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  • #16
    Misdirection and the rule of three

    Two tried-and-true comedy techniques

    Anticipate what the audience expects will happen. Go out of your way to reinforce their belief that what they think is going to happen is indeed what is going to happen.

    Then trick them. Make something different and surprising happen. But it can't just be weird and off-the-wall. It has to make perfect sense once they hear it, yet take them by surprise because you lulled them into thinking their minds were ahead of yours instead of a step behind.

    The rule of three (a form of misdirection)

    Have two items in a list that establish a reasonable pattern, so the audience will have a reasonable expectation of what the third item in the list would be, but instead, foil their expectations by having the third item in the list break the pattern in a funny and unexpected way. People laugh when they suddenly realize they've been tricked, and it's a clever, worthy trick. The laugh means they give you credit for outsmarting them.


    • #17
      Okay, you got me on a roll here and romcom writers chime in here, we're taking over the thread.

      Ex. of character portrayal in a romcom that works is While You Were Sleeping. Sandra Bullock plays a girl, "You ever been so lonely you'll talk to a guy in a coma?" or something to that effect. Women everywhere loved this film, could identify with a single girl all alone who would fall for a storybook guy only to become friends with his brother. Man, talk about charisma between characters, this was one of the best. And the funniest part of the entire thing was the guy in the coma. He said not a word. He didn't have to, the situation was funny. But the characters made this movie, and that's what I mean by what makes romcoms work. I don't usually like the actor, Bill ? Paxton Sexton, whatever, but every woman I know loved him in this. He was a truly nice guy.

      What makes romcoms work? The characters, of course. Did you like What Women Want? I didn't like the romance, didn't think it worked. Not what I want. So, yeah, comedy depends on characters, but no romcom works without characters women identify with. Because they're the ones who drag the men to see these, or go with the girls, and men go by themselves. You never see a big group of guys at a romcom, do you? Dates or packs of women.

      Another example of great comedy is Miss Congeniality. A tough woman has to get beautiful, and kick butt at the same time. Rent the DVD for this if you haven't seen it, and listen to Marc Lawrence's comments with Sandy Bullock during the movie. Great lesson in romcoms, and funnier than the movie. Okay, off my soap box, but I love good romcoms, even more than good comedy. And yes, Something About Mary was a romcom, wasn't it?


      • #18
        Re: Misdirection and the rule of three

        (sigh) - I HATE to point these tricks out since I rely on them so much... but....

        Much of comedy and farce comes down to two words: secrets and lies.

        A character has a funny secret about themselves that he must prevent at all costs someone finding out for fear of embarrassment of someone's fury.

        A character tells a lie that he must then "continue" in order to cover his/her tracks.

        thus: all of Fawlty Towers and Friends...


        • #19
          Ric - "Say It Isn't So" was not written by the Farrelly Bros. Only produced by them.


          • #20
            Re: Misdirection and the rule of three

            I hate to admit it, because I generally dig what Tao has to say, but I never liked that set-up. Though Tao's made-it, so better to defer to his Mojo.

            Personally, I always liked the technique of having a supersane character face off with a plethora of outright cooks, such as in COLD COMFORT FARM or AFTER HOURS...


            • #21
              Re: Misdirection and the rule of three

              Comedy occurs in the gap between expectation and outcome.

              That's what set up is -- creating an expectation.

              When the outcome is the exact opposite of what the character or the audience expects, you have a punch line.

              The bigger the gap between expectation and outcome, the bigger a laugh you get.

              And how do you create these gaps? Through conflict.

              So it's really as basic as can be. Comedy comes from conflict. I can tell you from having to pitch hundreds of story ideas in the sit-come world, you run out of "funny" ideas fast. But if you just think of a good conflict and start to break it down, all sorts of funny ways to play it out will start to occur to you.

              Comedy is all about structure. Build yourself a good solid structure first. Then bounce off the walls.


              • #22
                CRASH - you were right, I was wrong!

                I don't know what I was thinking... but, what I should have said was that the Farrelly's did an "uncredited" script polish (that's just what I read on the site under User Comments).

                BTW -- The "American Pie 2" director, James B. Rogers, directed "Say It Isn't So".


                • #23

                  How do you feel about the "Emotional" elements in comedy?

                  Sometimes in a comedy, the main character's "Inner Conflict" can look NOT too important if the film has outrageous wacky gags.

                  If the <!--EZCODE BOLD START--> site gags<!--EZCODE BOLD END--> are too "out-of-this-world", they might take control of the film and make you no longer care about the emotional elements in it. (Is this making sense???) Let me try to make it clearer...

                  Say, in some comedy's, the hero guy will have a good "emotional/inner conflict" that makes you care about him. But, then, when the wacky comedy gags start happening, it takes your mind off of the seriousness of the character... and eventually you find yourself watching the movie and not really caring about the characters, but just watching because the site gags are outrageously funny.

                  I'm afraid this isn't clear and that I might be making a total ass out of myself.

                  But anyway, take a movie like "Groundhog Day" or "Liar, Liar" and compare it with "Say It Isn't So" or "Ace Ventura".

                  Groundhog Day & Liar, Liar have more of a serious type of humor, but Say It Isn't So & Ace Ventura have more of a wacky type of humor.

                  And when watching the "wacky type" comedy, you tend to only be watching because of the silly gags... and when watching the "serious type" comedy, you'll probably care more about the characters (aside from just the gags).

                  Does this make any sense? I wondered about this for centries!

                  <!--EZCODE BOLD END-->
                  <!--EZCODE BOLD END-->


                  • #24
                    Ric, you're basically talking about the difference between character driven comedy and slapstick.

                    Character driven comedy comes out of the unique foibles of the character and how he SEES the world. It's very much about his world view.

                    Slapstick is a character in conflict with the world around him. He trips, walking into manholes, falls into beehives, causes explosions when he farts, etc. It's "machine" humor man vs. world whereas character driven comedy is often more man vs. himself.


                    • #25
                      In other words, AS GOOD AS IT GETS versus MR. BEAN.


                      • #26
                        Thanks Steve!

                        Good example too, Fwuffy!

                        I think I'm getting a better understanding.


                        • #27
                          Where do you draw the line?

                          Ric, where to draw the line isn't always clear. I tend to want to go for the joke whenever possible, but sometimes my partner stops me. "Yes, that's funny, but we have plenty of laughs already. We need to give up this laugh and put in a sincere emotional moment or nobody will care what happens." There are jokes I hate to give up, but he's right. People do need to take your movie seriously enough to care what happens. Sketch comedy can be completely about the laughs, but to sustain people's interest for the length of a feature, most people need to do more than laugh mindlessly; they also need to care. Some broad comedies hold no interest for anyone besides the least demanding young guys -- the Adam Sandler blind faithful audience. But some of those movies, like Road Trip, Big Daddy and Deuce Bigalow, actually do have wider appeal because there's an unexpected sweetness to them. We're made to care about the characters because of the attention given to real emotion.

                          Steve, good explanation of how to use and play with audience expectations.



                          • #28
                            Touchous wowsers and concealed insanity

                            Some are touchous about the term "wowser."


                            I've always known I wasn't "sane"
                            and done enough stellar normal
                            work to prevent being put

                            Also funny to me is when a
                            character do or say something
                            that I do and don't really
                            want to share. You know,
                            being human.

                            Also bizarre characters, like in
                            RAISING ARIZONA.


                            • #29
                              Re: Where do you draw the line?

                              Good advice, Joan!


                              • #30
                                Whew, that was a close one...

                                Well, I was very glad to see Tao and Joan jump in here, Ric, because mentioning the word "romcom" just about killed off your thread. Tao always knows how to save the day. And Fwuff is famous for his CPR.

                                I have a question, as I've written a teen comedy and it starts off with the premise, so don't have a belly laugh until the end of page 4. Is this too late? I've heard if you don't have something funny in the first minute you might as well forget about a comedy spec. I have amusing, character foibles the first three minutes. Might need to punch that up a bit, in order to get this on the right track. Any suggestions?