KEEP IT SIMPLE - Complications Ensue
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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Another point both Mark Farrell and DJ McCarthey mentioned was not making your comedy plot too busy. In comedy, the plot exists only to support the funny. You need enough plot to bring the funny, but not more. So if you have a choice between milking a simple situation or making it more complex, milk it. Why?

a. You won't burn through so much plot. You can always do the extra plot later.
b. Comedy builds, but only so long as you're on the same bit. The longer you can stay on the same joke and keep them laughing, the harder they'll laugh. Comedy writing staffs are always looking for the "topper" -- the gag that tops the previous gag while staying in the same bit. The longer you can keep topping the previous joke, the funnier the bit gets.
c. If you run long and you have a simple plot, you can always cut a few longueurs to bring down the length. But if the plot is complicated, it's hard to cut plot. If you have to get from A to D, it's hard to get rid of B and C. So you wind up cutting only gags and leaving the plot points. Now it's not funny any more, it's just plot.
d. If you've really nailed your characters, a lot of the funny is in the pauses. Everybody Loves Raymond is brilliant at this. The audience is laughing before the character comes out with his retort. They have a feeling for what he's going to say. As Chris Abbott said, "you never know what they're going to say, and then when they say it, you say, 'I knew he was gonna say that!'"

The latter is part of what Mark was calling "plausible surprise." We know where the character's going. But then he gets there in a surprising way. That's bringing the funny.

2 Comments:

alex

that's interesting. i write creep, but wish i could write comedy. in psych/supernatural thrillers i feel the plot should definitely thicken - adds energy to the creep factor. keeping plot simple makes sense for comedy. never thought about it before. thanks

sorry, that's all i got. just wanted to say...


zilla

By Blogger kojled, at 12:21 PM  

Alex, this advice is spot on. I've seen too many newby writers to the comedy genre try over-complicate the plots. In comedy, plots are simple, characters are complex, it's how they react to the situation that brings the funny.

And on the building the joke thing - remember the discussion in the CJ writers' room about The Simpsons and the rake (the homage to Taxi?) - that was taking drawing out the bit to the extreme, and that was hysterical.

And as for the underwrting mentioned earlier - also spot on. Good comedy can sometimes read quite bland - which is why it's so tough to sell to inexperienced network folk who don't get this.

DV

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:56 AM  

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