“If someone gets a lot of LOLs on their Facebook statuses, do you think they could be a comedy writer? Asking for a friend.”
If someone asked me that, I’d go to their Facebook feed and read where theses LOLs were coming from. Of course, his mother. But then I’d cut him a break because the world needs more funny.
What makes something funny? There are no guarantees in humor. Professional comedians spend years trying to find the material that “kills” but what works in Cleveland may not work in Kalamazoo.
Good comic writers can get a handle on humor this way.
A good comic writer needs to study pacing. I’m reminded of that iconic scene in I Love Lucy when Lucy and Ethel were working in the chocolate factory. At firsts the speed of the belt was manageable, but gradually it got faster, so fast that Lucy and Ethel had to stuff chocolate in their mouths to keep up. A natural comic will understand that the big punch line or comic scene has to come gradually.
A comic writer may also have to study word choice. Some words are just funnier than others. Need a clue? Choose words with a hard c or k sound in them for your jokes and stories. Bird isn’t funny. Chicken and turkey are. Onion and tomato aren’t that funny. Cucumber, pickle and zucchini are much funnier. Fruit? Not so much. Fruitcake? Hilarious. It was this K sound that I chose when I wrote, what works in Cleveland may not work in Kalamazoo.
A comic writer should also consider placement of words in a sentence. If you have a surprise word, hopefully one that has a k sound to it, write your sentence in such a way that the word, or funny image, comes last. The study of one-liners is a great way to see this.
A grasshopper walked into a bar and ordered a drink. “No way! A talking grasshopper!” The bartender yelled. “You know we have a drink named after you!” The grasshopper looked at him in amazement. “Carl?”
I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather.. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.
A comic writer needs a target. Choose a group, situation or individual to mock, one that your audience looks down on. One of the most sure-fire ways to fail in comic writing is getting the wrong target. Research your audience and if you can find a group, situation, or individual that they all look down on and feel superior toward. You can also target yourself. This is the safest target of all because every reader, regardless of their status, education, or age will be happy to agree that you are an idiot. The more you play this up, the more laughs you get.
This joke is for whomever may not have positive feelings about politicians: Politicians and diapers have one thing in common. They should both be changed regularly, and for the same reason.
A comic writer needs to incorporate exaggeration. Go big. Go over the top. Draw out the fools in your story to not just trip, but to scramble over big feet, reach out for the hall table, knock over the vase full of flowers, break the vase, spill the water in it, slip on the water, bang their head on the wall, tumble down the stairs next to them. Exaggeration is essential to humor. Practice it. Study it. And add it in when you can.
A comic writer needs to incorporate surprise. How do you choose surprise? Put in what doesn’t fit. Make an incongruous choice for your characters, the setting or your situation. Your characters could be named Tom, Dave, Les and Bartholomew. Tom’s hobbies include weightlifting, cross country motorbiking and scrapbooking. The quaint New England town of your setting has an Town Hall, an Episcopalian Church, a Senior Center and a Museum For Dolls with No Heads. You can also use double meanings to create the surprise.
War does not determine who is right – only who is left.
A comic writer needs to be a keen observer. Look for the funny everywhere you go. It’s never been easier to take photographs or make a note on the go. Do it! Stare people down and note the funny things they say and do. In your notes be as descriptive as possible so you can recall it. When it comes time to write your piece, you can add what you saw, twisting it around of course to meet your own needs.
A comic writer needs also to study the experts. I know I’ve learned a lot about comedy from watching The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Friends, and Parks and Recreation. I know enough to see how the writers are using the well created characters and then exaggerating their actions to create comic situations. My favorite comic writing book is Comedy Writing Secrets by Melvin Helitzer.
Comedy writing is not easy, I’d argue that is far more art than science. Mark Twain famously said, “Explaining humor is a lot like dissecting a frog, you learn a lot in the process, but in the end you kill it.” But it can be learned and your writing can richer for it.
To my funny friend on Facebook with the question, I’d answer,”You may. Just be prepared to work hard, pay attention and try everything. And don’t forget to mention chickens.”
Chickens are always funny.
Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community.