Screenwriting : Writing for comedy by Erin Dwyer

Erin Dwyer

Writing for comedy

Hi all! So I’m thinking about attempting to write my first comedy screenplay. I know comedy can be hard to write, does any one have any tips or words of wisdom to get me going and help me through?

Anthony K

"My expectations were confounded and from thence the humour arose"

Adam Harper

Be funny? Also, put your protagonist through an increasingly hellish situation that they are ill equipped for.

Let your voice shine through in your writing too.

Kyle Climans

Just remember that comedy is subjective and no matter what comedy you write, someone somewhere will find it hilarious. So don't base the success of your script on one or two proofreaders.

William Gunn

Remember what Steve Martin once said, "Comedy is not pretty." But then again, that's a very funny line.

Dan MaxXx

Read a stack of comedy scripts. Steal from masters.

Nick Assunto - Stage32 Script Services Coordinator

Yes! I have endless thoughts on comedy writing, because it's all I write. One of the keys to good comedy is characters that follow their own logic/rules/patterns and always remain truthful to those but in a surprising way.

Sam Borowski

Agreed with Dan. And, this next part is going to sound obvious but comedy has to be funny and not everyone is funny. I wrote a comedy script with a television/movie star/ comedian and another (WGA) writer and he kept harping on us that NOT everyone is funny. BUT, if you love this genre and you watch A LOT of movies and read A LOT of scripts (see if you can spot the differences from the script to the movie), you can write a "funny" script. Also, I would say compare your stories to some that have been already made, to know what you are going for. If you want any tips, just reach out. As we say in New York "Break Legs!" ;) GOD BLESS and STAY FRESH!

Jessica Whitehill

Take one of Steve Kaplan's workshops. He's awesome and travels all over. Or, for a cheaper option, he has a couple of great books. I wish I had read these before I did my first comedy screenplay! Good luck...

Gary Smiley

I find that hard too and find it easier to write comedy in animation. It's mostly parody. Having 2 stick figures (or a square talking to a star, SpongeBob) talking is easier (for me) to tell jokes than looking at the blank screen of a screenwriting program.

Wayne Redington

I have a bizarre mind so comedy comes easy. Think of everyday things, people you see, their habits, quirks. People watch in a mall. I have crap enter my head all day long. plus being a beer salesman, you see some amazing things out there.

Christine Capone

Situations are funny, not people : ) In my opinion, if you're not a naturally funny person, then it's going to be a challenge.

William Gunn

Christine's right. You can't "switch-on" the funny part of yourself. Either you have it or you don't. But depending on who you are then you're probably capable of finding the switch. It's a Zen thing.

David E. Gates

Apparently, for successful comedy, you should have two gags for every page of the script.

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

Good comedies have sight gags, situational comedy and funny dialogue. Watch some great comedies like Dodge Ball, Groundhog Day and Bridesmaids and my favorite "Annie Hall*.

Steve Cleary

Writing comedy is fun! And simple! Just have a set-up line and a punchline. BTW simple doesn't mean easy :^}

Michaela Kale

Put yourself in their shoes. Jump into their mind, find that humor you think is exactly what the character is. BEFORE ANYTHING, really think about the characters personality, what sort of humor is associated with them, writers sometimes make the mistake and makes the characters joke about everything, which is extremely offputting, stick with one genre (dark humor, sarcastic humor, happy humor etc). Usually, if you are stuck, just stop and think, normally it should just flow.

Jennifer Smith

Listen to the impish voice inside your head that always starts laughing when you’re in the middle of very serious situations or surrounded by very serious people. Juxtaposing grave or lofty situations with ones that are banal or base is a great source of comedy for me.

Alana Phillips

Send me a DM. Maybe we can work on something together. I work in a lot of comedy and currently filming one that I recently wrote.

John Day

Comedians always talk about how their humor is rooted in emotional pain. Sounds dark, but I found that to be the case when I decided to write a comedy. There's a lot of subtle, dry humor that comes from the hurtful experiences we've all endured. I'm not a fan of crude, adolescent humor that seems gratuitous. Don't get me wrong -- loved "American Pie" and "There's Something About Mary" -- but if you look closely at those films, the laughter comes from pain. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer...my two cents.

Stevan Šerban

Hi Erin,

First of all, do you want to write a script for a movie or for television?

In my opinion, television production has been on the rise in recent years, especially streaming services that have their own production. See how many TV series these years have been produced by HBO, Netflix ...

My suggestion is to write a pilot for TV comedy

Then, the best start is to choose if you want to write plot driven ( Hi concept) or character driven screenplay.

And, you're at a great start!

Wish you all the best,

Stevan

Chris Thomas

Hey, I write comedy and my best advice for someone starting out is to think about/watch/read what you find funny, and break down exactly why it's funny. Usually humor comes from a surprise, you think a scene/conversation is going in one direction, and it takes a crazy/strange/weird left turn. Let me know if you have any questions. Good luck!

Cherie Grant

I love writnig comedy. I just watched and pulled apart what worked on my fave shows. i studied stand up and situational comedy. it takes a LOT of practice.

Bill Albert

Personally don't worry so much about it writing the first draft. Get it done, get it finished, then let it digest for a while. Walk away from it and then go back and look at it new. That's when the tough decisions have to be made.

Michael Hager

Don't try to be funny! Create characters and situations where people are trying their best but things don't work out. Then make things worse.

Tracy Lea Carnes

I write comedy and to me, comedy is a true gift. You sort of have to hone that skill if you have it. You can teach someone to write better comedy but to me, comedy is something you either have or you don't. But if you have it, use it and work on it. I have a best friend and we both go back and forth in texts all of the time. We sharpen our wit that way. We're both people watchers and it's amazing the comedy gold you can find in a bar or a mall. And so we go back and forth with the one liners. Neil Simon was one of the best at comedy writing. Go read a few of his scripts. Goodby Girl and Chapter 2 are fantastic!

Bill Costantini

Comedy is one of the two faces of drama, and comedy is tragedy turned upside down. Think of your favorite comedy films, and how those films are really tragic. That's what great comedy writers do: they take a tragic situation (tragic to some degree) and turn it into something funny. Groucho Marx used to say "comedy Is anarchy" - because the normal rules of thinking are turned sideways or completely upside down by one or more of the sides in the situation. (Like the films Fargo, or There's Something About Mary, or Kingpin. Who is realistic/serious in those situations, always/at times, and who is funny/absurd in those situations, always/at times?) And it's tragedy when it happens to you, but funny when it happens to someone else. Us humans do love to laugh at the expenses/miseries/sufferings of others - fools or not.

Also think of what type of comedy you might be more apt to excel at (low-brow, high-brow, satire, parody, dark, slapstick, zany, etc.). You might be best suited for one or more. Nora Ephron? The Farrelly Brothers? Greta Gerwig? The Coen Brothers? Tina Fey? Andy McKay? Judd Apatow?

You also might want to check out some of the books written about comedy writing that are pretty good, like The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus (25 years old and as relevant as ever), or The Hidden Tools of Comedy by Steve Kaplan (super-respected teacher of comedy to many pro's), or Bring the Funny by Greg DePaul (longtime pro funny writer).. Those are three great ones - twelve if you cut them in half, and then cut the halves in half, and saute them in olive oil and fresh basil - and there are many more. I can only mention those three because I only steal three of anything, and am not a greedy thief.

Best fortunes to you in your creative endeavors, Erin!

William Gunn

There was a similar episode on 'Modern Family' several seasons ago when Lily, who was a lot younger, used that dreaded Anglo-Saxon word. It was back when the show was still funny.

Andrew Martin Smith

I am deeply envious - I can't write comedy to save my life. I can remember being in Hollywood as a Brit. kid out of Uni. - ducking and diving with with countless ideas for thrillers, when I caught National Lampoons Animal House in a drive in. I can remember thinking - how does a Brit kid write American campus comedy and within a month the stairwells leading up to pitching sessions (you could still pitch to faces in the 70's) were full of kids with a tsunami of campus comedy scripts. Stitched up like a kipper.

Chad Wren

Im actually a comedy writer. Could you share with me what some of your ideas are?

Ken Zakreski

New writer here. Comedy is tough. This is what I did with pretty good results. Write your scene and do a dry read. Like a table read but don’t use actors just regular people. Have them read your scene unrehearsed for a group of people. The writers group will do. See if the jokes work. If they do you got a winner. Also, there is a lot of comedy science. Research the power of the threes. Also. Does anyone know what old jokes are worth to buy? My mentor says they are free, but I don’t think so. Ken

Eric Christopher Jackson

I always begin with a conversation. And I like add humor to take everyday situations. Although it is Comedy, what Story do you want to tell? Beginning. Middle. Ending. Filled with laughs and a bit of 'heart' doesn't hurt. :)

Christine Capone

Okay so did we help her at all? She hasn't even responded which is strange. Maybe she decided to forego writing comedy!

Vic Burns

https://johnaugust.com/podcast

Tony S.

Or maybe she thinks not responding is funny Christine Capone

Christine Capone

Well Tony if that is the case then she should stick to writing for other genres :)

Bill Costantini

I'd respond to Christine, though. They didn't call her Boomslap Capone at Folsum for nothing.

Gary Smiley

Yes, Christine, and everyone, the joke is on us. Erin is a master of comedy.

Tony S.

Exactly, Christine Capone If you have to ask what funny is, you're probably not.

It's like a person who says, "I wanna be an arsonist, but I don't get the fire thing."

Christine Capone

haha Tony! Exactly! I guess the best thing she can do, if she ever reads these comments, is to figure out what type of comedy shows she likes and why. Then research the writers of those shows.

Tony S.

You have to have a sense of humor to live in New Zealand. (America loves New Zealand, Erin Dwyer ) Maybe that will be the cheese to smoke her out.

Tennyson Stead

Comedy is just about committing to the mission completely - when it's a mission for which the character is COMPLETELY wrong. In the context of dramatic structure, comedy is about simple people doing complex things, or complex people doing simple things. Push that all the way, and the characters will make it funny out of sheer commitment. Pick a goal that's completely absurd to the character in question, and then give them twice the motivation they need.

Tennyson Stead

As a follow-up, writing comic scenework isn't the same as writing stand-up. I'm not a funny person, but I write good comedy in the context of dramatic structure... because I can commit to the absurd without flinching.

Bill Costantini

I'm glad the Steadman righted the ship here. I was starting to feel like Jeff Ross was behind me, and whispering "New Zealand...the outpost for wayward Aussies....where sheep are nervous...and the national food is whitebait and Hokey Pokey."

Yep...good thing Stead showed up....Boomslap was starting to roll up her sleeves, and I just got my dinner tray.....

Christine Capone

haha! I never heard of boomslap Bill!

Vic Burns

'Sideways' is a REALLY funny movie -- but personally, I wouldn't label it a comedy. Not all comedy is about belly laughs...

Roman BRuni

writing funny to read and laugh is different than

writing funny to actors play.

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