Mechanics of Comedic Prose
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September 21st, 2011 (02:19 AM). Edited September 22nd, 2011 by bobandbill.
Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: Central Coast - Australia
Hey, I write comedy! Or try to anyway!
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Mizan de la Plume Kuro
Is comedy formulaic? I like to think that, to a certain degree, it's not, but I've never written anything incredibly lol-worthy, so I can't say.
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I'd say... yes and no, or basically to a degree it isn't. There's a bunch of things to it (say timing/delivery of the jokes) but sometimes it's hard to tell if something will be funny or not for something else... or rather sometimes (in my experience anyways) something which I wouldn't have thought to be that funny others did find it to be so.
It does take some trial and error though I feel, to get it 'right' for yourself.
In writing comedy, how can you be funny and not just stupid? <-- There's also a great article for writing non-serious satire on Uncyclopedia.
By stupid, you mean...? As in, do you mean the bad lolrandom type of jokes or forced in the humour or something like that? Just that I see there being multiple potential meanings there which makes that not-easy question rather... harder. =p
But for how to be funny? I... am not really sure as there's a fair bit that can go into such an answer. I suppose the main things I would consider important is clarity (if your joke is hard to understand or requires external knowledge (in-jokes) the reader won't have, the joke will fall flat) and timing (because the best joke in the world can be told in an unfunny way and timing is one of the most important factors there; although I suppose it's more important in the spoken/visual form it still has its impact in writing). Also - does the joke make sense? If it feels out of place to the reader then it will not be as successful. To draw the first example to my head in writing I'll go with Cutlerine's SWC entry (sorry Cutlerine=p).
The Celebi in the story was pretty amusing in set-up and delivery and all, but as it didn't match the rest of the story (which had a far more serious vibe) it felt a bit 'off', somewhat out of place, and so I preferred smaller jokes in the story to it (say the main character's reactions to Lorelei's appearence/teachings and so forth.
From there it basically depends on the joke itself - is it a situation (in which case setting/context come into play more so) or say a character's reaction (in which characterisation will be more of a factor both then and beforehand)... basically I feel this question is rather broad and so it's hard to give a satisfactory answer. That and one's idea of what is funny will differ to another's. (Also - what's funny now is different to what was funny ten years ago and will be different to what will be funny in ten years time too in various aspects. I would wager at the risk of being proven wrong that comedy in that respect has changed far more than say tragedy).
One thing that does help in knowing how to be funny though is to see how other people do it in various forms - fics, books (Terry Pratchet is always a good one), stand-up comedy (various), movies (Monty Python! Original Pink Panther!) and television shows (for modern stuff you've stuff like Arrested Development and Community off the top of my head as well as say Black Books; for older stuff there's...well, Blackadder is a must as is Mr Bean, Fawlty Towers, and Seinfeld is probably the best out of them imho - still aged fair well too and it's got a fair range within it. Watching that is something I certainly recommend. Studying the character of Kramar within it is another. ;p)
Is your comedy planned or can you come up with jokes in a flash?
Both. A fair bit of the stuff I do is from planning (ie wondering how I could make this bit funny and going through potential ideas) and the rest is either ideas that just come to me when I'm trying to sleep/on a bus/train/etc without warning, or I just think of them as I'm writing and go with it, so to speak. I think it would be far harder for myself to rely just on spur-of-the-moment ideas though - needs to be some sort of planning and refinement of jokes unless you happen to be a comedic genius which are few and far between (say... Robin Williams is one of those sort of people. If you want to see a guy who can spew out a hundred jokes a minute for two hours straight with no plan, he's the prime guy to watch imho). Other instances involve a mix - I'll get the basis of a joke from nowhere, or a punchline, but need to plan out the rest to complete it; or while writing something I planned I'll suddenly have a new idea to throw into it.
Any specific mechanical elements of comedic prose you might want to share? (eg. punch-line, twists, etc.)
I suppose I could say a fair bit but maybe later. =p One thing I will say is to not overuse jokes. Running gags are all well and good but need to stay 'fresh' to remain funny (say mixing up the joke/doing variations on it instead of doing it the exact same way every time) and not be repeated too frequently so to become predictable - running gaps can work especially well when you allow the audience to forget about it, or at least not bash them over the head with it every two pages. But going back to an earlier question - that can be easier said than done because comedy is not quite formulaic. You can't say a joke can only be repeated so often or in x number of ways as it'll always vary depending on a large number of factors, and there's no hard-and-fast version of it (there's usually more than one way to deliver a joke after all).
Somewhat related to that is an example I witnessed recently with the show Get Smart, a satire of the secret agents genre made back in the 60s. Great show. However it was remade badly... and I'm not talking about the movie. There was a newer version in the 90s made that didn't last very long (as a comparison - the original had 5 seasons, 138 episodes; the 90s version lasted a season consisting of seven episodes. That's including the pilot). They went with the same formula and structure of characters and same sort of jokes, but... it just lacked the charm the original had and was far too cheesy. Basically they shouldn't have tried to bring back the show in such a manner, as it had its time in the sun. You can say the same of say the later Pink Panther films, both the ones after the first 5-6 and the ones in the 2000's - Steve Martin isn't bad but a Jacques Clouseau he is not - Peter Sellers is the only one imo to do the character well.
Not terribly helpful with writing, admittedly, but darn it I felt like a short rant. =p
How would you use the narrative in writing comedy? (Not necessarily using the narrative creatively, but more the tone in which you write.)
Depends really on the story and type of comedy tbh - say if it's dark comedy or crack or so forth - there's also no real set way imo to go about it for specific sub sections of comedy.
Do you have any advice for writing comedy, asides from just go with it, because that doesn't really help people who aren't funny and 'going with it' tends to just end in forced-humor.
Besides stuff mentioned already somewhat haphazardly... refinement is necessary, or leastways considering 'this is okay/funny/unfunny, how can this be
' and just playing around with various ideas/versions of a scene or joke until it feels right. That and maybe judge for yourself what may be funny - idk how well it works for other people but if a joke I think of makes myself laugh I more than likely will use it and that seems to work well imo.
I foresee myself saying more at a later date here but for now
have this clip from Seinfeld
(mostly the last minute) which probably shows it's hard to state exactly
to do a genre (like comedy) well; a lot of it really comes by itself and when you try to show how something is funny like their take on the line there... yeah. There's a lot that goes into making something funny and unfortunately imo a lot of it is hard to explain. Case in point, this took myself nearly an hour to type (with breaks mind, but a fair bit of thinking during those).
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