1. Dagolas
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    Dagolas Banned

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    British Humour

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Dagolas, Jun 19, 2013.

    Being from Old Blighty myself, fawlty towers and the like appeals to me. I'm trying to write a tv show script similar to it, but can't write good british humour. Any tips would be appreciated.
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not a Brit, though I quite often wish I were. :) What appeals to me about British humour is that it is quick and unapologetically smart and sharp. If you don't get it, too bad poppet, we're on to the next joke, try not to fall too far behind. Did I offend your sensibilities? Excellent, let me make a note to use that one again. What was that? Do I think I'm smarter than you? No, pet, you're just dumber than you should be. ;) This is what, to me, distinguishes it from American TV and film humour. Americans need everything to be contextualized, they need a predictable set-up and an equally predictable punch-line. British humour gets its punch from the unexpected.
     
  3. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    Word play is a common staple of British comedy. Watch anything by The Two Ronnies, but particularly the Mastermind and Four Candles sketches.

    Absurdity and exaggeration are common too - anything by Monty Python is a good reference, but also The League of Gentlemen for exaggeration at the grotesque end of the spectrum.

    Writing wise, I've always liked the oddness of Douglas Adams, and the similar yet different style of Terry Pratchett. Both seek to look for absurdity in the everyday and highlight it, often to extremes.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you know you can't even write good british humor, why are you trying to write something that requires the best british humor?

    i don't believe one can 'learn' to write humor... one either has the ability to 'write funny' or they don't... i can't see how 'tips' can cause one to grow a funnybone...

    why don't you try writing something you can write, instead?
     
  5. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think British humour can be categorised so easily - there are so many types, so many completely different shows but I don't care how you write your script, if you don't have the right actors your script is not worth the paper your rejection letter will come back on.

    9 out 10 Brit sit coms are absolutely terrible, once in a while a gem comes along like Only Fools & Horses or Fawlty Towers, and because of this I think they have given up and concentrated on celebrity quiz shows like 8 out of 10 cats, and mock the week which are just genius.

    I think the only way to write a successful comedy script is to have already enlisted the actors and write the script for them and around them.

    It's the stars that make shows, not the scripts, it's all in the timing Mange Tout Rodney?
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Hmmm.... Perhaps I have a skewed view then, yes? And I say/ask that in all seriousness. We get so little Brit TV imported to us that maybe I'm only ever catching the best the U.K. has to offer. I discovered Mongrels purely by chance and my life hasn't been the same since! :D "That's very jaunty!" "Did you just call me a ****?!"
     
  7. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah Wreybies, just thinking, a new sitcom has just appeared on ITV called 'Vicious', about 3-4 shows in. It's about an old gay couple, (in their 60s) typical old married couple of any gender who are always sniping at each other and one of them fancies a young guy. Stars Gandalf from LOTR, worth a download if possible where you are!
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yup, I'm up to date on that show. :) I found it through my connections in the gay mafia. ;) Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi... Now there's a powerhouse! :D
     
  9. huntsman40
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    huntsman40 Active Member

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    I have to agree that tips will not help you. You are either funny or you aren't. Much like you can either sing or you can't. These are things you can't really teach someone. You can teach people a joke, but they can still be about as funny as grass growing because their timing is terrible. Some people are just funny, much like you would have found at school or at parties. There are just those people that are good at it.

    That doesn't mean you can't write some funny things I guess, but if you can't get enough ideas from watching the depth of comedy we have I'm not sure what extra tips you expect from here that will fix it. British humour these days – certainly since we have got away from our bum-titty humour period – is often sharp, witty and intelligent. You can use observational humour as that can work reasonably well, but needs you to have a mind to put funny spins on something. Terry Pratchett uses this form of humour a lot in his Discworld books.

    You should try it. Look around your house, or when out and about and look at everyday items or situations and see if you can find some humour in them. For example try something as simple as your toilet at home as you can certainly find jokes in even something like that. After all my girlfriend loves to moan at me for never putting the seat back down, but why would I when I've never seen the lazy cow put it back up again for me ...

    Funny or not, just try things and see what works and what doesn't. Writers often have to write a fair few things before they find something that is funny to many when it’s in written format.
     
  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, Brits are funny. I've lived amungum for 28 years. Scots have their own brand of humour, which is especially sharp around the Glasgow area. But watch out. Brits also love PUNS. Awg.
     
  11. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I thought you were trying to write a detective novel :rolleyes:
     
  12. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Inspector Clouseau!
     
  13. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    While I doubt you can go from having no sense of humour to being a top comedy writer, if you have funny bones but just can't turn them into a funny script then that is certainly something you can work on.

    Google some British comedy forums (I'd suggest some but I'm not sure it's allowed) and you'll find some with areas for writers to discuss ideas and get critique. There is some really helpful advice on there, and looking through other people's scripts and the advice given should give you a good idea of where you're going wrong. I wouldn't advise jumping in with your own script straight away though - they can be *harsh* to people who don't bother joining in with the community first!

    Also if you're on twitter follow as many comedy writers as you can find, they often post blogs, articles, insights that make for good reading. The Thick of It writers are on there, as are many others - I'd particularly recommend the script editor Andrew Ellard, he's a really interesting follow.

    Best of luck!
     
  14. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    [MENTION=52161]erebh[/MENTION]: Of course, stupid me for even asking :D
    [MENTION=35821]Dagolas[/MENTION]: 'Little Britain' is good. Failing that, 'Absolutely Fabulous'.
     
  15. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    "Fawlty Towers" was one type of British humour, like "Monty Python" and "That was the week that was" that were written by very articulate and well educated, mostly Oxbridge graduates who were also playing at being rebels. I think maybe "The Young Ones" was in similar vein a decade later, with Jennifer Saunders' stuff, Alexei Sayle etc.
    One thing these never were was sitcoms. Sitcoms are another whole branch. All these things were very much of their era and you couldn't write it in exactly the same way now, even if you were of the right background. Unfortunately, there are few comedy writers of much calibre around now. I certainly wouldn't rate "Little Britain" as among the greats and I doubt they will be looked back on with much affection.
    Write something that's you, and comments on contemporary life.
     
  16. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    It's true. We do.
     
  17. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    British comedy as I see it or hear it, is all in the wording. It's full of puns (play on words) and misunderstanding. What springs to mind is Oscar wilde's ' The importance of being Earnest'. It's full of whiplash lines, for example: Lady Bracknell: To lose one parent Mr. Worthing may be regarded as misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness. British comedy also has a measure of absurity within - its the ridiculous that makes us laugh. for example see the early Dr. Who episodes with Christopher eccleston, it was very silly Sci-fi, full of fun for all the family and was a huge hit (shame its gone down the pan now)

    I'd recommend reading Terry Pratchett, he tends to go off on a tangent a bit and occassionally goes off/ loses the plot but it still has you laughing out loud. Great British humour.
     
  18. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hate to break it to you but Oscar Wilde was irish :)
     
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  19. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    youll find that most british humour (that ive noticed) tends to need you to be in the situation and there to see the funny side, a lot can be off the cuff and ad-libbed, Outnumbered is also an example, by in which the kids were not scripted at all and the parents were scripted to a certain extent
     
  20. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was on those British comedy forums today. There's a core group making a penny, no more, from gag submissions and stand-up. The quality of the crit section is the same as everywhere else.

    From time to time I think about this US/UK humour thing. We're supposed to have this great wit, sarcasm. Yanks - and I say it with affection, have the sincerity which wins hands down for me, yeah of course - not so great for comedy.

    As for actors over writers, flip Erebh, bless your hairy fists;) - that is sacrilegous talk. Writers are the gods. No writer, no picnic.

    British humour, we all have our favourites. I find Viv Stanshall very hard to shake, it's kind of...is it puerile? I like it alot.

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pa4gPaQjC1M

    Diary of a Nobody, Augustus Carp for me. Death to Ronnies. Oh and return to Benny Hill with a modern eye, might surprise. He's tragic - like Roy Orbison.
    I suppose I agree 'writing it' cannot be forced, but admired the guy who had a pop at Bertie Wooster on the comedy crit section down below.


    APOLS the huge youtube clip, sorry.
     
  21. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    Yip southern Ireland not in the UK:( I stand corrected!
     
  22. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    And this is why they say 'degustibus non disputandum est'. :D I for one will always remember Andy, and Marjorie from 'Fat Fighters' and the posh lady who vomits on immigrants. Oh and 'the only gay in the village', which has made it to the Oxford Dictionary (if it didn't, it should have).
     
  23. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I'm not sure I agree - by that logic, no one can learn how to write, either, but people do. Sure some students are easier to teach, have something a little more inside them that just comes naturally, but to say people cannot learn to do something is to say all writing classes, workshops etc are a waste of time, even your mentoring services whether now or in the past have all been a waste of time. Sometimes people need time to develop, and they need the right tool to help sharpen them up. And I see nothing wrong in trying to write something you cannot write - no one said he has to publish this - if you never go out of your comfort zone, then you limit yourself severely. Of course it doesn't mean you'll become great at it, but if you don't try, how're you ever gonna know?

    Just saying - I simply would not put someone down for trying. To have the courage to try is a good thing, otherwise we will always live in fear of failure. Reach for the stars, I say :)
     
  24. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    [MENTION=23298]Mckk[/MENTION]: I have to disagree as well. Nobody can learn to be funny. You either are funny or you aren't (when I say 'funny' I mean regularly being able to crack people up with your humorous observations). And you just know who is a born comedian, they are hilarious from kindergarden. Singing is the same. There are millions of hopefuls paying vocal coaches, and they can carry a tune (reasonably well) and they can hit the hight notes (most of the time) and then a 13 year old comes out and sings like a seasoned pro and puts everyone else to shame and everyone just knows that nobody's ever gonna pay to listen to them, never. It's cruel but it's just how it is.
    I sang a lot when I was younger and I saw it all. Nobody can "learn" to sing. Only if you already can sing, you can improve your technique and range. But a person who is tone-deaf, will never manage it. Same with comedy. It's a talent and cannot be forced.

    I believe it's the same with creative writing. Even though anyone literate can write, and anyone can recount their experiences and emotions and even fantasies, still, some people simply have that 'je ne sais quoi' that nails the reader to the page. I've seen it in children as well as adults. And then, there are others who just have no 'ear' for what's important or interesting and their narratives are boring, confusing, labour on and so on. Again, talent can be improved upon, but lack of talent can never be compensated for. That's why so few make it in all those disciplines.
     
  25. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    But we don't know if our OP is talented at humour or not, if he's never even tried it. That's my point - I agree with you, I think you need something in you, some sort of intuition (in terms of writing, and for your singing example, you need the voice. Some people can sing and sing well but if their voices are horrible to listen to, then that's the end for them.) So we're not actually in disagreement. However, I do not believe anyone should ever be discouraged from TRYING. You can't know whether you can be good at it or not until you've tried. Did I start off being a good writer? No, not at all. Did you? Doubt it. We all needed time to develop, and in our cases we were blessed that we had that talent inside us, and it's something we've continued.

    But what if someone had said, when I was 9 years old and starting out, "Your writing's poor, and you have no sense of grammar. You're mixing "got" and "god" up. Why bother to write at all?"

    You wouldn't say that to a child, and I don't think you should say that to an adult either. I admire those who are willing to try in the face of perhaps near-certain failure. Yes, have a realistic view of your actual abilities - for example, I'll never try to be a professional singer, I can carry a tune but I'm no pro for sure - but that doesn't mean you should stop what you're doing, it doesn't mean you should stop trying to improve. Like I said, the OP made no mention of trying to get his humour pieces published - and who knows, if he finds that he's genuinely not funny, then he won't publish them, but we don't know yet - he's not practised. For the moment, however, let's explore what you CAN do rather than be held back by what you *think* you can't do.

    However, it is also true that, if I knew I'm bad at humour, I would not attempt a humorous piece. But I would still attempt to write practice pieces of humour, and perhaps throw in some humour into my book of a different genre. I would not, however, seek to write an entire comedy. In this sense, yes, the OP might be being a little ambitious. I still don't see any harm in trying though, as long as he's realistic about it - that it'll probably be terrible and not a piece he can ever use - but even if that's the case, it's ok. People improve - maybe he'll never be drop dead funny, but so what? He'll still be funnier than he used to be, and that is enough (assuming, once more, that he's not aiming to publish this just yet)
     

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