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The art of comedy editing

As BBC2 celebrates 50 years of comedy Televisual focuses on the unsung heroes of TV comedy – the editors. Suite director and editor Richard Halladey and Independent Post Company’s Mykola Pawluk discuss the art of comedy editing. For more comedy editing tips see June's issue of Televisual.

Richard Halladey (Not Going Out, Derek, Catherine Tate Show, Two Pints of Lager)



Whether you find yourself editing a sitcom, single camera comedy drama or an entertainment show, editing comedy is a dream job. After all, what could be better than working with great talent, top producers and directors and being paid to laugh?

Comedy editing is, however, a serious business, and one that has certainly come a long way over the years. Today the director has a vast array of tools at their disposal, from cutting tools to special effects that can help enhance any performance.

In all forms of comedy editing, timing is everything. A couple of frames out and you can ruin a joke, an expression or miss the point entirely. It’s important to remember that no two shows are ever the same as every writer or performer will have their own view on how the programmes need to look. As an editor, you need to adopt the same vision and gauge the style and pace of the show to suit each client.

These writers and performers are now often one and the same, and that person is heavily involved with the entire editing and audio process. This works really well because they know what is needed in their performance as well as from their cast, and how they want the show to feel. Strong examples of these sorts of shows include Lee Mack – Not Going Out, Reeves and Mortimer – House of Fools, Ricky Gervais – Derek and Catherine Tate – Nan.



Sitcoms recorded in front of a live audience rely on genuine interaction between cast and audience and are closer to theatre than film.

Any attempt to contrive that relationship would be obvious to even the untrained eye, so editors need to be especially careful with edits here. The best editors will know how to bring together the best performances, coverage and laughs as often compromises must be made.

Being able to creatively cut a scene down while still telling the same story (and making it look like the scene was always meant to play that way) is perhaps one of the biggest tests of an editor’s skills. It’s no easy task to be able to incorporate all other sound and performance notes into the scene at the same time.

What’s more, writers now have the opportunity to become more and more adventurous thanks to visual effects. Usually vfx scenes are often recorded away from the studio and will add another element to the edit, and their use makes parts of the show more like a film than a stage play.

A traditional sitcom would have about three studio sets, but vfx means writers are able to add variety and richness to a show.

Tracking and painting tools are constantly becoming more sophisticated and there is a lot that can be done even at the off line stage.

This is especially useful in comedy because you would want to use the take with the best audience reaction and not reject it because there a boom’s shadow in shot, for example.

Green screen keying has become much friendlier now, with better keying and paint tools on the editing platform, making planned VFX more commonplace.

It is no longer overly expensive to change the view through a car window, for example. It also means that the editor can combine the elements instantly so he/she can see if timings are right to make the shot work without having to wait around.

Technology has certainly changed the editing process for all genres of film and TV and has made things a lot more ‘possible’.

However, in comedy it all comes down to timing which needs specialist editors who work from deep knowledge of what makes something funny.


Independent Post Company’s Mykola Pawluk (Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Mock the Week, Coupling, Little Britain)




I’d break comedy into four types, each needing a different approach.

Stand-up should always have the comedian’s material at its heart and must be covered to show the performance in its best light. Nothing should distract from the jokes.

Improv and panel shows need to be shot with greater coverage to help editing unscripted material.  As in stand up, these shows mostly feature performers working with their own material.



With sit com, you generally have actors or comedians delivering someone else’s script and it’s important to highlight the differing production values while keeping within the frame of the situation drama.

All of the above are shot in front of an audience who can help arbitrate the editorial decision making process.

Lastly, comedy drama is invariably shot single camera without an audience.  It’s important to cut it as you would a drama with the emphasis on the performance and physical comedy. 

As with sit com, the higher production values help keep the finished show within the concept of the overall piece.



Posted 27 May 2014 by Comedy Editing
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