Archive for November, 2010

Don’t forget that comedy is subjective

Ken Levine (writer or producer for shows like MASH, Cheers, and The Simpsons) uses an example from his career (of a bad writer codenamed “Shecky”) to bring up a point about comedy writing:

But the big question is this: How do you know when something’s funny? Especially since humor is so subjective. The standard answer is “it’s funny if it’s funny to you”. I disagree. And I use Shecky as an example. If you’re attempting to become a professional comedy writer you need to gage what strangers will find funny.

Amateur comedy writers should also pay attention.

One problem I see over and over again in amateur sketch comedy is that of oblivious comedians creating sketches that they find funny but the audience doesn’t. A few members of the audience may laugh, perhaps giving the illusion of success to the sketch comedian, but the response does not compare to that of the jokes that actually work.

If you are a sketch writer, don’t delude yourself into thinking your sketches always work. Study comedy, see what works. Work harder. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t.

One of my favorite quotes from episode 18 of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”, a show that wasn’t that great but meant well:

“You’re too hard on yourself.”
“You know who isn’t too hard on themselves? Amateurs.”
– Lucy and Tom

Work on writing what strangers will find funny. Actually make an effort of it. And be honest about how good your comedy actually is. I’ll thank you with my laughter.