All Comedy Writers report to your headquaters



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  • All Comedy Writers report to your headquaters

    Comedy Writers,

    Since we love writing comedy, let's list (and discuss) important tips & techniques that we've learned over the years in screenwriting. Something one person may think as basic, or common, another person might think as, "I didn't know that? Hey, tell me more!".

    You dig?

    So, let's talk about creating funny plots, structure, funny gags, characters, favorite comedy mentors, etc. etc. etc.

    I'm sure that even people like WCMARTELL (who writes plot twisting thrillers & actioners) will know some tips/techniques on this. He's had various "Tip of the Day"s about comedy... though I can't remember all of the URL's.

    We ALL want better movies, so let's talk about what will make future comedy films more FUN.

    Hope you have as much fun with this topic as farmers have while milking cows! :lol

    Good Luck, friends!

  • #2
    A lot of verbal comedy involves a pretense of misunderstanding, which then leads to an unexpected verbal twist. An example from "Will & Grace":

    JACK comes into WILL's apartment, behaving in his usual flaming way and wearing a gaudy shirt. He shows the shirt off to Will.

    What do you think? Too gay?

    (completely deadpan)
    Definitely. But the shirt's nice.


    • #3
      To start, I believe this: regarding comedy, never listen to any humourless f-uck, or someone who's never paid money to see a stand-up or someone who's never created a belly laugh at a party.

      Never take any flack over a joke from someone who's mantra is "that's not funny". It'd be about as useful as getting a massage from a thalydimide baby.

      I'll be back in a bit...


      • #4
        The straight man is consistently more funny than the punch-liner. But the straight man is always harder to write.


        • #5
          The straight man funnier than the punchliner

          One way to make a character funny even without the benefit of punchlines is to make him earnest, make him care about his goal, make him play it straight, but give him one or more flaws. Let those flaws consistently control his actions so that people can look forward to what he's going to do the next time.

          Think of Niles' fatidiousness and snobiness. When situations occur that people know will offend Niles' delicate sensibilities, they eagerly look forward to seeing to see how Niles will react in character. They delight in watching him wipe off his chair before he sits down in a public place. It's funnier because it's so Niles.

          To use another example from tv, everybody in the audience knew that Jack Benny was a tightwad. That was an important aspect of his comic character. So his most famous laugh came when robbers accosted him.

          "Your money or your life?"

          He waited a long beat and said, "I'm thinking, I'm thinking!"

          In features, constant one-liners become tiresome, so you have to find a lot of your humor in the character being the character.

          And because movies are visual, you can get a lot of humor out of visual jokes, controlling what the audience sees until you're ready for them to see it. Here's an example from one of our screenplays.

          We have two characters, not the brightest crayons in the pack, but Dooley is earnest and tries hard to achieve his goals. He wants to prove he's good enough to become an astronaut, and he gets into astronaut school with his comic sidekick Toots, for whom he feels responsible and protective. Toots constantly ruins what Dooley is trying to achieve because he is oblivious to the goals. He completely lives in the moment.

          We have a scene in which Dooley is begging for another chance to get into astronaut school, and another character tells him how he can do it by impressing the Senators who will be coming to visit.

          We see Dooley, Toots and Joelle go into the room, but when we describe the subsequent earnest conversation, we note only what Joelle says and what Dooley says.

          "They'll all be coming in for the Stardust Ball. You've got to prove to them you've got the right stuff."

          "Do we have the right stuff?"

          "I think you do."

          Only now do we mention, Toots sits on the copy machine, pants dangling around his ankles, pushing buttons.

          "What's collate?"


          • #6
            Start with a funny situation.

            - A loser has to become a gigolo
            - Two idiots try to return a woman's 'lost' suitcase, which is actually a ransom payment that was purposely left
            - The P.I. that a man hires to investigate the woman he had a crush on ends up pursuing her himself
            - To save his job, a man pretends he's gay (I think this one's in dev at Miramax)

            The ensuing hilarity is a result of the complications that arise from the situation.


            • #7
              To extend CRASH and Joan's points:

              It's all in the set-up, because the set-up is the incarnation of the context, and all humour is derived from some form of irony, irony is dependent on context, and thus the circle is complete.

              Take the "spooge mistaken for a hair product" scene in SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. If that had occured because both characters were stoners, it wouldn't have been anywhere near as funny. Why? No irony. Stoned people make dumb-ass mistakes like that all the time. Thus it would be less of a gag and more of a lame-ass cinema verite moment.

              But since both characters have been set-up and defined as cogent creatures (especially Mary), the goof becomes funny.


              • #8
                Your characters must be deadly serious in each and every comedic situation. They can't be aware that they are in a comedy. Once they become aware that they're meant to be funny, the laughs will dry up.

                Make sure you have a million reversals. Surprise your main characters and the audience will be surprised.

                Make your characters suffer terrible and humiliating experiences that you (as writer) can only dream about.

                Make your main character desperate for something and give your character personal traits that make it almost impossible for them to reach their ultimate goal.


                • #9
                  All of these are just simply wonderful! :hat

                  And what UserName said: "Start with a funny situation" -- that's exactly what I would say!

                  Fwuffy, we'll show those "select few" ignorant idiots what's really funny!

                  Keep'em coming!


                  • #10
                    Damn straight, Ric.

                    which brings us to another issue...

                    being fair to the joke from both sides.

                    As we know, just because a joke isn't wowser-approved does not mean it ain't funny.

                    However, to be fair to the joke, the inverse is also true: just because a joke is pol-incorrect does not make it funny.

                    In either case, the set-up must relate to the punchline whether pol-correct or not. Simply having a "serious" character make the mood as heavy as concrete and then having a "funny" character spout off something irreverent doesn't cut the mustard. The punchline has to somehow work with a personal aspect of the serious character, otherwise it's no more than someone belching during a church sermon. That's just lame.

                    However, if the belch is derived from last night's beer and erupts during a sermon on abstinence from the Devil's brew, that's ironic, and possibly funny.


                    • #11
                      Yo, Fwuffy

                      You are a genius at comedy writing!

                      <!--EZCODE QUOTE START--><blockquote>Quote:<hr> "The punchline has to somehow work with a personal aspect of the serious character, otherwise it's no more than someone belching during a church sermon. That's just lame.

                      However, if the belch is derived from last night's beer and erupts during a sermon on abstinence from the Devil's brew, that's ironic, and possibly funny."<hr></blockquote><!--EZCODE QUOTE END-->

                      The statement above is really intriguing. I like it.


                      • #12
                        Re: Damn straight, Ric.

                        It's kind of like insanity. If you think you might be a wowser, you're probably not. If you think you might be insane, you're probably not. See? Works.

                        Good thread, and does romantic comedy count? There are a lot of romcom writers on this board, and since I've written both romcoms and teen comedies, I think they're much the same as far as what works.

                        The funniest characters are the ones who take themselves too seriously. Think about M*A*S*H, Frank Burns was a riot, so was Margaret. Where would Hawkeye have been without a fall guy? And Radar O'Reilly. Good comedy is subtle, and comes from character reactions. So it all comes down to character portrayals anyway, even in comedy. Ya think?


                        • #13
                          Re: Damn straight, Ric.

                          Yes Romantic Comedies count!

                          I would love to know some facts about them too. Which infact, you can look at most Comedies and see a romantic element in them (if there's a love interest).

                          So, I'm up for writing Comedy & Romantic Comedy -- they're kind similar in a way... they'll make you laugh! :lol :lol :lol


                          • #14
                            BTW, Did anybody like the Heather Graham/Chris Klein movie called, "SAY IT ISN'T SO"? It didn't do good at the box office (only about $5 million total), but that movie was soooooo funny!!! It was written by the Farrelly boys I think?


                            • #15
                              Yeah, Ric, I saw it as a rental, and I was disappointed. I thought the comedy fell flat in a lot of places that could have been great. I need to get into characters more, and I never liked the girl, thought she was a twit, and thought the guy was nuts to go after her. So that killed the romance, which was supposed to be the motivating factor. I loved Sally Field in it and the stroke guy was funny, especially the obvious gags of dropping him, etc. The goons were good, and Chris Klein was good. But I couldn't stand her, and I think that turned off a lot of women. Another "floozy after the money guy" story. I would have written her in as classier, not sexier. Whatever. Most of the gags were overdone, but I still laughed at the bees and the hair cut, and I loved the amputee guy. But this makes a point about character in comedies. Audiences have to identify with the characters, or the love story isn't plausible. He deserved someone better than her, as pretty as she was. He was a nice guy and she was a twit, unlike Something About Mary, where Cameron Diaz played a classy girl. My 2 cents.