A strong story without a lot of laughs is preferable to a weak story with five jokes per page.
Many comedies falter because of a flimsy or dimwitted plot. Ultimately, no matter how many laughs a script has, if the story isn’t absorbing enough for somebody to sink her teeth into, it won’t get read to the final Fade Out. As we’re laughing at things your characters are saying and doing, we must care about them and root for them to get whatever it is they want (no matter how goofy). If that want isn’t there we’re not going along for that ride no matter how amusing it might be.
There’s an old maxim in baseball: “It’d rather be lucky than talented.” When it comes to a comedy screenplay, I’d rather have a solid story than plenty of laughs. Laughs can be put in. Maybe not by you, but if it’s a great story your chance of getting an agent or a deal has just gotten closer to the goal line. If you have a 103-page script with tons of laughs, but a mediocre story, well, it’s much more difficult to punch up a plot.
Which is why The Third Rule of Writing Funny might be something to consider.
Two heads can be better than one.
Let’s say you’re a serious, reliable screenwriter with a clear understanding of not only the 3-Act Structure, but 5-Act and 7-Act structures, as well. You know that characters should be three-dimensional, have internal and external conflicts and be properly motivated.
You’ve immersed yourself in Christopher Vogler so you know the 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey inside and out. You’ve read all the screenwriting books (especially mine, The Screenwriter Within), gone to the important seminars, studied, analyzed and deconstructed films, read the key biographies and autobiographies of screenwriters and subscribed to the best screenwriting magazines.
There’s only one problem: you are incapable of writing a funny line of dialogue. Unfortunately, all the ideas you come up with are way too serious and downbeat (like that bio-pic on Damien the Leper you’ve been mulling over the three years).
If you are this guy or woman, you need to get together with a certain kind of person. The off the wall, rapid fire, life of the party, grown up class clown who has the ability to write jokes, great set pieces and funny lines and is hilarious 24/7, but if his or her life depended on it, couldn’t come up with a story or write a script.
It’s the perfect convergence of talent.
Check the credits on sitcoms. You’ll find at least one and often two or three writing teams on every show. Same with screenplays. It’s fair to assume that most of these teams got together because they each brought their strength to the table.
Finding your writing soul-mate isn’t easy. It’s like finding someone to marry. You have to look around, see how you get on and hope that it works. If it does work you’ll both be in a much better place than going it alone.