Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dying Is Easy, Comedy Is Hard

I looked up the quote that is the title of this blog, but no one is sure who actually said it first. But it is very true. Comedy is hard.

Hard to explain, hard to write, hard to deliver, and most importantly, it's extremely hard to get right.

Why?

Because if it was easy, everyone would be writing comedy.

Types of Comedic Writing

The Pun

Brad Carson, another Stop-Watch Gang member, is a master punster. While puns aren't my standard comedic MO, I do throw one into a story occasionally. If you're going to use a pun, make sure it fits in the story, or it will stick out like a sore thumb!

I would make a pun here, right now, but my thumb's still aching from the last one.

The Recurring Gag

Sometimes a joke will repeat throughout a story. Usually two times, but it can occur more often (although it might then feel "tired" if overused). I used to say to my kids, "Once is funny. Three times is annoying."

For instance, in one of my stories, the main character wakes up in yesterday's clothes and spends the remainder of the story looking rather ragged. Every time he meets an adversary, they usually say to him, "You look like crap." By about the second or third time, it's not funny for the protagonist, but the phrase is funny to the reader.

Absurdity

Think Monty Python.

Then go a step further.

For example:

What if five guys decide to make money by robbing the rich old guy in the neighbourhood? But once they break in, they discover he's a werewolf. And after the old man eats the first robber, his vampire friends arrive for their weekly poker game. And the remaining robbers have to hide in the bathroom (because maybe vampires and werewolves never pee), and then an army of silverfish pour out of the tub and it just so happens one of the robbers is terrified of silverfish, so he runs screaming into the midst of the poker game where the vampires suck him dry.

Okay, that doesn't sound absurd enough (yet). I will have to think about how much more absurd the situation could be. Robot zombie silverfish perhaps? :)

Satire and Sarcasm

Satire and sarcasm are my bread and butter.

In my authorial voice, my characters tend to be smart alecks who make blatant snaps at their friends whenever possible. Probably because I tend to employ sarcasm more often than not in my everyday life.

Sometimes, the best way to write a comedy is to take an overused story (like Cinderella or the Odyssey) and totally make satirical fun of it.

For example:

What if Cinderella is a guy who used to be a boxer and now he scrubs floors in a fish processing plant at night. And when he isn't invited to the ball, maybe he loses his rubber glove and it's found by a the gay millionaire owner of the fish processing conglomeration? Maybe they end up falling in love over a pile of fish guts?

Again, that doesn't sound very funny to me (yet), but sometimes comedy is all about trying new ideas and seeing if they float (Yay!) or sink like boulders (back to editing).

The Old Standard

Some jokes never get old. I've used many a classic, such as, Why did the chicken cross the road? and Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Yes, I had the audacity to use both of the above jokes in my chickens-take-over-the-world story, "Yummy Mutants" which appeared in Oddlands Magazine. As a matter of fact, I used every single chicken joke ever written in that story.

Which leads me to...

Go High or Go Home

If you're going for as funny as you can possibly be, then don't hold back. Add another joke. Then five more. Fill that story to its maximum joke capacity.

For example, in the Mel Brooks movie, Young Frankenstein, Brooks uses just about every comedic trope. The man was a genius at never letting up when it came to packing in as many possible versions of comedy as possible: the sight gag, the running gag, the pun, the cliché, the absurd, the spontaneous, the eclectic, and the satirical.

And Marty Feldman simply cannot be beat in terms of comedic timing.

If you have not seen the movie, make time. See how many of the tropes you can spot.

Once you stop laughing and get back to working on your own comedy, I suggest you read your work-in-progress aloud. To an audience.

If they don't laugh, you have some work to do.

If they do laugh, but in the wrong places, then you have even more work to do.

Like most arts, your comedy will improve with practice.

Make a few edits, then read the new version to a different audience, and hope that you hear more laughs the second time around.

Lather, rinse, repeat. And repeat again.

Repeat a whole ton more.

You might get sick of the story, but that's okay. Because comedy is hard work, and if you're laughing every time, then you're on the right track.

To use yet another movie reference, Shrek is funny every single time. (The original movie, not the sequels.) The writers took a very long time to ensure they got the comedy right.

Do It Now:
If you've never seen Shrek or Young Frankenstein, then beg, borrow, or buy yourself a copy and watch them ASAP.

Write the first 100 words of a comedic piece. Read it aloud to someone. (It's a holiday, you're bound to have friends and/or family around.) Make notes of the funny parts when they laughed and when they didn't. Edit accordingly.

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