How Do You Do Funny?

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  • How Do You Do Funny?

    This thread might be a dud, but I figured I'd try and start a thread for comedy writers and other genre writers that like to slip in a joke every now and then where we can discuss our views on humor in screenwriting.

    So, how do you do funny?

    I'll make an initial contribution. For me it's chaos chaos chaos. I like to have as much crazy stuff happen on screen as possible, so I create worlds that aren't beholden to any sense of conventional realism and characters that possess some combination of being selfish, stupid, crazy, ethically challenged, and generally pathetic to facilitate that chaos with bad choices and attitudes that either befuddle the more reasonable characters, or have disastrous consequences. It's not unusual for many felonies to be committed by my characters over the course of a script.

    I also like to play with the conventions of other genres, satirize cultural and political issues in an irreverent manner, and since I traffic well in dark humor, it's par for the course for me to kill off at least one character in comical fashion per script.

    What about you? What are some of the core elements to your approach in getting a laugh?
    Last edited by Prezzy; 07-21-2020, 09:54 PM.

  • #2
    Re: How Do You Do Funny?

    you just set things up and let them play -- and use your own comedic instincts

    you might set up an awkward situation and maybe you already have built-in tension -- this will allow you to work on the edge of disaster and let good actors improvise

    Curb did this for season after season [Seinfield before that]

    Episodic writing is going to be different than Feature writing as they try to create dramatic issues for the protag to deal with or solve.

    there are some secrets to writing a good comedy, I'm sure.

    always remember, there is a difference between dramatic tension and comedic tension
    Ricky Slade: Listen to me, I intentionally make this gun look that way because I am smart.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: How Do You Do Funny?

      I think good comedy comes out of a character who is expected to have a small simple response or action but gives us the opposite.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: How Do You Do Funny?

        These days, feature comedy specs are mostly grounded. So comedy comes from every day life. You have to take a normal sitaution and try to find the humor in that. It's very hard to sell a broad like comedy we grew up with in 80s and 90s. Or I grew up with that is.

        Adam Sandler still gets to make them on Netflix.

        So how do I funny? I cry about all the great ideas I have and jokes that are killed by reps as they tell me it won't sell. And then I have to write a joke that's funny but not as funny as I can make it because they want it to be more Apatow than Caddyshack.

        And then I just write a sitcom pilot as you can still sort of be funny there.

        But yeah comedy is dead and I'm depressed. But I hope to bring it back.

        Does not help when you have comedians who are now famous for not telling jokes.

        To me making someone laugh and being unPC is part of being human. I feel very alone in this world sometimes.

        Ha ha?

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: How Do You Do Funny?

          you might set up an awkward situation and maybe you already have built-in tension -- this will allow you to work on the edge of disaster and let good actors improvise
          Characters responding to awkward situations that gradually unravel seems to be one of the most tried and true methods of doing comedy on television. And I agree, Larry David is probably the master of this style.

          Episodic writing is going to be different than Feature writing as they try to create dramatic issues for the protag to deal with or solve.
          As someone who primarily writes feature comedies, I sometimes envy TV writers because I feel the episodic format can allow for a greater exploration of the comedy of a particular situation or scene while you can't allow yourself to get too far off track with a feature and have to keep the story moving at a certain point to serve the dramatic elements and overall narrative.

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: How Do You Do Funny?

            Originally posted by Bono View Post
            These days, feature comedy specs are mostly grounded. So comedy comes from every day life. You have to take a normal sitaution and try to find the humor in that. It's very hard to sell a broad like comedy we grew up with in 80s and 90s. Or I grew up with that is.

            Adam Sandler still gets to make them on Netflix.

            So how do I funny? I cry about all the great ideas I have and jokes that are killed by reps as they tell me it won't sell. And then I have to write a joke that's funny but not as funny as I can make it because they want it to be more Apatow than Caddyshack.

            And then I just write a sitcom pilot as you can still sort of be funny there.

            But yeah comedy is dead and I'm depressed. But I hope to bring it back.

            Does not help when you have comedians who are now famous for not telling jokes.

            To me making someone laugh and being unPC is part of being human. I feel very alone in this world sometimes.

            Ha ha?
            I feel you one hundred percent. I feel like the soul has gradually been sucked out of the genre for years. I see so many comedy movies come out and wonder who the intended audience even is for them at this point. Certainly not people who like comedy.

            Then there's that new, weird post-comedy genre that calls itself comedy, but is barely even what I would call dramedy. Everything is so sanitized now, and it is super depressing.

            If it makes you feel any better, Bono. You're not alone.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: How Do You Do Funny?

              I completed a comedy (rom-com) spec recently. I'm not a comedy writer, I'm an action thriller writer. It's high concept. I can infuse levity into dark material.

              In my rom-com, I read a bunch of scripts and even watched parts of 40 Year Old Virgin, which was waaaayy better than I ever gave it credit for.

              Even though I'm not a comedy writer I was able to write some funny.

              Techniques:
              physical comedy
              visual gags
              double meanings
              based on real life
              over the top or extreme behavior
              misunderstandings
              raunchy sex talk (dick jokes) I did a raunchy locker room-eske scene for women, for example.
              sarcasm
              subverting expectations on a joke (this is the hardest)

              I'm not good at this, but I did get lucky. Sometimes I laugh at my own ****.

              My biggest piece of advice, especially if comedy isn't your wheelhouse and you need it in there, push yourself to the extreme, because you can always dial it back. I'm not sure that's what you're looking for.

              Wine also helps.
              Last edited by finalact4; 07-23-2020, 03:37 PM.
              "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: How Do You Do Funny?

                Originally posted by Prezzy View Post
                Characters responding to awkward situations that gradually unravel seems to be one of the most tried and true methods of doing comedy on television. And I agree Larry David is probably the master of this style.
                I think David had been writing situational humor his entire life, not practical humor and when he was in the right place he was able to shine.



                Originally posted by Prezzy View Post
                As someone who primarily writes feature comedies, I sometimes envy TV writers because I feel the episodic format can allow for a greater exploration of the comedy of a particular situation or scene while you can't allow yourself to get too far off track with a feature and have to keep the story moving at a certain point to serve the dramatic elements and overall narrative.
                Feature films have the luxury of 'going to the well' with a joke over and over again, where TV has to create some new situations. TV is more about setting up the pilot EP and dropping it off... Feature is about creating a very strong concept that can play for 90 minutes.

                ...just like anything, it's going to have a lot to do with you and being able to connect with your audience. A lot of the time, with comedy writers, the characters are very similar to themselves.
                Ricky Slade: Listen to me, I intentionally make this gun look that way because I am smart.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: How Do You Do Funny?

                  Originally posted by finalact4 View Post
                  I completed a comedy (rom-com) spec recently. I'm not a comedy writer, I'm an action thriller writer. It's high concept. I can infuse levity into dark material.

                  In my rom-com, I read a bunch of scripts and even watched parts of 40 Year Old Virgin, which was waaaayy better than I ever gave it credit for.

                  Even though I'm not a comedy writer I was able to write some funny.

                  Techniques:
                  physical comedy
                  visual gags
                  double meanings
                  based on real life
                  over the top or extreme behavior
                  misunderstandings
                  raunchy sex talk (dick jokes) I did a raunchy locker room-eske scene for women, for example.
                  sarcasm
                  subverting expectations on a joke (this is the hardest)

                  I'm not good at this, but I did get lucky. Sometimes I laugh at my own ****.

                  My biggest piece of advice, especially if comedy isn't your wheelhouse and you need it in there, push yourself to the extreme, because you can always dial it back. I'm not sure that's what you're looking for.

                  Wine also helps.
                  This is exactly the kind of post I'm looking for. There are so many different ways to do comedy, I find the different ways people get there with their own style intriguing, and potentially helpful to anyone who might be looking to add to their repertoire.

                  For example, I don't know how you do your visual gags, but I love to write in little things into the background that viewers might miss like silly signs or other random events like a highly conspicuous extra.

                  And for someone who isn't a comedy writer, you seem to have the right mentality for it. You're right about dialing it up because a lot of times those risks will pay off.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: How Do You Do Funny?

                    Feature films have the luxury of 'going to the well' with a joke over and over again, where TV has to create some new situations. TV is more about setting up the pilot EP and dropping it off... Feature is about creating a very strong concept that can play for 90 minutes.
                    You're not wrong about features needing a strong concept and being able to have running gags, although a sitcom can also do that over the course of a season or series. My comment was mainly in reference to what you can do in an individual episode after a pilot.

                    As an example, I'm not sure if you ever watched Community, but there's an episode where a character is killed off, and the entire story is basically one long, hilarious scene of the other characters reading a will.

                    Conceptually, this is something you could probably only explore in TV format, but as you said, there are things you can also do in movies that you can't in TV. I'm sure at times writers in both formats envy aspects of the other if they're not doing both.

                    ..just like anything, it's going to have a lot to do with you and being able to connect with your audience. A lot of the time, with comedy writers, the characters are very similar to themselves.
                    It's either that, or the story as a whole is a reflection of their personality, which also may or not jive with certain audiences.

                    It's also interesting to me how a lot of times extremely talented comedy writers struggle to connect with a large audience because not enough people get it then get acknowledged for their genius later, but hacky ones find broad appeal simply by not being intellectually challenging with their humor and are forgotten almost instantly.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: How Do You Do Funny?

                      Exaggeration always works -- eg. it's a pretty common thing for people to humanize their pets, even having little birthday parties for them, but imagine someone who took this 100x too far.

                      For me, you can always have an absurd character in a normal situation (like the scene in Step Brothers where Adam Scott gets his family to sing Sweet Child Of Mine during a car trip), or you can have a normal character in an absurd situation (imagine a real estate agent trying to sell a house where the previous owners were Satanists).

                      Very rarely does an absurd character in an absurd situation work. You have to have something to subvert.

                      Anyone forced to deal with something very private in public is always funny.

                      Characters who lose control of themselves either physically (falling down the stairs) or mentally (the way that John Malkovich or Gene Wilder can lose their temper in .05 seconds) is always funny to me.

                      Dialogue is always fun to play with. Any sarcastic comment, or a character who doesn't 'get' sarcasm, or a character who is constantly misusing words to try and sound smarter (eg. saying Circumcised when they meant Circumscribed), playing with common phrases (saying someone is 'burning the the candle at neither end', etc).

                      It mostly comes down to how well you observe other people and the situations they get themselves stuck in -- Making fun of something we all do, but think we're the only ones.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: How Do You Do Funny?

                        I steal from 'Withnail and I'.
                        Know this: I'm a lazy amateur, so trust not a word what I write.
                        "The ugly can be beautiful. The pretty, never." ~ Oscar Wilde

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: How Do You Do Funny?

                          Originally posted by Prezzy View Post
                          I feel you one hundred percent. I feel like the soul has gradually been sucked out of the genre for years. I see so many comedy movies come out and wonder who the intended audience even is for them at this point. Certainly not people who like comedy.

                          Then there's that new, weird post-comedy genre that calls itself comedy, but is barely even what I would call dramedy. Everything is so sanitized now, and it is super depressing.

                          If it makes you feel any better, Bono. You're not alone.
                          A little... but I'm also talking about the real world where you can still make these unPC jokes, but if you say them on twitter or at any point on TV the past 30 years, you are in trouble. I can't imagine being a stand up these days.

                          Yes -- my pro writer friend said comedies are now "simply methods to deliver emotional stories."

                          And I'm finding that true as I work with my new rep who keeps pushing that and saying things like 5-10 years ago, this would be funny, but now we need to lose that joke and add more heart.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: How Do You Do Funny?

                            Originally posted by Bono View Post
                            ... I'm also talking about the real world where you can still make these unPC jokes, but if you say them on twitter or at any point on TV the past 30 years, you are in trouble. I can't imagine being a stand up these days.
                            It's no surprise that someone who wants to make "unPC" jokes also lacks the imagination to imagine being a stand-up comedian "these days".
                            Know this: I'm a lazy amateur, so trust not a word what I write.
                            "The ugly can be beautiful. The pretty, never." ~ Oscar Wilde

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: How Do You Do Funny?

                              I'm trying to imagine the audience for your posts, Crayon. And I think it's for a crowd of one. I hope they are enjoying the show.

                              Comment

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