Gemma Arrowsmith's Sketched Out. Gemma Arrowsmith
Gemma Arrowsmith's Sketched Out

Gemma Arrowsmith's Sketched Out

  • Radio sketch show
  • BBC Radio 4
  • 2021 - 2022
  • 5 episodes (1 series)

Radio 4 sketch show written by and starring Gemma Arrowsmith. Also features Adam Courting, Tom Crowley, Kudzanayi Chiwawa, Thomas Nelstrop, Dan Starkey and Chiara Goldsmith

Gemma Arrowsmith interview

Gemma Arrowsmith. Copyright: Idil Sukan

As Gemma Arrowsmith's Sketched Out comes to Radio 4, we talk to the creator about her favourite audio moments, working with guest stars like Joanna Lumley, and more.

Did you listen to much radio comedy growing up?

I remember slowly acquiring lots of cassettes from the BBC Radio Collection. That was how I was introduced to The Goon Show, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue and Hancock's Half Hour as well as the radio adaptations of Steptoe & Son and Dad's Army.

I almost wore out my cassette of On The Hour as I loved how weird and immersive it was. There's a bit in one episode where they spoof I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue which felt like an exhilaratingly naughty thing to do.

What's the funniest thing you've ever heard in the audio medium?

Peter Serafinowicz had a show on BBC 6 Music and in one episode the guest was Beardyman. There was a section in which Serafinowicz as Brian Butterfield was asked listener questions by Beardyman as Siri.

It was so silly and when Siri malfunctioned it became a wonderfully bizarre collection of noises. I couldn't breathe laughing. And I remember thinking what a perfect bit of audio it was. You couldn't achieve the same thing on TV. It was made for radio. Listen via YouTube

Gemma Arrowsmith. Copyright: Idil Sukan

Many readers will know you best for writing the Tracey Ullman What Were You Wearing? sketch. How did it feel to see that sketch go viral all over the world? Did it lead to new things for you?

Tracey Ullman's Show would take individual sketches and put them out on the BBC's social media feeds. I'll be honest, I remember thinking that if my sketch was the one which was chosen that week, it might do quite well on social media as it's polemic and has something to say and is very shareable. I didn't write it with social media specifically in mind but I did think it would likely do well in that medium. But nothing prepared me for the scale at which it took off.

I was told it had something like 45 million views just on Weibo, the Chinese social media site. It had articles written about it. It opened quite a few doors for me. Up until then I'd been known as a writer-performer. I'd written Edinburgh Fringe shows and my own online sketches, and I'd had little parts in various sitcoms but this was the moment in which I broke through as writer. I started to be invited into writers' rooms after that point.

Gemma Arrowsmith's Sketched Out. Gemma Arrowsmith

Would you describe Sketched Out as more of a satirical show or a character-driven show?

I'm going to give such a politician's answer to this and say it's both. Some sketches are clearly satirical and others are just silly ideas I've had which make no point whatsoever. Some are a chance to have my say on a particular topic and other are opportunity for some ridiculous voices. Some, of course, are both. You'll have to tune in to find out which ones!

What memory will you treasure most from your time putting the series together?

We have a celebrity guest in every episode and watching them in the booth reading out the stupid lines I had written was pretty special. The fact they had been sent the script, read it and said to themselves "yes, this is funny, I'd like to go into the studio and record this" is just deeply exciting to me as someone who grew up dreaming of having a comedy show on the BBC.

People often think of Radio 4 as appealing almost exclusively to older listeners, do you think that's true?

I mean, I listened to Radio 4 when I was a teenager but I also had a poster of the Marx Brothers on my wall so I'm probably not the most indicative person.

I don't know the figures, but I would imagine that now the BBC is putting out a lot of its radio content as podcasts via BBC Sounds and also via other podcasting apps, it would be downloaded and listened to by younger listeners. But the BBC has a lot of competition in that field. There are so many brilliant creators out there who aren't waiting for a commission but instead going out there and making their own fresh and daring content themselves via podcasting and on social media. All of which is a roundabout way of saying "I'm not sure".

What I do know is that I have not aimed Gemma Arrowsmith's Sketched Out exclusively at a more mature listeners. In fact, I have heard it said that comedy is the genre which brings a younger listenership into Radio 4. So I have very consciously considered that while writing the show.

Gemma Arrowsmith

You write a lot of pointed political sketches. Do you think comedy can change the world?

I don't know about "change the world" but I do think comedy can be a great way of making a point and perhaps reaching a wider audience with that point. A couple of years ago I put together a podcast about climate change called No Planet B and it led to Leeds University asking me to come up to the Priestley International Centre for Climate and give a talk on that very topic: can comedy be used to reach a wider audience?

The question of what should comedy be doing is thrown around a lot. I think the only thing comedy must do is be funny. But it can do so many other things as well. Making a great point in a powerful way and perhaps changing some minds is just one of them. Comedy can be the sugar around the pill of a great point.

If the show gets recommissioned, what would you like to do with it next time around?

I have already been making notes of new sketch ideas and a list of people I'd love to have on as special guests. I remember The League Of Gentlemen saying they could return with another, completely different show also called The League Of Gentlemen. And that was in my mind when I was coming up with titles. Gemma Arrowsmith's Sketched Out season 2 could have a completely different structure. Or it could be the same fun spiky sketches and celebrity guests. The only way of finding out is to recommission me, I guess.

Listen to Gemma Arrowsmith's Sketched Out via BBC Sounds

Published: Tuesday 20th September 2022

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