The following comedy writing tips are supporting notes for Heide and Iain’s comedy workshop.
- Develop characters to ensure you have conflict (give them opposing traits)
- Lay them out visually; examine every line between every character to see what they have in common, where they are opposites
- An “agent of chaos” is invaluable – the character who will say the unsayable
World / setting
- We’re looking for something that challenges the characters e.g. fish out of water
- Reduce the size of the place & time to maximise comedy
- Scale the setting (so the embarrassing thing happens in front of a huge audience or on live TV)
- Danger / conflict. Put the characters somewhere with potential for peril / mishaps
- Undermine expectations (if the setting is formal like a wedding, the custard pie fight is better)
- Misuse of words
- Misunderstanding (“are you sexually active?”, “no I just lie there”)
- Urgency vs understatement used together (“Can you tell me where room 1102 is?” “Oh, call someone, my baby is coming now!” “So…you don’t know?”)
- Jargon / terminology / made up words & phrases (e.g. how much people like saying “flux capacitor”)
- Vulgarity. Startling combinations work better than outright swearing (cockwomble, jizztrumpet)
Generating and developing ideas
Where to find funny ideas
- Ask the hive mind (See Iain’s #lazywriter hashtag!)
- Visualise a funny picture with your characters in it
- Watch sitcoms (there are numerous variations on similar setups)
- “what if”
Take every idea that you have and make it bigger and crazier
- Chase your character up a tree and throw rocks at them.
- Assume your first idea is too lame. What does the “turn it up to 11” version look like?
Narrative voice, word choice
- Specifics (gorgonzola is funnier than cheese)
- Words with ‘K’ in them are acknowledged to be funnier (pickle…)
- “Belgium” is inherently funny.
Extra techniques for adding humour
- Outlandish similes
- The power of the outlandish simile
- Sardonic description from an omniscient narrator
- References to well-known stories & tropes
- The value of a really contrived pun.
How the ideals of comedy writing are the same as any dramatic writing
- Foreshadowing and payoff – when the bucket placed over the door in chapter 1 falls in chapter 5.
- Surprises, plot-twists and the heightening of tension.
- Allowing the reader to think they’re one step ahead of the writer.
- Allowing the reader to make up their own jokes, draw their own conclusions.
- Seeing our own morality vindicated – the bad guy squished, the heroine rewarded unexpectedly.
- The telling of a joke and the rounding off of a good story are the same thing – a sense of narrative completeness.