Or do that thing where you let your mouth fall open and look around the room like everyone's sharing the exact same Has this dude's TV been stuck on PBS for the past 30 years? thought that's running through your head.
*takes deep breath*
I've just discovered the show "Community."
Okay, just to clear some things up:
1) I knew the show existed.
2) I never watched it because when someone told me about it I thought they were talking about "Entourage."
3) I hate "Entourage."
If I'd known then what I know now, though, I would've been a die-hard fan from season one. See, I've binge watched every episode of "Community" during the past few days and it was somewhere between the spaghetti western paintball episode and the MeowMeowBeenz one that got me thinking about my next blog post.
How do writers pull off comedy?
And that got me thinking about my favorite comedies and how much I enjoy putting humor into my own writing. I won't ever profess to be the world's funniest human... or man... or Tennessean for that matter. However, I will say I'm the funniest guy in my fifth grade class. Or at least somewhere in the top ten.
But I have learned a few ways to comedicize the words on my page. And being the nicest guy in my fifth grade class (or at least somewhere in the top twenty), I thought I'd share them with you.
Comedy tip # 1:
Don't try to be funny.
Weird, I know. But there's nothing that'll kill a comedy buzz like trying to force a joke. If you set out with the goal to write a funny line, chances are it'll end up flat. Unless you do it right and then it'll end up hilarious. But if you were doing it right then you probably wouldn't be reading this. Would you?
Comedy needs to be organic. The best hilarious line rarely begins with something our characters say or do. It begins with the environment around them and then letting your characters react to it. Allowing the funny to grow from situations the characters get themselves into makes it so much more real. It'll help build the funny so you can get the biggest laugh-out-loud possible. And allowing your humor to manifest out of reaction versus only action will help the funny be much more specific.
Which leads us to...
Comedy tip # 2:
Killer segue. Nailed it.
Being specific doesn't mean tell the joke as specifically as possible. In fact, I'd suggest not doing that. I mean, think about it. Knock knock jokes are short for a reason, right? Nobody wants a twelve minute description of who or what's at the door. We don't have time for that. Comedy doesn't have time for that.
No, being specific means to let your characters' voices help tell the joke. We don't all react to situations the same way, so neither should our characters. The best example I can give is through Troy from "Community." He never thinks. He's never had to. So when he reacts to something, it usually ends up being hilarious. For us. Not so much for him.
Each character on that show is unique with a very specific voice. And when the writers throw a situation at them, they've got a goldmine of funny to dig into. Of course, coming up with the joke is only half the battle. So what's the other half?
I'm glad you asked. It's...
Comedy tip # 3:
Use comedic timing.
Okay, so this one's a toughie. Comedic timing relies so heavily on actors and their ability to deliver the punchline. So how do we do that in our own writing? Simple. Act it out.
When you write a scene and you're convinced it's the funniest thing since Mel Brooks, test it out. Read it aloud and see if it works. Are there places where you need to pause? Is the joke sitting in just the right place? Does the scene drag?
In your head it may be perfect. But your reader isn't in your head so you need to make sure the funny translates onto the page.
Perhaps the punchline springs a little too quickly. If so, add in a little pause. Maybe an awkward silence settles over the group right before the Ha ha! moment. Maybe the line is amazing, but something happens right after it that sort of chokes out the joke before people can really enjoy it. If it takes too long to get to the funny, then do some trimming.
Everyone likes humor. Unless it's fashionably late. Then it's just passé.
Try the rule of three.
The rule of three is simple. If something happens once, it's an occurrence. If it happens twice, it's repetitive. If it happens three times, it's a motif. And we all love motifs.
So don't be scared to revisit a joke. Now that doesn't mean just copy and paste and expect to get the same laughs.
But let's say you've got a character who, at the beginning of a scene, reacts to a Miley Cyrus song. And it's the funniest thing you've ever written. It wouldn't be totally out of the question to have that same character bring it back up somewhere in the middle, making everyone give him or her a collective eye roll. And then if he or she brings it up again right at the end, it'd set up a nice way for the other characters to react before rolling into the next scene.
Well that was easy!
Writing comedy is tough, but the good news is that it gets easier. Just like writing anything, really. The more you practice it, let yourself fail at it, and refuse to give up on it, the better you'll be at it.
Don't stop there, though. Pick up a book that never fails to get you giggling and figure out what makes it so funny. There's no formula for humor, but there are ways to get the biggest bang for your comedic buck. And you have my word that the four comedy tips above are a good place to start. You know you can trust me because I'm the most honest blogger on this site.
Or at least somewhere in the top six.