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?