The first funny writing Albert Howell did was for his 1,000-word application to law school. He wrote: “I like law because…”

He then realized that he in fact did not like law, and decided to become a TV comedy screenwriter instead. Today, he puts his political science degree to good use writing for CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, but it was a long trek to get there. In the early years, he put the “free” in “freelance.”

“That’s always a great filter to see whether someone is serious or not: How long they will do it for free,” he says. “People usually get tired of it after a couple of months.”

Howell stuck it out for three years, supplementing his income by doing improv with Loose Moose Theatre in Calgary for an amazing $30 a night.

“To me at the time, that was amazing. Oddly enough, things haven’t changed,” he jokes. He kept at it because he loves story telling. “It just turned out they always ended up being funny.

They weren’t always intentionally funny, but they made people laugh, so decided to call it comedy, to say ‘Yeah, I meant to make people laugh.’ Inside, a single tear is falling down my cheek.”

Howell, who has written for Second City and appeared on Little Mosque on the Prairie, lives and works in Toronto in the summer and moves to Halifax for the September-to-March 22 Minutes season. While in Halifax, he also works with improv legends Picnicface. That mixed profile is typical of screenwriters, as there are few full-time, year-round jobs.

The pressure of writing on a weekly deadline for a live audience really fires him up at 22 Minutes.

“It’s always more fun when there’s a deadline,” he explains. That removes the “filters” of over-thinking a joke. It also keeps him sharp, as he and the other writers spend the live tapings watching the audience’s reaction.

“Sometimes we’re like, Yes! And others we’re like, really? I actually thought that was pretty funny, ladies and gentlemen,” he deadpans.

Humber College offers a program in television writing and producing. York University has a program for screenwriting and many universities touch on screenwriting as part of their theatre programs.