Screenwriting : What makes writing funny? by Emily Ann Jefferson

Emily Ann Jefferson

What makes writing funny?

Talk about bamboozled! That's what I say when it comes to comedy. I want to learn how to make folks laugh while reading my stuff but I don't know how.

David Levy

Jim is correct, some just have the instincts while others don't have the chops. For some, the just have a way of thinking or thought process that is nothing but humor. A good way to learn too is to take a stand up comedy class. Learn joke structure, timing and yes joke writing. Take an improv class. It might help improve yourcomedy screenwriting.

Bill Costantini

I'd read some of Ben Franklin's and Mark Twain's early American observational humor that relied more on wit, idioms, and twist-of-phrases. Then I'd jump into the Marx Brothers. Groucho Marx is the father of modern American comedy. He didn't invent the phrases "comedy is tragedy turned upside down", or "comedy is anarchy", but he sure practiced it. And in public. That's another element of modern American comedy - bad behavior made public that shatters conventional ways. It pokes fun at sacred cows, and breaks taboos. How else could movies that address topics like unwanted pregnancy (Knocked Up), men who rip off little old ladies (The Producers), a monster (Young Frankenstein), infidelity and neurosis (Hannah and Her Sisters) exist in a normal world? Americans didn't invent comedy, but we sure perfected it. Heh-heh.

Bill Costantini

True dat, JJ. Maybe one doesn't need to go that far back. As an that I think about it, maybe WC Fields and Mae West were the parents of modern American comedy. They were anarchic at times, but not like the Marx Brothers. They attacked everything.

J.G Sarantinos

Then you have shows like Portlandia which rely on the outlandish to make me laugh.

David Levy

Guys, all valid arguments. You;re on the right track with Mel Brooks. One should look at Sid Caeser and YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS. Many great comedic writers started there and moved on to great success in both TV and film. Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Carl Reiner. Always remember, comedy is subjective as well.

Randall C Willis

Generally not one to plug books or lectures, but I would check out "The Hidden Tools of Comedy" by Steve Kaplan (and find him on YouTube). The book examines what is comedic rather than suggested above, funny is subjective, whereas there are certain standbys for comedy. As Kaplan himself says, though, these are TOOLS NOT RULES. (Can also visit I also agree with the above suggestion of taking an improv daunting as this may seem to you (or not), what it will likely teach you is that comedy comes from truth rather than an attempt at jokes. Okay...time to climb down off my banana peel.

Jody Ellis

I don't know of any books on comedy (looks like the other posters have provided some good choices tho!) but I credit my own skewed and highly inappropriate sense of humor to a childhood spent faithfully watching "Saturday Night Live" every weekend from day one of its inception, topped off with some Seinfeld and Curb your Enthusiasm as an adult.

David Levy

SNL is a great place to watch. Lot of big comedy writing there. You can trace the idea many credit to Del Close. He reshaped improv comedy. Was a writer, teeacher who coached many of the best-known comedians and comic actors of the late twentieth century. He inspired many great comedy writers to not be afraid to fail. It doesn't matter, just keep creating and trying new things.

Bill Costantini

David - and don't forget that Del Close came from Chicago's Second City, founded by Bernie Sahlins, and which has probably been the training ground for more comedy writers and actors than any other institution - including the U.S. Congress! To this day, SCTV is still my favorite comedy show of all time. Mr. Close was already a comedic genius before his Second City days, though. His real-life skull donation story is such a hoot.

Jody Ellis

I always loved Kids in the Hall. Flight of the Conchords another fave, and I used to like Portlandia but I got kind of bored with it after the first season.

Phillip "The Genuine Article" Hardy

My Dear Emily: If it was easy to make people laugh and then commit that humor to a screenplay, everyone would be doing it. There have already been some good suggestions in this thread. For me, it started in grammar school, when I endeavored to become the class clown. And that occupation didn’t always serve me well during my academic career. However, one time the junior high boy’s vice principle was going to give me swats; but I made the guy laugh during our discussion and he let me slide. In high school, I discovered the talents of the Marx Brothers and at that time, thought it was the funniest stuff I had ever seen. Later in high school, my friend gave me some Monty Python albums and I thought that stuff was hilarious. And I became a young adult when a new breed of film comedians was emerging. People like John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murry made ground breaking movies like Animal House, Stripes, Blue Brothers and Ghostbusters. And Eddie Murphy knocked the buddy picture/action drama on its ass with 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop. More recently, films like The Wedding Crashers, Spy and Trainwreck have made me laugh and Melissa McCarthy may be one of the funniest people I’ve ever seen. Finally, comedy is very subjective and I don’t get shows like the American version of the Office or Parks and Recreation. More recently I thought Wet Hot American Summer was horrific and couldn’t get past the first episode. But the short answer to your question is I don’t know what makes writing funny. I only know there is comedy that makes me laugh and there’s comedy that doesn’t.

Julianne Wargren

My recommendation is to read lots and lots of scripts and see what makes you laugh and study why it made you laugh. Then start trying to make your work make you laugh as much. If it doesn't then try and analyse why it didn't and look for ways to elevate it. Not all jokes work on everyone so be kind to yourself too :-)

Jody Ellis

My question would also be what are the reasons you want to write comedy? From what I've been told, it can be one of the more difficult genres to write, and if it doesn't come naturally for you, is there a different genre you might like better? Not saying you shouldn't of course, just curious because I tend to stick with the genres I feel comfortable in (drama, comedy, horror, thriller) and would be hesitant to branch out into say fantasy or sci-Fi because I don't think I would do as well.

Thomas Bailey

Just write what's funny to you – It'll connect with people like you.

Richard Gustason

When it comes to writing a comedy screenplay, imagine what your character's sense of humor is, not your own. As someone who writes for myself to do the stage AND writing a comedy screenplay I have to keep all of that in mind. What may be funny for you in essence may not be funny for the movie at all. So before going into writing it, just sit down and imagine what your characters sense of humor is. When you figure it out, write it down next to his name and use it as a note for writing the screenplay. Also in regards to that also figure out "What makes this character funny?". What makes that characters funny for the audience. Is it his mannerisms? Is it the sense of humor you found in the character? So hope this helps you write a doofus that will make the audience laugh. Happy writing Emily.

Mike Briock

Don't try so hard to be funny. Ever see a comedian who tries too hard? Usually not funny. You will be surprised how little, simple things, make people laugh.

Bill Costantini

The first thing that makes writing funny is: words. You can't go wrong with these ten - and if you are really creative, you can build entire stories around gobemouche, argle-bargle, snollygoster, smelifungus, hoosegow, mumpsimus, discombobulate, fibbertigibbet, batrachomyomachy, and the funny word that has probably started the most stories since the beginning of time: canoodle.

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