The twelfth episode of my Bailey’s Writing Tips audio podcast was released on 8th November 2010 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website www.morgenbailey.com) so I hope you find this information useful. In the first eleven episodes (see earlier blog posts in the ‘podcast’ category), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels, writing for children, scriptwriting then a mixed bag. This episode talked about comedy, starting with the following hints and tips:
- Humour is tricky because, like most art-related work, what one person likes, another may dislike…or in this case may or may not laugh at. Don’t be put off though as it should be as enjoyable to write as to listen to (OK, harder work but do give it a go!). Coronation Street is soon going to be celebrating its 50th Anniversary (I was at their 35th sitting next to Alf Roberts actor Bryan Moseley at lunch, but that’s another story). Coronation Street can be hilarious with ‘Benny Hill’ type sketches (one example that springs to mind was Tyrone/Molly’s disastrous burger van venture that ends up on fire so they drive it into a pond!). Eastenders, although mostly seriously (sometimes depressing), has the occasional light-hearted sketch and it’s lovely to see Alfie and Kat back as they’ve had a few opportunities in the past to lighten the mood. Sketch shows are very popular, from Lenny Henry impressions to comedy series such as ‘Men Behaving Badly’ or ‘Black Books’ (if you’ve not seen the episode with Bill Bailey playing the piano – you’ve missed a treat). Most reflect real life, though obviously with the routine or mundane aspects removed. I’ve mentioned the BBC’s writersroom website before and it also has example comedy scripts (www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/insight/tv_comedy.shtml).
- Back in 2006 British TV station Channel 4 ran a poll of top 20 sitcoms and Frasier was 1st followed by Fawlty Towers, Seinfield and Porridge. Dad’s Army was 7th then Blackadder, Spaced, The Office and Father Ted. In fact only 6 of the Top 20 were American. The BBC ran a similar poll and Only Fools & Horses came out on top. Two OF&H sketches are often re-played on TV…the one where Del leans against the bar (you can see it at You Tube or www.britishcomedyclassics.co.uk/only-fools-and-horses-bar-sketch/43) and the other where Del, Rodney and Uncle Albert have been commissioned to clean a stately home’s chandeliers (www.britishcomedyclassics.co.uk/only-fools-horses-chandelier/103). In case you don’t know them, I won’t spoil the outcome for you but suffice to say that there was little dialogue and the sketches worked mainly due to visual action (another favourite of mine is Morecambe & Wise’s ‘Patricia the Stripper’ breakfast scene – www.britishcomedyclassics.co.uk/morecambe-wise-breakfast-sketch/122). One sketch that works due mainly to dialogue is The Two Ronnies’ Fork handles (www.britishcomedyclassics.co.uk/two-ronnies-fork-handles/72). You can find classic and modern clips from the British Comedy Classics site. Their home page (www.britishcomedyclassics.co.uk) has five example clips and a comprehensive search facility.
- Wikipedia’s situation comedy (sitcom) section (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sitcom) is packed with information and explains sitcom as follows: “As opposed to ‘stand-up’ comedy, or the telling of jokes, the situation comedy has a storyline plot and is more or less comedic drama. The comedies of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Shakespeare and Moliere in post-Renaissance Europe were essentially situation comedies. The essence of the current, modern situation comedy on television is that the characters remain in the same situation from episode to episode. The situation is usually that of a family, workplace, or a group of friends. The term was adopted to distinguish sitcom from other comedy formats: sketch comedy, which generally featured new characters and situations each outing, or the humorous monologue or dialogue, which did not feature characters. Often these other formats were presented within a variety format mixed with musical performances, as in Vaudeville. The emerging medium of radio allowed audiences to return to programs, which allowed programs to return to the same characters and situations each episode and expect audiences to be familiar with them. Thus, while the humor in sitcoms varies, it is usually character-driven, which may result in running gags during the series. Due to the need to retain the same situation over many episodes, in many sitcoms characters remained largely static. Events of individual episodes typically resolve themselves by the end, and are rarely mentioned in subsequent episodes. This episodic nature is mirrored in many dramas as well, but there are also many sitcoms that feature story arcs across many episodes, where the characters and situations slowly change over the course of their run.”
In this section of the topic podcasts, I give provide a couple of story ideas or ways to get new ideas then list seven sentence starts picked from my http://twitter.com/sentencestarts Twitter page; each one, if you’d like to use them, for a daily writing project.
- Humour is notoriously difficult to write especially because what one person finds funny another person may not, so write a passage of dialogue, of if you can a whole piece, where the people can’t see eye to eye but it works out OK in the end.
- Try taking a normally-dark location, for instance, a cemetery or church, but make it light-hearted. Maybe one of the characters is trying to take another character’s mind off the seriousness of the situation.
And today’s sentence starts…
1. My mind is working overtime…
2. There was no mistaking the sound of…
3. Noel couldn’t help it…
4. As the monk lifted up his hood…
5. Sophie sank to her knees and…
6. You had plenty of sleep but you still feel tired… (second person)
7. He wasn’t exactly what Joan had been looking for in a companion…
- An www.amazon.co.uk search for ‘writing comedy’ found nearly 2,500 books including one I have, sixth on their list, entitled ‘Writing Comedy’ by Ronald Wolfe published by Robert Hale.
- Needless to say the internet is swamped with comedy writing sites and one I found via a Google search for ‘writing comedy’ was www.sitcom.co.uk/writers.
- There’s also a very interest article in the Guardian newspaper’s archive from September 2008 (www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/sep/22/comedy2) by Richard Herring, David Mitchell and Robert Webb; the latter two hailing from ‘That Mitchell & Webb Look’ comedy show (www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0092s71).
- One of the other Google links took me to Southampton’s Solent University which has just started a BA (Hons) in Comedy – Writing & Performance, a 3-year full time course.
- E-How’s ‘How to Write Comedy’ page (www.ehow.com/how_8540_write-comedy.html) is great and again I’ll put the link on this episode’s page on my website. It provides a list of things you’ll need (joke books, spiral notebooks and pens – simple enough) alongside 11 instructions: Keep in mind that good stand-up comedy writers are neither anointed by God nor born into it; they just write a lot. All you need to do it is a pen and some paper. Steal time; compose jokes in your head while you’re stuck in traffic or shaving. Write with a person in mind. Get into their pattern of speaking. Duplicate the person’s style, but use different topics or subject matter. Do this for many different performers. Don’t show anyone your work until you think it’s terrific. Research and analyze topics that interest you. Ask questions about your topic. Understand that a joke occurs at the intersection of two ideas. Connect ideas that go together or are wildly opposite. Manipulate your audience. Take them down a particular road and then surprise them with something else. Pull the rug out from under your audience. Employ good timing so that they don’t step on the rug too early or get on it and then get off before you’ve had a chance to deliver the humour. Respect your audience at the same time; they are your bread and butter.
- There are loads more comedy writing pages at www.e-how.com and doing a ‘comedy’ search on e-how’s home page brings up 6 pages of links!
- There’s a great called www.phill.co.uk which is packed with details of over 900 British TV comedy programmes, actors and actresses, DVD releases and more.
The last item of each topic podcast is a piece of fiction – either flash or poetry – and episode 12’s was a monologue called ‘Unfunny Ha Ha’:
“Marcia do this, do that.” I’m fed up with it. It’s not called DIY for nothing. But that’s all he’s good for. I sometimes wonder why I married him but then I see his smile. I look at him standing by the car and I melt like an ice cube in Barbados. Not that I’d know, never taken me further than Barnsley and that was a holiday never to be forgotten – for all the wrong reasons. Two weeks, caravan, wettest summer since 1842. Say no more. At least I have that to be grateful for. His lack of utterances. Just looks at me with those big green eyes and, well… aforementioned ice cube puddle all over again. And he does make me laugh. His wit, sharp as a plastic knife but some people can be too clever, can’t they? Genuine. And kind.
I think I’m too hard on him. It’s not his fault. Wasn’t his fault. Wasn’t looking where he was going, the driver of the car that hit him. Dropped a CD on the floor, the lad had said. So now all I have is the pictures. Dotted around the house like a Dalmatian. My favourite’s the one in the study, by my desk. Took it when he wasn’t looking so he isn’t laughing, isn’t smiling but it’s the real him. My Harold. I still talk to him. “Ha” I say. That’s short for Harold. He didn’t like Harold and can’t say I blame him. I say “Ha, make me laugh.” And I swear I can see his lips curl.
I hope you enjoyed this episode and that some of the links will be useful for you. You can find other transcriptions of my podcast here.