Writing comedy - a question for Steve and all



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  • Writing comedy - a question for Steve and all

    Hey Steve,

    Just read a post of yours in film in which you say that you mostly write comedy and that there's a "secret truth which is that comedy writers are the most bitter, cynical people you'll ever meet."

    I find it to be true and almost necessary. I don't mean to impose a thread on you, but I'd be curious to know how your own cynicism affects your writing. Do you tone it down?

    Anyone else writing comedy, please feel free to chime in.



  • #2
    Re: The secret truth of comedy writers.

    "secret truth which is that comedy writers are the most bitter, cynical people you'll ever meet."

    Works for me.


    • #3
      Please check my reply to Steve. I chimed in with him there.

      But I think that there's a wider bearth between true cynicism and open sardonic treatment than people (choose to) acknowledge.

      However, I'd like to add an annecdote (that I'm sure Steve knows Back to Front), for all wowsers and lovers of The True Funny:

      In the 70's (a time much more experimental than now), people in the Networks tried to start a comedy show. The pilot script made the bigwigs nervous; it was utterly politically incorrect, seemingly insensitive, by some standards downright mean, and by a few, untouchably vicious. Some folks didn't want to even touch the property. "No-one in America is ready for this," they said.

      But after push and pull, a pilot was set-up, and tested.

      Down to the last empty seat, when the pilot was finished, every single member had silently bailed. Possibly the worst reaction to such a test in the Network's history.

      The network was less than enthused. Much talk of dumping it. But the people behind it fought hard, and eventually, the pilot was aired. Even though the Network tried to bury it in the crappiest timeslot possible.

      They even, for the first time in the history of sitcoms, had a warning announcement at the start before the programme aired, attempting to alleviate potential and anticipated outrage.

      The critics soundly panned, villified and excoriated it. The words "bigotted, racist" etc. were in print. No-one had anything less than vituperous words to say. Hate mail came in from viewers.

      Under 2 years later, it was one of the biggest cash-cows in not only the network's history, but modern television history. In under 3 years, it was the top of the game. By the fourth year, it was the first television programme to openly and honestly deal with the subject of rape, and in a fashion that led to accolades the world round.

      And in only the space of several years, it went from being sneered at as the most execrable sitcom in history to being recognized as (if one bothered to watch it as one would read Samuel Clemens) one of the most (truly) liberal and humanitarian shows in TV history.

      I'll let other people fill in the title of this show. But I'll finish with the fact that Alan Ball, Aaron Sorkin, and many other fantastic writers of The Big Funny would not have the freedoms they have now, had it not been for a programme that was considered (at one time) the most bitter, jaded and cut-throat show aired on American television.


      • #4
        The only type of comedy I would ever write is black comedy. In my mind, writing good, broad comedy is the hardest type of writing. I'm a funny guy(funny like a clown), but spontaneously and randomly. I can't sit down, though, and translate that into a funny movie. Black comedy is easy, because you just create serious situations with ridiculous results(Network or Fargo). Also, for comedy, you don't have a plot in your mind. You have to have jokes, then work them in. Too hard for me.

        If that post wasn't organized....


        • #5
          Theater of the absurd

          "All in the Family" was indeed a breakthrough TV show, based I believe on a similar show that preceded it in Great Britain, as all good American comedy does. Most of my scripts are attempts at comedy, largely because I feel it is better to laugh than fear. I find writing comedy doesn't make a writer cynical, but it is an occupational hazard. The truly jaded, bitter, cynical and hateful person has generally forgotten how to laugh anyway, but some truths found in the best comedy are painful. I have to say the popularity today of toilet-humor isn't my favorite. I prefer humor that is a bit more subtle, and I like happy endings. Which is a bit of a joke in itself.


          • #6
            Just wanted to note that I think there is an important difference between comedy and cynicism. The Simpsons, at one point, degraded into complete cynicism and I quit watching it. I remember thinking "Can't these guys come up with anything other approach?" Cynicism can be a valuable component, but to me it gets boring as a mainstay for a series.

            However, audiences still eat it up...


            • #7
              I think it works like this. Comedy writers are usually people who underneath it all are pretty sensitive and have a deeply felt sense of morality. They look around them and see rampant hypocracy, idiots running things, murphy's law in full force, etc. They cope with this by making jokes about it. They see contridictions and they want to skewer them. When it all gets to be too much, or when they just get too tired and burned out to make jokes anymore, it turns into cynicism. But I think you need that somewhat jaded, cynical view to write good comedy in the first place.


              • #8
                I utterly concur with Steve, and would merely add a note or two.

                Don Rickles is still funny, always has been, always will be. His work is pointed, even cut-throat, but that doesn't make it jaded or cynical. These are 2 words that are often overused to the level of hyperbole by the over-sensitive and thin-skinned.

                AbFab has been described as morally bankrupt and the meanest show they've ever seen by many. The main character even sold her hippie daughter to Arabs in Morocco in one episode. Guess what? Funny as hell. Proven internationally. Comedy Central loved the series.

                There's an old adage I'll never forget: Smart people can fake being stupid, but stupid people can't fake being smart. I think there's a dovetail adage for comedy:

                Tortured people have the chance to make even a pollyanna laugh, but pollyanna's rarely (if ever) make anyone laugh.


                • #9
                  Dennis Miller's pretty good at sounding cynical. Besides that, the guy's a genius!

                  "I'll tell you how backwards Alabama is. I went to go see Cannonball Run II there, and when the movie was over, everyone broke up into individual discussion groups."



                  • #10
                    cyn after cyn

                    Only a really cynical bastard would try and out psych the really funny cynical bastards.
                    Jokes on you...we're not THAT cynical andwe're not THAT funny!


                    • #11
                      Re: cyn after cyn

                      I dunno, MJ. I thought your post was hilarious.


                      • #12
                        Thanks all for the thoughts.

                        Steve, your definition of the comedy writer is music to my ears.

                        Kosk, you made quite a few good points in this thread and the one in film.

                        Julian - I know what you mean - I have no choice but to be cynical about toilet humour.

                        PDon - I'm glad it works for you, whatever that is...


                        • #13
                          Roxanne Battle

                          Two words, Bud Freidmen.


                          • #14
                            Re: Roxanne Battle

                            I write comedy. Although I am cynical at times, I am a kinder, gentler cynic.


                            • #15
                              ALL IN THE FAMILY