Screenwriting 101: The Art of Comedy

Photo courtesy of www.blackburnwithdarwenwriters.co.uk

By Brock Cooper (doddleNEWS)

Almost every film has some comedy in it. The fact is, life has funny moments, and to ignore or deny those moments in your story is to do it and your audience a disservice.

Comedy is an art form. Comic timing and the ability to weave jokes and other comic elements in your story isn’t easy. You may be a funny person, but writing humor is completely different.

What Type of Film Are You Writing?

The amount and type of humor in a romantic comedy is completely different than that of a drama or farce. In dramas, the comedy needs to feel natural. A romantic comedy has more comedic moments, and it can be a little more over the top.

A straight-up comedy should have comic elements on virtually every page. It can get even more confusing when you add sub-types of comedy. A movie like “Survivors” with the late great Robin Williams has plenty of jokes and physical humor, but is grounded in reality. A movie like “Naked Gun” or “Airplane” lets you do things that are funny, but impossible, such as giant human condoms.

Strong Story Trumps Jokes

Comedy is important, but your character development and story are more important. Comedy is meant to add to the plot, and helps create a mood and even transition between emotional states. In “Steel Magnolias,”the funeral of Shelby is a somber and sad event, but it is immediately followed by a funny scene. It allows you to go from crying to laughing in a moment, because, let’s face it, that’s how life is. It also shows you the strength of their friendship.

The Many Types of Comedy

Comedy is a lot like a buffet at a Chinese restaurant. There is a ton of different types, but you can only fit so much on your plate. The majority of comedy comes in the form of dialogue.

Dialogue by itself isn’t easy, and trying make it funny is even harder. The key to funny dialogue is that is should sound natural for your character. The dialogue for Ron Burgundy is very different than that of Freddie Krueger. You can break comedy dialogue down even further into sarcasm, set-up jokes, one-liners, etc.

Physical comedy is simple to write, but difficult to make it seem natural. It’s when something from the environment interacts with your character, or your character does something that is funny. The old ‘slipping on a banana peel’ or ‘falling down a sewer hole,’ for example.

There’s intellectual comedy, political comedy, stupid comedy, and the list goes on and on. Choose the types you want to include, but remember you can only fit so many types in your story.

How Do You Know It’s Funny?

You may think you’ve written something absolutely hilarious, but the way you perceive your writing is different that other people. You go into it knowing the story inside and out, and let’s face it, you’re a little biased.

Let other people read your script and get their honest feedback: friends, relatives, script doctors, neighbors, anyone that will read it. If they have trouble getting the jokes, or think that the physical comedy is too overpowering, then don’t be afraid to go back and makes changes.

In the newspaper industry we have a saying, kill your babies. It means, even though the quote you got was great, it didn’t fit with the story, so it should be cut out. You may have loved it, but the story suffers with it in there. It’s the same way with comedy. You may think it’s the best piece of comedy in the entire script, but if the audience doesn’t like it, then it needs to go or at least change.

Finishing Touches

Every movie needs a little bit of comedy. It may come from dialogue, a character created specifically for the purpose… Jar Jar Binks, anyone?… physical, or a mix of it all. Horror, action, romcoms, buddy comedies, dramas, and everything in between has their funny moments.

Becoming adept at writing comedy is a necessity. You should read books, practice, take writing (even acting) classes, and do whatever it takes. It’s an integral part of life, and thus an integral part of writing.

“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” – Erma Bombeck