Writing Comedy Part 3

17 Jul

Now that you’ve got your character and premise you have to deliver on the promise of humor. Here are a few ways to do that.

Others: Who in your story world can give your main character the worst time? Is it his boss? Or is it like Howard Wolowitz’s mother on, The The Big Bang Theory? You never see her, but she is a huge problem in Howard’s life. He can’t spend the night with his girlfriend because he has to be home in the morning to help his mother do her eyebrows and put on her wig. Don’t be afraid to use a stereotype. Howard is a Jewish boy with the stereotypical mother problem squared. Note: if you want a half hour study in comic characters, watch The Big Bang Theory. They have the comic character nailed perfectly. Every member of the cast brings a trunk load of comic baggage. The interactions are fresh and funny and each character’s interaction with the outside world is new and different.

Opposites: They are a great way to give your main character fits. Think of Gracie Allen, the ultimate innocent, married to George Burns, the ultimate cynic. Now that you have your opposites, they have to be locked together. Gracie and George were married. In the, The Big Bang Theory, the characters are tied together by intelligence. They’re so much smarter than those around them that they band together. Is it the employee who has to have the job, but his employer is nutty? As in Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing.

Try making a list of the main comic characters you’re interested in and pair them with an opposite. They won’t all work, but others will.

Types of stories:

Center and Eccentrics. In this type of story, you have the main character—the everyman—surrounded by comic characters. Some examples are Bob Newhart’s shows Taxi, Barney Miller, Catch-22, and the list goes on.

Fish out of water. A normal character in a comic world or a comic in a normal world. This one is always great. Mork and Mendy, My Favorite Martian, and E.T.

Character Comedy. Emotional war between strong comic opposites. Calvin and Hobbes, Get Fuzzy, and What about Bob? Then there’s romantic character comedy, Cheers—Sam and Diane, Moonlighting—Dave and Maddie, and anything with Tracy and Hepburn.

Powers. This story is built around magic. The comic premise is the power itself. My Mother the Car, Bewitched, and I Dream of Jeannie.

Ensemble Comedy. A group of people are in conflict with each other and the world. The Big Bang Theory, Cheers, and the Golden Girls.

Slapstick. This is the easiest type of comedy. You don’t have to worry about all the conflicts. You just have to have a banana peel. Three Stooges, Groucho Marx, and I Love Lucy.

Satire and Parody. Satire is an attack on the substance of social or cultural icons or incidents. Parody is an attack on style and form. Satire—The First Family. Parody—Space Balls.

Crafting your characters to the story is like fitting pieces of a puzzle together. It takes a lot of planning and calculations, but it has to look/read spontaneous. And that’s why comedy is so hard to pull off. It’s all timing and outlook.

What are some of the funniest shows you remember? And what made them funny?



12 responses to “Writing Comedy Part 3

  1. Liz Flaherty

    July 17, 2012 at 5:20 AM

    Excellent post! Thank you.

    • Peggy Staggs

      July 17, 2012 at 8:50 AM

      You’re welcome. There is more to come.

  2. Liz Fredericks

    July 17, 2012 at 6:52 AM

    Nice post! I’m intrigued by the categorizations. I haven’t seen much television in recent years, but will definitely check out ‘theory’. It sounds like ‘must see tv’ (now, where did I pick that one up?). Thanks!

    • Peggy Staggs

      July 17, 2012 at 8:51 AM

      I know how you like to pick out the three acts in a story. TV is a great condensed way to do that.

  3. Janis McCurry

    July 17, 2012 at 9:05 AM

    Eureka had its series finale last night. It was a perfect blend of many above comedic types. Jack was Everyman that held together a town of Eccentrics, some who built or demonstrated Powers in a great Ensemble cast. And…there was drama.

    • Peggy Staggs

      July 18, 2012 at 10:22 AM

      I haven’t watched Eureka’s last show yet. I don’t want it to be over. AND if I don’t watch it, it won’t be over. How’s that for logic?

  4. Mary Vine

    July 17, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    Interesting blog post, just what I’d like to read about. I’ve always enjoyed the comedy between Andy and Barney in The Andy Griffith show.

    • Peggy Staggs

      July 18, 2012 at 10:23 AM

      Writing good comedy is a gift. I wish I had it.

  5. Clarissa Southwick

    July 17, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    Thanks for some more great tips, Peggy.I’ve always admired people who can write humor.

    • Peggy Staggs

      July 18, 2012 at 10:26 AM

      I agree. I think a lot of what passes for humor now days isn’t all that funny. Some is truly great, but most isn’t.

  6. Lynn Mapp

    July 17, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    Writing comedy is tough. I know it’s working when I laugh out loud.

    • Peggy Staggs

      July 18, 2012 at 10:26 AM

      Great test for humor. You do a great job at humor.


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