Tips for Writing Comedy
by Cody Wagner
As everyone who’s read my posts knows, I’m pretty dang hilarious. Now, that may seem really cocky, but it’s really not! Why? Because no one reads my posts. Thus, no one thinks I’m hilarious. See? Modest. Still, I have experience writing comedy as I contribute material to a local (but successful) sketch comedy group.
While there are tons of sites and articles out there that talk about comedy writing, I wanted to share a couple of my favorite tips. These are things that I pop into my head anytime I’m trying to write something funny.
Just like with everything (clothes, popular movie/book genres, toys, etc…), there are trends in comedy that come and go. Remember back in the late 90s and early 2000s when gross-out comedy was all the rage? You couldn’t go a minute without seeing American Pie and There’s Something About Mary all over the list of box office hits.
Well, today, random comedy is really in. A couple of examples:
- There’s an episode of the popular cartoon, Bob’s Burgers, where Bob is talking to a shop owner who’s wearing pajamas but thinks they’re normal daytime clothes.
- The popular show 30 Rock had a scene where a woman shows off a tattoo of a seat belt across her chest. When asked about it, she says, “It’s so I don’t get pulled over when I drive topless.”
I remember those two scenes so well because, oh my God, they made me laugh so hard. And they’re great examples of random comedy. Those scenes come out at you from left field. And it’s fun to write stuff that makes people think, Where did that come from? Maybe that trend will fade out, but for now, there’s nothing better than being slapped with the random fish.
In my novel, I introduced bits of random comedy by giving my protagonist mouth diarrhea. He’s a good kid but has a tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. And the stuff he says is totally random and wacky. It was really fun to write and readers seem to enjoy it.
Write Comedy Around Situations, Not Jokes
This is the big one. In my opinion this isn’t a trend, but the basis for virtually all good comedy.
Have you ever watched a show where the setup for a joke is apparent from a mile away? And it seems like the entire scene was built around a joke? This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Funny scenes should happen organically. When hilarious things happen in our real lives, it’s not because we’re building toward a predetermined joke. Instead, real comedy comes naturally from situations. Consequently, that’s how I think comedy should be written.
OK this may stir up some controversy, but I think Two and a Half Men was one of the worst shows ever. Why? Because they wrote for the jokes rather than the situations. It’s like the writers thought “I want to include this joke about women” and they all sat around trying to think of a scene where the joke would work.
All I have to say to that is: BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
It feels incredibly backwards. It’s also lazy. I think it’s much more difficult to write a scene where comedy happens naturally than to build a scene around a joke. But, when done right, it’s so effective.
For example, I was always a huge fan of Friends because the writers were masters at creating comedy around situations. My favorite episode revolves around Monica and Chandler trying to keep their relationship secret while Phoebe and Rachel work to expose them. They end up in this huge cat-and-mouse game, with each party trying something more outlandish to reveal the truth.
Notice I didn’t mention a single joke there. That’s because the comedy came from their attempts and actions.
Hysterical Concluding Statement
At this point, I feel like I need to finish off with a hysterical statement. That way, readers are left thinking, Oh he just said something funny which validates this post. But I’m not gonna do that! Not because I’m being random or trying to make a point or anything.
No, that’s too much pressure and my brain just went blank. So I got nothing.
Cody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and write. His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out.” See what he did there? Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at Wagner-Writer.com, or find him on Twitter (@cfjwagner), Goodreads, and Amazon.
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This was a blog “after my own heart”–whatever that means. Writing comedy is more difficult than speaking comedy. I sing in a comedy barbershop quartet (Lilac Crazy–we LIE like crazy), and our emcee work is full of our special brand of humor. However, i’m also writing novels that feature my quartet, and writing the funny things that we do and say doesn’t always come off as humorous in print. I am a big fan of random comedy and writing humor based on the situation.
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Thanks for the pointers. I appreciate comedic writing, though I don’t think I do it unless it is spontaneous, and organic! Ha!
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