a good way.