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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Roussel

John Finnemore, the spinner of tales

John Finnemore is one of the best comedy writers currently working. He mostly writes for radio and created Cabin Pressure, John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme, and Double Acts. His true talent is one all writers should aspire to; he invites you to listen to his story, holds your attention for as long as he’s asked to do and leaves you with something with sticks. Because it’s made you laugh, or made you think it’s touched you.

He also writes for The Now Show, which is a satirical, topical news show on Radio Four. It’s a peculiar type of storytelling to a scripted comedy or drama as it needs to a) make a commentary or a point on a serious issue and b) impart the information you need to form an opinion. Whether it convinces you or not is another matter.

One of my all-time favourite John Finnemore sketches from The Now Show is The Eurozone Crisis sketch. Have a listen below. It’s just over 6mins and it’s hilarious.

Whether you’re interested in politics or not, you can’t deny it’s a brilliant story which you can actually visualise as it’s being told. But there’s one thing I wanted to look at specifically.

Circular logic is an element in John Finnemore’s writing that I adore. In The Eurozone Crisis sketch, he starts with a ‘silly story’ about a man who runs up to women, dressed as a smurf, doing star-jumps. It seems irrelevant, a mildly amusing story until he neatly ties it into the topic at hand.

I don’t think I can think of a more ridiculous or unwanted approach any man might make to any woman. Yesterday, David Cameron flew to Berlin to give Angela Merkel his opinion on the Eurozone Crisis.

After that, we’re straight into the point of the sketch, the Eurozone Crisis. And it ticks all the points above. A story about the European Union going to a restaurant and in ensuing chaos brings the technical information down to a level we can understand while poking fun at hypocrisy and idiocy of global politics and economics. Which I think we’d all bore of if given to us sans humour.

But the crowning moment of this is when John Finnemore expertly circles back at his original joke. That ‘silly story’ right at the beginning which we’ve almost forgotten about comes back. John Finnemore expertly weaves the story, which got a few laughs at the beginning, back into the narrative to emphasise the punch line, making it all the funnier.

And Britain stands in the doorway watching the mayhem, on the one hand, glad he’s not part of it, but on the other knowing it’s desperately important to him how it’s resolved and unable to do anything to get anyone to pay him any attention except... star-jumps.

The point of circular logic is that it’s wonderfully satisfying. You’ve presented a beginning, a middle and an end that’s come full circle and we feel the resolution. Like the story was its own little world in a bubble. More than that, calling back to the beginning feels like a shared in-joke. The end wouldn’t be funny if we hadn’t all come on this journey with the teller.

I truly believe we can only improve our writing by delving into and appreciating how better writers pull it off. So I am planning to do at least another two posts on John Finnemore’s works. One on Cabin Pressure and another on John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme. Hope you come back for them!

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