On writing comedy

As I have occasionally mentioned before on this blog, I don’t think I’m the most talented when it comes to writing comedy. I like to think of myself as a fairly witty person, who can make you laugh with a clever remark in conversation now and again. But when it comes to coming up with real jokes or funny lines, that’s more the province of other writers. In my writing program, I thought of genuinely funny stuff as much more the province of my friend and boss Bill Pendergast, or how Julie Weinberg had such a knack for dark comedy.

Still, I certainly enjoy it for its own sake, but even moreso, I like it as a way to add balance and lightness to a heavier narrative. I’ve always felt that even really serious drama needs something to keep it from going into the territory of “grimdark.” So, even though it’s not always easy for me, I am endeavoring to get better at it so that I can effectively include it in my own work.

My favorite comedy of all time is probably Frasier, which I thought managed to be extremely funny while still maintaining a level of intellectualism, narrative and character integrity, and did not resort to tired or offensive stereotyping in jokes. I’m very inspired by the style of comedy therein with its level of wit and cleverness. I’ve also been watching Cheers, which happens to be the series from which Frasier spun off, and is considered to be a required text for anyone who hopes to write comedy. Honestly I find Cheers to be a bit dated and not nearly as funny as Frasier, nor does it have anywhere near the dramatic integrity, but it has a heart and charm to it that inspired countless humor pieces that came after it. I’m hoping to learn from examples like these.

The funniest thing I ever wrote is probably The Late Mrs. Chadwick, my most performed ten-minute play. The main joke, the resolute refusal to compromise stiff-upper-lip British manners, is one that plays to my strengths. I was pleased to find at the recent staged reading of Vivat Regina that pretty much all the jokes played, and in fact were some of the audience’s favorite parts of the piece.

Most recently I’ve been working on a silly little side project, a fan fiction for Cabin Pressure, a BBC radio comedy that I find extremely funny. I started it just to have a little low-pressure positive feedback on something, and I’m determined not to stress about it, but I have been making an effort to make it not only funny, but as much in the style of the source material as possible. It has a particular kind of dry British humor that is very distinctive. I do find myself struggling to come up with bits and gags. I’m positive it’s not as funny as any of the originals, but I do think I’ve managed to capture the characters’ unique voices. Some commenters have even said things to that effect; my favorite so far was the one who said if the creator John Finnemore retired, they’d tune in if I were the replacement! 🙂 That’s encouraging. But I know I still need more practice. Like any aspect of writing, you got to put in the work!

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