Thursday, October 12, 2006

I'm not funny

During a recent beery night out with fellow scribes, much was discussed. Some of it hilarious. Yet when the subject of writing comedy came up there was a general sucking of teeth and a 'no, not for me'

I don't write comedy. I might just about tackle a comedy/drama given a fair wind and a lot of alcohol. But a flat out comedy? Nope.

It's not the way my mind works. When I write a dramatic scene I can see that drama unfold on screen. If I try to write a funny scene all that happens is I see it on the page and wonder if anyone else will find it funny because it sure doesn't look like it to me. It's the difference between hearing a well told joke and reading it. The first might have you in stitches, the other....meh?

Basically I don't have the confidence for it. And I think that is what you need to be a good comedy writer. Because the inescapable truth is that the chances are that a dramatic scene would be pretty much universally understood. A comedic scene is far more subjective.

I love 'Meet The Parents' To me it is almost the perfect comedy. A simple premise. The stakes are constantly and logically raised. Character is bang on and situations are believable. It's also very funny.

I don't think I would even begin to try writing something like that. Again. It's not the way my mind works.

When I write a scene my first though is that I have characters do and say things that advance plot, story and character. That, I think is also a prerequisite of writing a comedy scene. But there are a few additional extras. Most importantly, it has to be funny. So, you are advancing plot, character, story and being 'funny'. For 90 minutes! Man, that is a tough gig. And I suspect the main reason why there are so few good comedy movies.

Maybe one day I'll surprise myself, wake up one morning and decide to write a shit hot comedy. Until then my hat is off to good comedy writers everywhere .


read said...

Hi Dave,

Been reading your blog for a while... love to live vicariously through a working writers thoughts and everyday goings on.

I'm an RN by practical logic, a need to have a steady paycheck. I'm working on a screenplay just like every other hack with a computer and grandious ideas of seeing your work on film.

I'm attending a cold reading actors workshop next weekend. Elizabeth D'Onofrio ( Vincent D'Onofrio is her brother....Full Metal Jacket, Law&Order Criminal Intent)is putting it on and I am planning to talk a bit about the project if the right opportunity comes (accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol!).

Any words of wisdom, pitfalls etc.????

I may or may not have a treatment ready by then. I'm recovering from pneumonia and of course working full time.

I plan to send the treatment to Writers Guild of America to register before I blab to much.

Anyway, I really just wanted to connect with you and let you know I enjoy reading about you day to day frustrations.


English Dave said...

Thank's read and welcome.

The best advice I can offer is be prepared. Rehearse your opening. Friendly not fawning. Then a bit of praise for them [actors love this lol] then a smooth transition into 'Actually I'm working on something right now that you'd be perfect for. If you have a minute I'd be really interested in your take on it.'
Then before they can say yes or no - hit them with your knockout killer logline.

It's all in the preparation. This makes you appear confident and therefore 'non -threatening' as in 'Oh crap it's another wannabe writer with their life story' lol

mark g said...

Spot on about straight comedy being a confidence thing. I've nothing but respect for comedy writers, and I always said I'd never dream of attempting a comedy; too risky. I couldn't think of it without imagining the readthrough where the jokes fall flat, and the writer would have to walk out the room with a smile on his face and his lower bowel in his shoes.

HOWEVER - having said that, I recently did a Life on Mars, which is very funny IN PARTS. My safety net was it's a cop drama with laughs, rather than a comedy with cops. This was weirdly liberating.

Confidence that I could do the dramatic throughline standing on my head gave me further confidence to be as absurd as I liked, with the result that I wrote my favourite line in any script ever ("I'm a pissing squirrel" - it's all in the context, folks...), and got a huge charge at the readthrough when the entire room fell about.

So that's why they do it - but as to how they do it...?

Maybe the key's in how you approach it - trick yourself by doing something in the genre you feel most secure working in - but with laughs.

On reflection, isn't that what "Meet the Parents" is? A rites of passage family drama (The Wedding) - but with laughs? Tone the characters down a few notches, end it badly and you've got an excruciating family drama about young love destroyed by a bitter hollow man. It could even be a tragedy. Starring De Niro as the dad.

Maybe that's a key - the size/broadness of the characters?

English Dave said...

I think that's right Mark. In comedy foibles are funny. In drama they tend to be distracting.