Monday, July 16, 2018

On Comedy Writing

by Gurmeet Mattu (writer), Glasgow, January 13, 2010

The myth that comedy writing is so hard that it can only be mastered by the exceptionally gifted few is universally accepted. Well, I don't believe it, and I show you why with a naughty little sketch

Dying is easy, comedy is hard.
Old adage and old thinking, invented by writers and performers who wanted greater kudos for a craft that was deemed to be less worthy because it dealt with the amusing. Comedians, writers and performers, want to not only make people laugh but to be taken seriously as well. They thought they were being linked back in time to village idiots and court jesters, buffoons and the lame-brained. It didn't matter how much they got paid, they still had to wear that damn hat with the bell on the end.
So they absolutely had to insist that comedy was such a difficult craft to master that only those verging on genius could achieve it.

Sorry, guys, don't buy it.

To write a comedy sketch all you need a combination of a situation, characters and dialogue, with a mix of at least one of the elements being ridiculous. Keep writing till you hit the punch-line and then edit back. Let's try it with a little bedroom conversation sketch.

BILL: So, how do you know Fred next door's got a bigger thingy than me?
JEAN: He showed me it.
BILL: What do you mean, he showed you it? Guys don't just go around showing their married-next-door-neighbour their thingy.
JEAN: Fred does, he's an exhibitionist. He says, if you've got it, flaunt it.
BILL: The dirty devil. Is it really big?
JEAN: Enormous.
BILL: What, length-wise or girth?
JEAN: Both. He's won prizes for it.
BILL: What do you mean 'prizes'?
JEAN: Trophies. Awards. There's an international organisation for men with big thingies, and they give out annual awards in various categories, Fred says.
BILL: He's having you on.
JEAN: He showed me it.
BILL: So you said.
JEAN: His prize! It's a big gold-plated thingy and it says 'Most Promising Newcomer'.
BILL: Oh, so he's not been in this club long?
JEAN: No, just since he was spotted. In a public toilet. That's how they do their recruiting.
BILL: He didn't try to ... you know ... when he was showing you ...?
JEAN: It's not sexual. It's all about aesthetic qualities.
BILL: He's just trying to hit on you. I'm going round there to give him a kicking.
JEAN: Hey, just because Fred's proud of how big he is, and wanted me to see his thingy, and feel how smooth the skin .....
BILL: You touched it?
JEAN: How else was I supposed to experience the satin-like sheen?
BILL: Listen, I'm as broad-minded as the next guy, but I don't want you going next door and looking at Fred's thingy and touching it. It's .. it's .. unhygenic.
JEAN: You're jealous.
BILL: Yes. I admit it. I am. Green-eyed. (pause) I can't help it, but I really envy your facility for making new friends, darling.

That is an example of a simple exercise in misdirection, one of the staples of comedy writing. Basically you're using the reader's expectations to take them in one direction, knowing that the punch-line is going to switch them round. Doesn't seem that clever to me, and maybe it's not worthy of an Emmy but then again at least I'm not ashamed of my jester's cap.

About the Writer

Gurmeet Mattu is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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1 comments on On Comedy Writing

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By Lady D on January 13, 2010 at 10:30 am

Men waving thier thingy is nothing new, but it always is funny.

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