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.