Typing Faster

August 1, 2009

So you want to be a comedy writer?

Filed under: Breaking In, Craft — petertypingfaster @ 9:00 am

Well, what the hell are you doing here?

Personally I tend to work almost exclusively in the dramatic arena (I blame my lack of comedic chops on a happy childhood and a normal family), but as I was surfing around the intertubes I stumbled across a nice bit of advice for aspiring comedy actors.

What does this have to with writing you ask? Well, I figured it’d be pretty easy to apply these bits of advice to comedy, and even dramatic, writing as well.

On to the advice!

1. Find Your Funny
No one is good at everything. We all have strengths, we all have weaknesses, and we all have certain stories that we can tell well, and certain stories that we struggle with. If you can figure out what style of comedy you can write really well, then you’ll be ahead of the game.

Are you drawn to farce? Sketch? Absurdist? Figure out what style of comedy your funniest jokes fall into and then focus on that.

2. Identify your comedy character
Just like writers have certain stories we like to tell, most of us have certain characters that we like to come back to again and again. Figure out what kind of characters you relate to the most, the ones you can write the best, and then make sure you incorporate them into your scripts.

3. Explore your comedy
Instead of jumping into comedy writing classes, I’d suggest you get into performing instead. I think that every writer should spend some time on stage. If you’re a comedy writer, then consider doing some stand up. There’s no better way to get a feel for things that work, or things that don’t, than by performing it live in front of an audience.

4. Stick to the script
Comedy really is all about timing, and one of the best ways to see if the timing’s working is by reading it through. Hearing it out loud will give you new insight into your words, and a much better idea if your jokes are landing. When you put together some people to read your script aloud though, make absolute sure that they’re following the script to the letter. You’re trying to hear your dialogue after all, not the actors improvisations!

5. Learn to break down comedy scripts
If you want to be a screenwriter you need to know how to break down a script. Tearing an episode of television down to its composite pieces will teach you an incredible amount about the show. If you don’t do this before writing a spec script you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.

6. Perfect your funny
Practice, practice, practice. Every writer has (at least) 10 bad scripts in them. Try to get them out as fast as possible. The more you practice, the more developed your craft becomes, the more nuance and detail you can incorporate into your scripts. First you have to build a foundation though.

7. Stay committed
Don’t pull your punches, that’s what producers / broadcasters / standards & practices lawyers are for. Push it as far as the story demands. If you don’t, if you only go half way, then readers will pick up on that. Go for it.

8. Be still
Don’t underestimate the power of silence. Sometimes the best reaction to a joke or situation is nothing. Don’t be afraid to underwrite, often times it’s way better than overwriting.

9. Watch the comedy masters
I’d expand that to just “watch the masters.” You’ll learn an incredible amount by seeing how the pros do what they do. I’ve never understood how anyone that wants to work in this business can say they don’t watch television / movies. Again, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot if you admit to that.

10. Have fun
If you’re not having fun when you write, then what’s the point? The only reason to be working in this business is if you can’t be happy doing anything else. Seriously. Enjoy it. It’ll come across in the final product.

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