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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

MID-WEEK TREATISE?

So my computer is still in an alcoholic coma, but I refuse to leave you without content. I won't be able to do reviews until it gets fixed, but I can, from work, rant and rave and ramble and complain about a multitude of things. I might even climb up on my battle-scarred soapbox and preach at'cha a bit. Don't worry, this isn't permanent, and I do have something special planned for when my computer rises from grave. It will make up for the fact that the words I am vomiting at your eyes until then won't pertain to campy movies, because, really, I know you only come to this blog to see me talk about Hitler diddling a werewolf and also Porky's. 

Right now, however, I want to talk comedy and how to write it.

A DISCLAIMER: 

Nothing you write will ever be as funny as the funniest thing in the world: someone falling down. Just imagine it. You are laughing now, aren't you? 

Okay, you can continue reading now.

I have no pretensions that I am the almighty expert of writing things for the sole purpose of soliciting yucks, chuckles, giggles, or guffaws, but I feel as though a lot of people throw out either cliched or vague "tips" that really help no one. I do not know if it is a subconscious barrier to protect them from anyone copping their style or an inability to articulate why the hell a thing is funny, but I notice a lot of advice given on comedy is soulless and weak. It's upsetting because, as a dude who wants to die laughing, stifling or baffling a new voice with shit advice feels just plain wrong. It is tantamount to killing jokes; jokeicide.

Or, does Funnycide work better?  Gigglicide?

Aw, who cares. This joke is getting boring. Plus, it's like my third list joke in as many paragraphs. My routine might be getting weak.
...

I can get this back on track. I can do it.

Okay, so, the first thing anyone is told when they want to write comedy is: "you either have it, or you don't."  However, it is never elaborated on nor is it given the importance and weight that it rightfully deserves. This is not meant to discourage, mind you. I am not belittling practicing and honing a craft until hilarity flows through your chakras and spills out your fingertips, but there needs to be a strong, innate basis of comedy within you before any of this is even possible. And some people just ain't funny. It is not the end of the world if you can't write comedy, not everyone can.

The easy way to know if you have "it" is if you can make a stranger laugh. I am not saying to go out right now and do open mic. I am not telling you to corner someone at a bus stop and read a list of knock-knock jokes. But, if you can make a stranger laugh, truly laugh when the opportunity to do so arises, you've made it. 

You can't trust making your family laugh, nor can you trust making your friends laugh; even co-workers are dubious. Family grew up with you. You bond with friends over similar personalities, and, most likely, similar senses of humor. You don't really need to reach for anything to make these people laugh. Co-workers are dubious because, chances are, you can make them laugh about something that has happened in the confines of the workspace or they know you well enough to understand your point of view. Anything that needs a set-up or can be deemed an inside joke is wrong, as is anything that comes from an understanding of who you are as a person. 

When you are beginning writing, 90% of the audience or greater will have no idea who you are. You will not have any cult of personality behind you. Your words will be your only weapon. You can't rely on "you had to be there humor." Quoting The Simpsons will not be an easy out anymore. Your voice is all you have, and that voice better not be reliant on a myriad of specific, mundane experiences that impact neither jack nor squat of whatever you have splayed onto the page. You will drown most assuredly.

More importantly, you need to actually have a voice. A way of looking and describing things that could only come from the cockles of your very soul. This cannot be taught. Your voice will guide you through the tips and tricks I will lend you and lead you towards what is right. I cannot tell you what will be right for each and every thing you plaster in typeface, you will need an inner monologue with a third eye and probably a profound need to make everyone stand idly by while you put your words at them. To make them laugh, of course. Not to convince them of crazy lizard people 9/11 JFK conspiracy theories. Even if it would elicit unwanted cackles.

Let's move on, pretending you have "it." Good on you, you're a funny motherfucker. This next bit will be for anything but dialogue. Writing comedic dialogue is 100% having "it" and nothing fundamentally mechanical. It is having the ability to distill the skills described below and turn it into something a human being would actually say. It doesn't have to be 100% natural, but it needs to be consistent.

The first thing you will want to do is learn every single grammatical rule possible. Learn how to use a semicolon properly. Learn what a gerund is. Learn what you should never start a sentence with. Absorb every single archaic, maddening, and impossible rule in whatever language you are writing in. Fill your cranium with more than it ever wanted to know about the mechanics of the written word until you have a blinding migraine.

Then, systematically twist, bend, and stretch those rules to within a millimeter of their breaking point.

Use properly punctuated run-on sentences immediately followed by two-word sentences. Abuse parenthetical asides. Use an ungainly string of adverbs to describe a mundane adjective. Gerund the hell out of a piece. Make an entire paragraph consist of nothing but similes. Commas must become your best friend. Italicize for emphasis any chance you get. Apply double-negatives correctly, or even go deeper and bust out triple-, quadruple-, or quintuple-negatives. In short, make use of how ridiculous the rules of core language are before you start plugging in your ideas.

 Never flat out break any grammatical rules, that makes you look amateurish, but go to town with what you know. Don't stretch the rules in every sentence, either, or you will look like a pompous jackass. Do it enough that you  look like you are knowledgeable but just don't care. A laissez-faire attitude is the key to comedy. Do not provoke, but instead feign shock at the reactions you get.

This philosophy should also be applied to word choice. This is not just about finding the perfect word, which is something you should already agonize over, but also how to use the words surrounding it. Use too many words or too few words to describe something. Overdescription and underdescription seem to be a lost art. Overdescription can add spice to any vitriolic spittle you are transcribing. Underdescription is even more effective, especially when paired with a generous helping of overdescription to make the reader take a second glance and laugh louder the second time.

With mechanics thankfully out of the way, now we can focus on what I feel comedy really is: an improper response. Comedy is almost exclusively reaction-based. Even slapstick. It's not the Three Stooges hitting each other with random objects that is funny, but how they escalate the violence and what they do it with. Also the sound effects and "oofs" and "nyuck-nyuck-nyucks." These are all reactions to what is a simple grievance with the idiocy of Moe or Larry or Curly or Shemp or even Curly Joe if you're desperate. With dialogue, I really hope I don't have to bust out what a "straight man" is.

The trick, however, is discerning what the proper response would be. If you are telling an anecdote, you have the benefit of societal norms, but they are by no means a crutch. You still need to take in account your voice and what would be expected of you. Not by people who know you, mind you, but by what you are presenting yourself as through your humble narration. Or not-so humble narration if arrogance is your thing.

When it comes to fiction, the line becomes more blurred. You don't have the safety net of 100% accurate societal norms to catch you when you fail, however, you have the ability to weave whatever should be the response and twist your piece around it. Your job, as the writer, is to figure out what the normal response should be. You never out and out say it, but you go completely against that grain with what you want to stand out as funny. Then, you must somehow, naturally, place a reaction to the improper reaction somewhere in here to punctuate that, indeed, this was inappropriate. It sounds a lot more daunting than it is. Please refer, yet again, to the "straight man."

Also, do not veer away from terrible humor. Embrace puns, and the completely obvious. By not being clever, you are actually giving an improper response, especially if you build up to a lame pun by completely masturbating the English language with flowery, delicate prose. It is actually funny to purposely fail at raising the bar. Don't rely on this cheat often, but it works in a pinch.

However the biggest thing to keep in mind is that the story, idea, joke, article, etc. itself, is not funny. I don't care what it is. It could be a ten page dick and fart joke or an epistolary novel about pedophile zombies...

Wait, shit, no one write that second thing. I am writing it. It is my idea.

Where was I?

Yeah, the story itself is never what is funny. It is the way it is told. All the tips I gave you won't mean anything unless you know how to (ab)use them. You need to practice and develop an eye for what is expected, and make sure you never give it. Always have about three or four improper responses holstered, ready to draw them at the drop of a dime.

And, seriously, nobody steal my novel idea. I will sue the shit out of you.

2 comments:

  1. I found this article extremely difficult to masturbate to.

    ReplyDelete
  2. you aren't trying hard enough

    ReplyDelete