Friday, August 31, 2007

Why Aren't They Laughing?

Or maybe they are.

Stepping outside my comfort zone again here...what do you need in order to 'write funny'?

The previous post was my latest stab at writing something humorous. Did it pass mustard? No idea. And it took me three or four passes until it finally seemed to have the right rhyme and rhythm to convey what I intended. Notice I used the word 'seemed'...I still have no idea.

Because writing funny is one of the toughest tasks out there, and it's certainly not my forte (if anything is).

And I'm not talking about 'being funny' or 'acting funny'...I'm talking 'on the page funny' --- the placing of one sentence after another until it transforms from a sequence of words to an amusing notion in the mind of the reader, hopefully eliciting a response along the lines of a chuckle or guffaw or even just a "Heh, that's funny."

It's tougher than it sounds.

I think I've got a pretty good sense of humour. And I know it's subjective but I think I know what's funny and what's not. But to 'write funny' seems to need that and a whole lot more.

For me growing up, Woody Allen was always funny on the page. A deft combination of jokes and and intellect and situation penned in an absurd yet clear, concise, and effectively comedic fashion. If I was to pick one, he would be my funny writing hero (see The Complete Prose of Woody Allen).

Because you can 'think funny' and 'be funny' and even 'tell funny', but to write funny is almost an art form. Inflection has to be implied...pauses and beats inserted with dashes and dot dot dot's...pace and timing determined by word and sentence placement...funny words chosen over unfunny ones...the list goes on and on. Not to mention irony and sarcasm can so easily be lost on a reader without the tone of a voice to clue them in.

Comedy screenplays are a whole entirely different animal, because there's the advantage (or disadvantage) of performers being able to take the words and situations and 'make it funny'. Actually, if it needs to be made funny, that's a dangerous proposition...take it to another level would be a better way of putting it. But if it's just on the page, we don't have that luxury.


Who writes funny in our little blogging circle? Well, I think John Rogers does...and Josh Friedman did. Here in Canada Mr. McGrath can...and Henshaw does (sometimes). Jane doles out a lot of good comedy writing advice, and let's not forget Ken Levine. And Joss Whedon and Darin Morgan and Craig Mazin can write funny screenplays. But all of the above do it in such unique ways and different styles, it makes the rules of 'writing funny' really hard to nail down.

I suppose there is no one way...and nor should there be. But there should at least be a right way and wrong way.

I'm still trying to discover the write way...

(okay - that last line's not funny)


Emily Blake said...

I think what was funny in that last clip was the absurdity factor. It was sort of an easy joke at first so I didn't really laugh, but when Fred Savage appeared for no good reason it became hilarious, especially when he laughed so damn hard. And the slow motion, evil Devito laughing was great too. So absurdity = funny, like Rosencrantz and Guldenstern. To me, anyway.

Anonymous said...

I think Freud said laughter occurs when some assumed rule is broken.