Working in a Comedy Writer’s Room 101

Posted on: Mar 12, 2024

Photo Credit: Tech Wizard // Shutterstock

By Brendan Fitzgibbons

Congratulations! You’ve made it into a comedy room. You have tangible evidence of your success and now your parents will finally stop suggesting you go back to grad school. But seriously, making it into a comedy writer’s room is difficult and you should celebrate the fact that you’re even there. Comedy rooms are incredibly specific. Let’s break down the room into different types of comedy TV categories: comedy variety (aka late night), sketch and half-hour.

Late Night or Variety Comedy

A popular but diminishing type of comedy room is comedy variety or late-night. Under this category are topical late-night shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show and also shows such as Saturday Night Live, which is considered a sketch-hybrid variety show.

The one consistent characteristic of these shows is being topical. Late-night or variety shows almost exclusively rely on topical, non-evergreen material, which means you will be working with content that’s of the moment. It’s vital that you constantly brush up on current events, social media trends and pop culture.

Most of these shows also use a traditional opening monologue. This format requires a classic set-up with punchline style jokes. While some comedic monologues can seem hacky and outdated, a well-written topical joke is still a crafty science and amazing when done correctly. If you’re worried about having to write way too many political jokes, this may not be the job for you. You will also likely be responsible for pitching field pieces or in-studio segment ideas, which typically involve the host or a correspondent going out into the world to interact with the public for some hardcore hilarity.

A fantastic resource for penning monologue jokes and for writing for late-night in general is the book Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV by Joe Toplyn.


Thanks in large part to Saturday Night Live, sketch comedy has been the backbone of American humor for almost 50 years. The torch of sketch comedy has been passed beautifully from SNL and In Living Color, to Chappelle’s Show, and Portlandia and to name a few.

The first tip to being a great sketch writer is watching as much sketch comedy as possible. These shows are an eclectic and magnificent sample size. The more you watch, the more you will realize the best-kept not-so-secret of a great sketch, which is…almost every great sketch is just telling the same joke three to five times in different ways. This concept is known as “the game” and can be studied more by taking improv or reading books like “Truth in Comedy” by Charna Halpern, Del Close and Kim “Howard” Johnson.

Sketch rooms are also distinct because they rely way less on topical humor and much more on funny, often evergreen premises, scenes or characters. You can build an excellent sketch around all three. Depending on the structure of the room, make sure you come in with three to five sketch pitches ready. You won’t need to have the entire sketch written but at least have an idea of the game or joke of the sketch.

Half-Hour Comedy

From I Love Lucy, Friends and Seinfeld to more recent popular half-hours like The Office and Abbott Elementary, half-hour comedies are arguably our most celebrated. The biggest distinction between the half-hour format and late-night and sketch is that as a writer in half-hour rooms, you will write entirely within the world of that show. For example, if you wrote for Abbott Elementary, you won’t have the freedom to just suddenly write an episode where everyone now plays for the New York Knicks.

The best thing you can do is to totally immerse yourself in the world of that show. Watch all the episodes, get to know the characters front and back—how they talk, act, react. Throw your characters in imaginary scenarios and imagine what they would say in that situation, using their unique dialogue. This will get you thinking in line with the tone and motives of each character. Remember, almost every great character in a half-hour comedy can be described in very simple terms.

Each day, make sure to come prepared with jokes and storyline pitches for your characters. Storylines in half-hours are typically broken down into three parts: A-story (main character storyline, for example, the A-story in The Office almost always involved Michael Scott), B-story (story for secondary characters; think Jim, Pam or Dwight) and if there’s time, C-story, for the lesser-known characters.

Watching a variety of comedic format shows and practicing jokes and story ideas for them is the best way to prepare yourself for your time in the comedy writer’s room.

Brendan Fitzgibbons is a comedy writer and actor living in Los Angeles. He’s written for Comedy Central, The Onion, NBC, HuffPost and Bravo. As an actor, he’s appeared on Comedy Central, MTV and “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.” His podcast, “Spiritual As****e” was named a Top Indie Podcast by Stitcher.

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