Become a Comedy Writer: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Find out how to become a comedy writer. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in professional comedic writing. View article »

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Video Transcript

Become a Comedy Writer

Comedy writers compose humorous scripts for television, cinema and stage plays. They might also might write jokes for comedians, and some even pen funny lines for fiction and/or nonfiction books. Comedic writers might choose to specialize in a comedy subfield, such as satire, physical comedy, parody or prop-based comedy. Writers can also focus their work in particular writing genres, such as television sitcoms, romantic comedy films or stand-up comedy.

Writers often have the flexibility to work from anywhere rather than being tied to an office. Comedy writers might work on a full-time basis, but freelancing is also an option. This career path allows great flexibility in hours, but also results in insecure income sources.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; master's degree available
Degree Field English, journalism, or communications
Experience Experience successfully pitching ideas or selling scripts
Key Skills Creativity and dedication; communication, improvisation, editing, and computer skills; willing to work odd hours and meet deadlines
Salary 60,250 (2015 median annual wage for all writers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Writers Guild of America.

Writers are typically required to hold a postsecondary degree in English, journalism or communications. Experience successfully pitching ideas or selling scripts is helpful. Key skills include:

  • Creativity
  • Dedication
  • Communication
  • Improvisation
  • Editing
  • Computer
  • Ability to work odd hours
  • Ability to meet deadlines

In 2015, all writers earned a median annual salary of $60,250, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now let's check out the career steps for comedy writers.

Career Steps

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Writers do not necessarily need a college degree to find employment, but most employers prefer to hire full-time writers who possess the minimum of a bachelor's degree, according to the BLS. Furthermore, writing-based degree programs often teach students about writing fundamentals, style, format and editing. Potential majors include communications, media writing and English.

Additionally, Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) programs are available in various genres of writing, and many of these programs provide classes specifically in comedic writing. BFA courses might include film production, preproduction, playwriting, screenwriting, comedy writing for television, studio production and television pilot writing.

Step 2: Learn about Comedy Writing

Not all degree programs provide training in comedy writing. Fortunately, there are other training options, including seminars, workshops and extended education programs. Professional comedic writers teach many of these classes. In these courses, students might learn about comedic script writing, ways to add humor to dialogue, comedy sketch composition, the script writing process and nuances of different comedic styles.

Step 3: Build a Portfolio

Writers typically need to develop a portfolio to show clients examples of their work. The portfolio of a freelance comedy writer often includes a number of spec scripts. Spec is short for speculative, and spec scripts are scripts that writers compose to attract potential buyers. Potential employers read these scripts to determine the quality of writers.

Find out what employers seek. The WGA notes that some employers look for specific types of spec scripts. For instance, one company might want a spec script for a current sitcom, whereas another company might want an original comedy spec script. Writers who want to improve their chances of finding employment should check with individual employers to determine which type of script sample they prefer.

Step 4: Pitch Comedy Ideas

Comedy writers can either get hired as full-time staff members, or they can have their work purchased by executive producers. Either way, writers have to pitch their ideas to potential employers. The pitch process typically includes a formal interview followed by the writer explaining a comedy script or idea.

Remember, it is important to work through rejections. Unfortunately, not all pitches are successful. Comedy writers might pitch the same project to dozens of executive producers before finding one person who wants to stand behind the project, and some projects may never find success. Rejection is simply part of professional writing. If a comedic writer wants to be successful, he or she has to work through rejections and continue to write and pitch new ideas.

Step 5: Gain Experience

Comedy writers who successfully pitch ideas will build experience through acquiring writing credentials, especially as their works are purchased, published and produced. With enough credentials and experience, freelance comedy writers might be offered full-time staff positions.

It can be helpful to hire an agent. An agent can be an excellent tool for a comedy writer because the agent takes care of a lot of day-to-day administrative duties (e.g., querying executive producers, setting up pitch meetings and negotiating contracts). However, an agent rarely works with inexperienced comedy writers. For the most part, writers have to gain some experience and publishing credits before an agent will sign them.

Step 6: Obtain a Graduate Degree

A graduate degree, such as a Master of Fine Arts (MFA), is not required for writers, but these programs can offer students advanced skill development opportunities. Many writers compose full scripts and screenplays throughout the course of these programs. Students can also learn more about the writing and publishing industry, including getting in-depth instruction on finding employment and developing project pitches.

To recap, with an education, spec scripts and possibly an agent, a comedy writer can earn about $60,000 a year to compose humorous scripts for television, cinema and stage plays.

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