Comedy is hard, or so it’s been said. When I let a fellow writer read my first script, Fate(s), one of his notes was I should make it funnier. It’s not a rom-com I countered, but he thought it would work well with more humor. That gave me reason to pause.
I don’t think I’m a funny person. I know I have a dry sense of humor. I know I laugh sometimes at some subtle nuance that no one else notices, example, the remake of Fright Night (written by Marti Noxon who worked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so I was preconditioned to already enjoy it); a half full theater and my sister and I were the only ones laughing at these little off-handed remarks or random things. That surprised me. I like to laugh, I like people who can make me laugh, but I don’t really know how to write that. I haven’t given it a real effort, in part, because the stories I tell don’t naturally lend themselves to comedy. There can be elements of humor, but to make it even on a romantic comedy level is beyond me, let alone a full blown comedy.
*Side note, my sister and I are many years apart, and although I’m the big sister, she has taught me a few things too. She enjoys things that are a little on the darker side, and showed me that a film like American Psycho is actually funny. Yes, it’s dark and twisted, but if you watch it more than once, you’ll see the comedy. I think exposing ourselves to a variety of genres and different styles can only add to our knowledge banks as writers.
This lead me to a couple of thoughts. One, I appreciate the people who can write comedy and make me laugh even more. Two, as a writer, if you find yourself lacking in an area, what are you to do?
Let’s start with #1 – a few random examples of what I would consider funny.
Archer - an animated show about a spy agency created by Adam Reed. From the very first moment I was hooked. The show is wonderfully written with distinct characters, and it looks good. There are two particular techniques I appreciate; they often use the last line of dialogue of one character to lead into dialogue of another character in another scene. Where one leads off, another begins. I can’t imagine how difficult that must be to write like that. The other technique is that the writers established a fully developed world and characters with backstory from the first scene. *Available on Netflix
Little Britain – a sketch comedy show created by Matt Lucas and David Walliams. This is a little bit on the niche side. If you don’t watch British comedy in general, then you may not find this as funny as I do. Also, as it is a sketch comedy, not all sketches are of equal measure, but because it’s British, they can get away with some sight gags that literally made me burst out with laughter and some language and themes that our prudish little country (the States) would only allow on premium cable channels. The show was popular enough to garner a US spinoff, which unfortunately is not available on Netflix, but *most of the original series is.
The Lego Movie – no description should be necessary as this was a big mainstream hit, with a sequel greenlit a few weeks of its opening. Besides being adorable, I mean c’mon, it’s Lego, it was humorous, good natured, and clever, and you didn’t have to play with Lego* as a kid to enjoy it. I laughed nearly the entire time, I left feeling good, and with most films nowadays, how often does that happen? Maybe in part because it’s animated, it allows for visuals that would otherwise be difficult to capture. Again, it’s those little nuances that I enjoy.
If you review the list, the first thing you might realize is that they are all different variations of comedy, and secondly, that they all have multiple writers; tv shows have writers’ rooms, full length features tend to get rewritten by numerous other people beyond the original writer. The Lego Movie has six writer credits, four for story and two for screenplay. So maybe comedy works best in teams?
So that brings me around to topic #2, what to do if you’re deficient in an area. As writers, screenwriters in particular, we are told to write in a genre and to build a portfolio in an effort to distinguish ourselves. I think one of the first things to do is write to our strengths. When we first start writing, we try a few different avenues until we find what works for us. This doesn’t mean that we can’t grow and change. I currently write reality based fantasies with romance, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to write something else in the future. What it does mean is that I may have to find outside help.
Let’s say I want to write a comedy, by some stretch of the imagination. I would definitely need to find a partner. I would probably need to take some sort of comedy class, do some stand up (I cringe at the thought), and go into heavy research mode. I would have to teach myself, and learn from others, but this doesn’t ensure I could write something funny. I think some things are innate. Comedy being one of those things. This made me pause again.
I’m not sure if not having a specific writing trait should be considered a deficiency or a shortcoming. There are genres for a reason. I like to read and watch a variety of genres, but as of right now I like to write in one in particular. Does that mean if someone thinks I should write with more humor that I listen to that advice? I think we should write to our strengths. I think we should write with passion. That is what will translate.
What are your thoughts?
*Evidently, even though it sounds wrong, the plural of Lego is Lego.