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This week's question

How do I write funny?


This week's Answer: 

Funny You Should Ask

Get it: Funny you should ask.  You asked about "funny" and I used "funny" in my title.  See how that's funny? 

That a perfect example of how to not write funny. Never explain why something is funny. And here's another axiom: Never try to be funny. Another way of saying it is never show that you're trying to elicit laughter. As soon as a reader/viewer detects that the writer or the characters saying the writer's lines  is trying to be funny, it stops laughing. If it was ever laughing in the first place. Just go to a comedy club and watch how an audience gets very quiet when it realizes the stand-up comedian is struggling to get them to laugh. In other words, trying to be funny.

I've written many comedies: features, sitcoms, radio shows, etc. and, here's something important I discovered: If I'm laughing and enjoying myself as I write the script or laughing with co-writers while doing so, then I know I'm on the right track.  In fact, next week, two other writers and me are putting on a reading at a theatre in Hollywood for a sitcom pilot we've been working on on and off for years. And every time we have gotten together to write our original sitcom, we were laughing and enjoying ourselves. We never tried to be funny. We just wrote what we thought was funny to us. We were entertaining ourselves.  It would be great if others like our script: the actors, the audience. Anybody who wants to produce our show.

Another suggestion: Love your characters. Give them  special traits, original idiosyncrasies, special mannerisms, ways of being and talking. Give each character a different voice, a different way to express him/herself. Or itself if it's a dog or a raccoon.  Show how through their actions, motivations, and words who they are. If you love them for their unique qualities, chances are your reader will, too. You want your characters to become part of your "family". Even the antagonistic ones.  They can be funny, too. And often are because they often take themselves too seriously.

Why do we tune in every week to our favorite sitcoms? Because of the brilliant writing? We can appreciate the writing, but we are coming back to see our favorite characters. Somehow we relate to them, feel connected to them. We like them. Even love them. Or we love to not like them. Either way, it's always for the characters.

Also, never play for the laugh. In your writing, never show that you are begging for a laugh. Let your "funny" come organically, from the situation, from the conflict between characters who want what they want and often it's not what somebody else wants. Presto! Conflict: the main ingredient for comedy (and, of course, drama). Did you know that comedy is actually drama. 

It's just funnier.

Doug Herman

Script Advisor

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