You Want To Write Comedies, But You're Not Funny. Oy! Let's Talk


            As the saying goes, “Funny is money.” The person who can write funny has a definite edge over the person who finds it difficult.
            So if you’re humor challenged when it comes dialogue, what can you do about it? In my experience, writing funny, original dialogue comes naturally, just as spontaneously adlibbing funny, clever remarks does. You can either do it or you can’t.
            I wish I could say “Take a comedy writing class” or “Read a book on how to write funny stuff” or offer you some inspirational words of wisdom on finding your inner standup comic.
What I can offer you is something Tim Allen said in a TV Guide interview upon being asked about his sense of humor, specifically his ability to be funny. “Being funny is a gift to me. I don’t know where it comes from. It’s magic and its marvelous and I’m terrified it will all go away.”
Where does it come from? Who knows? Where does superior natural athletic prowess come from? Why is one 6’8” kid who plays forward on his high school team better than fifty other 6’8” forwards on other high school teams? For every Lebron James there are 10,000 kids who aren’t quite good enough.
The First Rule of Writing Funny
            Just because you can say funny things doesn’t mean you can write funny things.
            Writing funny is different than saying or doing funny tings. Lots of men and women who crack up their friends and co-workers are incapable of writing funny dialogue. Adolescent boys who can’t get attention from girls by excelling at sports, their looks or intelligence resort to goofball antics either physical or verbal. But that only goes so far and lasts so long. The kid whose talent is shoving a slice of pizza up his nose will be trumped by the boy who has figured out that girls get bored quickly with silliness and prefer someone who can amuse them with wit.
            This funny boy will likely blossom into a funny man and will find that his gift will be a big plus in his social life. And it will come in especially handy if he sets his sights on being a screenwriter. In real life most people can’t tell a joke or a story, especially a funny one. They lose their focus, deliver the punch line too soon, go off on a tangent, leave out on important detail or sink into a meandering blur. They’ve lost their audience. As the author of a screenplay that’s a comedy, your audience is much tougher and unforgiving: agents, producers, development people, creative executives and managers.
            You have to keep that agent laughing from the first page—especially the first page—because if she’s enjoying herself by the time she gets to the bottom she’ll definitely turn to Page 2. And if you keep the laughs coming for the next ten and the rest of the first Act you can feel pretty confidence she’ll finish the entire script—provided you have a compelling story.
            Find out The Second Rule of Writing Funny in the next post.

19 comments:

  1. So I have a question. As a novice writer who has ZERO background in the entertainment... whats the best way to find out 1)if what you are writing is funny and 2) Get into the industry? Should I try and return to school (i.e. a grad program), knock on agents doors, or just give up before I start? Anyone out there with any good advise?

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  2. Some sober comedy advice for some probably not so sober comedy people...

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  3. If you are laughing while you are writing, that's always a good sign. Will anyone else laugh? Besides your Mom, your wife/girlboyfriend/close friends? Comedy is tough. I can't recall the number of times I cracked myself up but Human Resources saw things differently.

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  4. I'm funny in real life, but not in my scripts. A guy in my writers group is dull and boring in real life, but hilarious in his scripts. From what you say it's better to be funny in our scripts.

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  5. Am I the only one that finds Saturday Night Live hard to watch for very long? SNL has these great moments, and then those other ones, painful... But they have to fill the space between ads. God help them.

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  6. I wonder how SNL gets some of those skits on the air. Twenty years ago half of these would not have made it.. I usually record the show and watch and mentally re-write. Of course I think I make them better but what the hell do I know?

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  7. I agree with Downsized. I've watched SNL since I was 11 years old, almost 20 years now. Most episodes have maybe one or two really good sketches and the rest are mediocre to awful. I've wondered many times how people get writing jobs on SNL.

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  8. Why is it that so many unfunny people can write funny? I've known a few successful comedy writers who are the dullest people I've ever met. What's strange is that it seems that lots of people who are funny in real life can't translate it to the page.

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  9. As a woman, being funny is risky in life. Most men are threatened by it, especially if they aren't particularly funny. But I've found that a really funny guy appreciates my sense of humor. I feel less guarded when I'm writing because I don't have to worry about intimidating an insecure, unfunny dude.

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  10. I know a lot of stand up comics who couldn't make it to the next level who used their ability to be funny to get work on sitcoms. Some of them weren't all that good at coming up with episode ideas, but they had the knack of punching up a lackluster script.

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  11. I too think the ability to be funny is a gift. It seems to be this natural thing. I love being able to make people laugh whether in real life or a script.

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  12. I write thrillers. Don't need too much humor. Just the occasional beat with comic relief. Writing funny is a bitch.

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  13. I was one of those funny boys who tried to get laughs and impress girls by doing stupid things. You're right. That only worked through middle school. Then I became the witty, cool guy. I haven't sold a screenplay yet, but the chicks love me.

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  14. On SNL, actually there were plenty of dud skits even with the original troupe. What I've noticed over the years is a structural flaw or maybe a lack of discipline in the skits that's pretty basic: they don't have an ending. Without a final point or resolution or punch line to aim for, many of the skits deliver a couple of one offs, then meander toward a commercial break for far longer than they should.

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  15. So true that comedy is something you just have. Even the strictist "structuralist" comedy people agree you can have sketches that perfectly hit the 3 beat heightening formula and just fall totally flat.

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  16. Writing "funny" is exactly what got me expelled.
    I couldn't do joined-up so I did a sort of caps and squiggly lower case mix. The teacher expected more of a 19 year-old (me) so I told him to f**k off. And that's why I'm perfect for a "funny" writing job. Where's the vacancy?

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  17. @del
    you haven't sold a script yet but you made me laugh. And I'm depressed.

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  18. You know who's hilarious? Jesus.

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