1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    How do I make good comedy?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Link the Writer, Apr 3, 2010.

    I was just reading the "Julius Caesar Parody" I put in my bog and I realized that half of the things I thought were hilarious were...um...not. There were a few good stuff I had typed but...

    ...Well, I think it's clear I lack the ability for good comedy. I was trying too hard in the humor aspect, especially at the end when I just got lazy.

    So, how do I make good comedy that would make people laugh? I want to be able to have a character tell a joke or go through a silly scene without it feeling forced or cheesy.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Comedy is hard. Not everyone has "the knack" for it. But even if you have a quick wit, putting it down on paper will take practice.

    In live comedy, timing is everything. In writing, pacing is the equivalent. Concise delivery of the punch line or key phrase is usually most effective.

    Over the top, knee-slapping attempts at humor usually fall flat. Subtlety is king. But finding the right balance between heavy-handed absurd slapstick and understaing it so much that it lacks sparkle -- that's difficult.

    Read humor that works for you. Get a feel for how those pieces work their magic, and it probably is the best approach for you to follow, because your taste in humor will most closely match the humorist you are reading.

    There are many books other people find funny as hell that leave me cold, like Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. So it makes no sense for me to try to follow Hunter Thompson's style. Instead, I should study a writer like David Gerrold or Piers Anthony, because they have made me laugh on many occasions.

    No matter what you do, it won't be funny to everyone, so don't even try. Just work on what makes you laugh.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you have the 'gift' you'll just do it... if you don't, it really can't be taught, sorry to say...
     
  4. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    I agree with Maia, you can't really be taught.

    If you want to learn, study comedy styles of comedians and comedy writers. That will help you to see how many different styles of comedy there are. :)
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me, having a character tell a joke in fiction wouldn't generally be funny. It's funny once removed, or even twice removed - you're trying to be funny showing him trying to be funny. It's likely to feel pretty labored.

    Showing a character telling a joke and failing has more potential for humor, I think, though it can be humor with a strong edge of sadness, as you feel pity for the failed joker.

    Looking at your parody, it appears to me that the humor depends heavily on being flippant and irreverent, and that _can_ work, but I don't think that it can work for a long, sustained piece of writing. The humor of being irreverent requires the reverence as a prerequisite, and once the reverence is broken, the humor is used up.

    And I'm not sure if the silly scene is very useful either - I think that silly works for you once in a while, but, again, it's quickly used up.

    Funny is more complicated than that. For one thing, it requires contrast - which I guess is a repetition of what I'm saying above. Irreverence gets its value from the contrast to reverence. Silly gets its value from the contrast to serious. If a story were all silly, from beginning to end, you wouldn't care enough about it to find it funny.

    Which makes me want to know where my copy of _Hitchhiker's Guide_ is, because I remember it as all silly and all funny, and that's simply not possible, I think. How does _Hitchhiker's Guide_ work? For that matter, how does Monty Python work?

    To shift to something for which I have a clearer memory, how does _Fawlty Towers_, the old British John Cleese series, work? I think that it works because we've all known someone like Basil Fawlty, and we've all had moments where we _are_ Basil Fawlty. His everyday madness and his fears touch our own versions. Basil is a horrible, horrible person, but we also care about him.

    In the episode where he wins money on a horse, we want him, ever so badly, to be able to keep those racing winnings. We're entertained by his desperate efforts to hide the situation from his wife. We enjoy the moment with him when he flips through the stack of bills and gloats, happy - happy for one ever so rare moment - "This? This is _mine_." And then he suddenly loses it all, and we feel his pain and moan for him even as we laugh ourselves silly.

    We care. I think you have to care. In Fawlty Towers, you can't get the humor without feeling the pain. Fawlty is _constantly_ furious, or terrified, or hurt, or desperate, or terribly but precariously happy or triumphant, or feeling some other overwhelming passion, and that's what makes the humor possible.

    But that's slapstick, flat-out comedy, and I suspect that's the very hardest kind to do.

    I just picked up a book by one of my favorite funny writers, Calvin Trillin. He writes nonfiction, but I don't know that that really matters much. I think that Calvin Trillin's humor is partly about the fact that people are simply funny. Not falling-down funny, but funny all the same. It's also about his talent as a masterful wordsmith, and his wild analogies, and... well, he's just good at dry humor, humor that doesn't grab you by the lapels and demand, "Laugh! I'm funny, can't you tell? Laugh!"

    In fact, there we are, that's my advice: Pick up _The Tummy Trilogy_ or _Feeding A Yen_ by Calvin Trillin. Read it, laugh at it, and try to figure out what makes it funny. It's not fiction, but it is people and situations, and that's what fiction is about.

    But my other opinion is that funny can't be _only_ about being funny. The core has to have something else that grabs the reader and pulls them in and makes them care, and only then are they vulnerable to the humor.

    ChickenFreak
     
  6. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Comedy, like creative writing, can be taught, but it isn't taught by theory or concept. You can't "understand" the funny and thus make something laugh-worthy; you can't boil humor down to a series of equations. It is taught by long, hard thought, careful craft, endless practice, and galloping wads of failure.

    There are a hundred thousand bad drawings in everyone and until you get rid of a good portion of them, you can't make a good drawing (thanks Chuck Jones!). It is the same with humor. There are a hundred thousand terrible, unfunny jokes in every one of us. It's simply a matter of getting through them quickly and learning to avoid them.

    Some quick rules of thumb- it isn't funny because a character laughs at it, and it isn't funny because you tell us it is. It's funny because it's funny. And if it isn't funny, it shouldn't be there: a bad joke soils the area around it, making laughs into grins and grins into sighs.

    Read lots of funny stuff, and you will learn faster. But if it is a joke and it isn't funny (give it to a rather humourless friend and see if he reacts), cut it.
     
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  7. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    This is critical- but at the same time, this situation can be made hilarious. If the character is so certain they've crafted the finest joke ever told when everyone- reader included- knows it is awful.

    An important thing to keep in mind and accept is that people process humour differently. Believe it or not, there are people out there who don't find George Carlin amusing. There may still even be fans of Carlos Mencia. Find what works for you, read up on it. Think about why you find it funny. Think about what you find funny. And accept, at first, there will probably be more misses than hits. I think, for me anyway, the two keys to funny are don't force it, and don't take it or yourself too seriously.
     
  8. boesjwoelie
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    boesjwoelie Member

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    I think it's exactly what you said, it works with contrast. Take Monty Python. At first glance, it's not that silly at all... there is the King of Brittain, a score of knights (never mind the horses :p), mysterious mists, corpses on poles everywhere... It gets really silly only when they start talking ^^

    So yeah I agree, contrast is important :)
     

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