Genre Masterclass: Comedy 2014

The RTS Student Programme Masterclasses kicked off with Saurabh Kakkar, Head of Comedy Development at Big Talk Productions in conversation with Pat Younge, Director of WeCreate Associates.

After gaining a Cambridge degree in chemical engineering, Kakkar joked that he spent time as "a deeply average stand-up comic" before leaving a job in engineering to embark on a career that has seen him rise to Director of Comedy at ITV studios, where he worked on Dirk Gently and The Fattest Man in Britain. After leaving ITV, he was Head of Development at BBC Comedy Productions. 

The role of a developer

"In my job, the most important thing for us is to remember that we are not the talent. It is not our job to be funny and it's not our job to think up great ideas," explained Kakkar. "It's our job to go and talk to talented people, writers, stand-ups, whoever, and say let's talk about what you want to do. Let's try to hone it and focus it...  [we try] to nudge people into a direction, as opposed to saying this is what we're doing."

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Cultural diversity

A member of the audience asked about the lack of cultural diversity in the industry. Kakkar said, "The look of cultural diversity in comedy on TV is a shambles. When asked, we shuffle around and stare at our feet when someone mentions it." Fleshing out the difficulty of tackling the issue, he concluded, "It's a circular argument because, if you don't have funny Asian people on the television, the more that young and Asian people won't want to go into television. We suffer from not enough people on either side of the camera from different cultural backgrounds who want to engage with comedy or drama. That's not their fault; it's our fault for not engaging with them."

Adding a note of positivity, Kakkar added, "There are things happening and there are lots of brilliant charities. I'm on the board of one called Creative Access but there are other really good charities and organisations who are trying to change [the lack of cultural diversity]."

The digital age of comedy

Kakkar revealed that he does scout for talent online, but warned: "You can be successful [online] but that doesn't necessarily translate to [traditional] television."

He urged students to use the digital age to their advantage: "At the moment you can make broadcast quality with your iPhone and £50 of software on your laptop." He said that being sent a link to content made by someone, as opposed to being sent a script, is a much more effective way of getting his attention.

The right attitude

"Nothing is more attractive than positive people," explains Kakkar. "There is nothing less attractive than someone who comes in negatively,moaning and complaining. There is nothing more attractive than someone who comes in and raves on about comedy... if you can go on and on about [a production company's] shows and actually believe in it - don't lie! - then you are much more likely to make an impression than someone who hasn't watched them and isn't engaged."

The Student Programme Masterclasses was produced by Helen Scott and was held at the BFI on 27 October.

Report by Sanya Burgess