BRINGING THE FUNNY - Complications Ensue
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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Some readers have been kind enough to mention books on comedy they've found useful. What lessons do you remember from them? I read The Comic Toolbox a year or two ago when we were doing Naked Josh. But all I can remember is a graph showing the character's reality and their reality as they see it themselves -- the comedy is to be found in the area between the two. And, actually, I remember it more from our producer's explanation (he read the book at USC) and not from the book.

On the other hand, the ZAZ rules of comedy couldn't be simpler or clearer. Joke on a joke? Not funny.

On the other hand, as Tevye would say, the ZAZ rules of comedy don't tell you how to write comedy, only what doesn't work, and what to call certain gags that have names.

What, if any, lessons can you remember off the bat from a book about writing comedy? I've got Jerry Rannow's book on comedy in the bathroom. I cannot remember a single lesson from it. This may be my advancing senility, but something should have stuck -- other than a distinct impression that Jerry Rannow's less funny than he thinks.

Are there any books that actually tell you how to bring the funny?

Thoughts?

5 Comments:

Honestly, I've never really found a book that has much helpful to say on how to be funny. The only way I know of to learn to be funny is to try to make other people laugh, and to pay close attention towhat works and what doesn't. Learning comedy from a book is like learning how to dance by listening to a CD of somebody tapdancing.

By Anonymous Jacob, at 10:13 AM  

Can't really say it's from a particular book because it's pretty much in every book -- but the "rule of threes" is actually useful and can even be applied outside of comedy.

By Blogger Steve Peterson, at 12:57 PM  

People tell me I'm funny though I very rarely think so. My thought processes seem to run to the opposite of the "right thing to say", so I guess there's a rule of opposites at work in some types of humor.

I think there's a lot of humor that's neglected by not letting characters be themselves. Frasier was a good one at that - none of the writing was ever out of character and thus was very funny.

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 1:21 PM  

Well, I don't think it is so much a how-to of writing comedy. As most people will tell you, writing comedy is one of the most difficult things to do. I find, as I write comedy (screenplays -- I too hate sitcoms), one of my most annoying challenges is when I have a scene hat I know is a funny CONCEPT but still doesn't PLAY funny.

Regardless, I think the two things I remember most from the Voytilla book I mentioned are:

1. The mechanics of comedy -- literally what makes comedy funny. Not the most helpful for a non-funny person, but good building blocks for those people who have some skills, but need to do some tweaking. Basically, no surprises, just good reminders in a well-organized format. And,

2. Adapting the Hero's Journey motifs (since it is Voytilla) to comedy-specific scripts. An enlightening take.

Bottom line, I think it is important that people realize that a book won't make an unfunny writer into a funny one, but they might help the somewhat funny writer become funnier, IMNSHO. And if you ain't that funny, just write a drama instead! ;-)

Peace.
Fun Joel

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:16 PM  

Laughing Out Loud by Andrew Horton, as I mentioned, it pretty academic. I'd assume it is used as a textbook for Horton's screenwriting classes, and I'd guess it would be helped by viewings of the films he mentions. He has a fondness for Eastern European comedy films, which is both intriguing and a little frustrating.

The book has some principles of comedy which I think work best as thought-provokers. The one that stuck with me the most: "It is not that comedy has a 'happy ending' so much as a festive climax that celebrates a community of two or more individuals." It explains why many comedies end at weddings.

He gives some "Exercises to Nurture the Comic Muse" which seemed helpful to me--maybe not so useful if you're saying, "Okay, I have to squeeze out three more pages by four o'clock and they have to be funny!" but good for habits. He suggests keeping a comic journal to note the humor you see around you. Another part of this is "random acts of kindness"--yes, it's a silly Oprahfied term, but I think if you get in the habit of looking for opportunities to bring delight into people's lives, then you're probably on the right track for writing comedy.

By Anonymous 'drew, at 7:19 AM  

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