I recently watched 5minutes of Lead Balloon and found myself laughing a lot. How have I never heard of this programme before? Since I started writing comedy I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the different sitcoms and comedies around.
Apparently an adult laughs on average 17 times a day, it might not be much, but to me it seems like a healthy amount of times; but if someone does laugh that much then why is it so hard to make one laugh deliberately?
There is an art to writing comedy and like any genre, there will be people who either love it or hate it.
I remember watching Married with Children when I was younger. We would all sit and watch it with my Dad and he would laugh out loud (yes, he would lol) from beginning to end, my mum on the other hand didn’t find any of the characters likeable. I am sure she would approve of the more recent take on family comedy, Modern Family, also staring Ed O’Neil.
I know some people of a certain generation who didn't like Friends. A group of youngsters all ‘living in sin’ just didn’t fit in with their values. If they gave it a chance they would realise it wasn’t about whether or not they had sex, it was about the interactions. Although having said that, sex is funny! It is always a recurring theme in many comedies, why? Because it’s awkward, it’s clumsy, it can be taboo and is rarely sexy. As Lucy V Hay writes in her blog, you can tell a lot about people and their relationship through sex.
I digress; this is a post about comedy, not SEX.
Over the years I’ve come across a few people who think Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is one of the funniest films they have ever seen. I personally don’t get it and after watching it, I could not watch any films that Jim Carrey starred in. For me, his exaggerated facial expressions were just trying too hard to be funny.
That leads me to question how comedy on paper translates to screen? It is as much about the story and gags as it is about the performance. An average performance without all the right pauses could leave a lot to be desired; likewise, an excellent delivery of a mediocre comedy script will just be mediocre. How many times have we watched a comedy because of its cast, only to be disappointed? I can think of a few.
I’m now on a mission to read the script for Ace Ventura simply to find out whether or not I would like it better. Unfortunately, it seems that whenever I read a script of a film or TV series that I have already watched, I can’t help but imagine the characters as played by the respective actors, so reading Ace Ventura without imagining Jim Carey playing the lead role could be a challenge.
Whether it makes you laugh or not, a comedy should still read as a comedy, that is, one should be able to identify its genre without much thought to it. So if you have to think too much about the genre, or even worse, if you’ve written a comedy and someone mistakes it for a horror, then it’s time for a re-write.
It is hard to make everyone laugh at a comedy, so I try to at least write something that I find funny. If you can get just one person to laugh, then hopefully you’re on a roll. Do you know what? Laughter is infectious; the more people who laugh at something, the more other people will laugh too. Notice next time you are in a movie theatre watching a comedy. The minute someone laughs out loud at something, others will join in, and the more people laugh, the more others will realise it’s ok to laugh and will join in.