Welcome to the golden rules or as I like to call them the golden guidelines or tips of screenwriting. When it comes to the cinema once you know the rules you can then break them and create new ones that work. We are going to go over 11 of them you must know before and even during your writing process that will increase your LOL factor.
The first couple of tips are to form your idea. Then we will move on to things you should keep in mind when writing. They are the following:
- Ask yourself, what makes you Laugh?
- Market Test Your ideas to strangers
- Two people are funnier than one
- Deconstruct the psychology of humor
- the faster it is, the funnier it will become
- Humor is based in reality
- Forget dialogue is about delivery
- Think stereotypically
- Watch Comedy Movies for Analysis
- Steal like Picasso
- The importance of the first ten pages
What makes you Laugh?
Seriously answer the question. People tend to ignore when writing for laughs is what gets them going. Before you can make someone else laugh you have to make yourself laugh. You don’t have to think that genuinely to find the last time you were on the floor crying with laughter. Whatever it is its use that.
Think about Jim Carey. Jerry Lewis profoundly influenced him. The precise movement of there comedy almost feels similar. Over time Jim Carrey has developed his style independent that of Lewis by combining his personality in the mix. Other influences include Dick Van Dyke, Bill Cosby, and Keenen Ivory Wayans.
Take a minute and think about who or what situations you find funny. When you see that moment in time ask yourself:
- What happened?
- Why was it funny?
- How could it have been funnier?
- How can you dramatize this?
Market Test Your Ideas to Strangers
Your idea might seem like a good, but to others, it could be dry. Remember you’re writing a screenplay for an audience not for yourself. Even though you are the first audience member, you still need 99 more to fill up a theatre.
This exercise can be strenuous; people are sensitive now more than ever. I always say The Chappelle Show couldn’t exist now as it did in 2003. But don’t let this stop you there’s humor in everything and if you can find enough people on your side of it, you can write situations that make people laugh.
Tell your idea to strangers to see if you can get a reaction. The reasoning for this is people who you don’t know have no obligation to lie to spare your feelings. People you know aka your aunt will tell you-you’re a genius even if your not. How to pitch your idea to people:
1) Pitch your idea within 2 minutes or less.
Give them the logline and a quick breakdown. If your test subject laughs out loud forget going through the rest of the list you’ve won. Move on to the next person.
2) Do they understand it?
Ask them why or why not? Do they have any follow up questions? If yes that’s a good sign that there interested.
3) Gage there reaction
Watch their facial expressions. Their eyes will tell you everything you need to know. If your subject’s eyes glaze over, then you’re losing them. If peoples eyes get bigger, then they’re interested in your story.
4) Change or pitch or the story
Based on peoples feedback you might have a new angle to pitch your idea, or even better you see holes in the story that you didn’t see before. You now to make changes tightening it up the loose ends.
Two Heads can be better than One
I’ve never seen a screenwriter who didn’t let someone else at least read there work to justify its existence. The feedback stage is sometimes more important than the writing. When it comes to comedy screenwriting, this portion is even more important than any other genre. Check out your favorite comedy films writers credits. Most of the time its at least two people sometimes up to five people contributing to the same screenplay.
Find someone you can trust with the review of your screenplay jokes and structure. Write with them if you like their sense of humor. Have your partner be brutally honest, that’s how you get better.
Deconstruct Humor and the History of Funny
This section is going to get a little scientific, but I feel it is necessary to understand why we laugh.
Aristotle who created the real, unbroken rules of story, suggests that all humor comes from the misfortunes of others. Directly comparing your situation is to others is funny.
For examples, we are going to use one of the most admired comedy movie Bridesmaids. On the surface, the 35-year-old women played by Kristin Wigg is ruining her best friend’s wedding played by Maya Rudolph trying to compete with a new friend. That’s the surface, but we laugh at the fact that she wants to get married too and can’t find a man of her own.
Relief theory Or the Nobody died theory created by Sigmund Freud. Relief theory indicates that the build-up of tension is the basis for all humorous scenarios. The scenario becomes funny when the pressure is released in a way that doesn’t directly implode the situation on itself.
For example, In Bridesmaids they all become friends in the end, and the wedding still happens.
The unexpected is funnier than the expected. Remember the time when you were studying and couldn’t understand something. You slaved away trying to make sense of it. Whether someone told it to you or you figured it out. You may have laughed out loud a bit when the answer revealed itself. That’s this Incongruity theory in a nutshell.
What did the captain say to his soldiers before sailing to Britain?
Get in the boat.
Bridesmaids are full of these jokes, taking it far left tricking your brain into thinking its one way and curving it to another. Another way of doing this is to make a joke people already know the answer to and push it farther than the audience’s expectations.
Faster Equals Funnier
Unlike the Horror movie genre which works best with a slow build up. The faster the jokes, the funnier they are. There’s a psychology in why this works so well.
Our brains are faster than you think. When we receive information, we are always scanning for what happens next when jokes are told the audience is given all the information necessary to figure the solution out. Going faster cuts the brain off from the analysis of solving the riddle of the joke. This process ends up surprising us making us laugh.
Humor is B
ased in Reality
It’s funnier if it is relatable. If the audience resonates with your comedy, they will understand the humor.
Going back to the Bridesmaids example there is a moment when Annie Walker played by Kristin Wigg comes back down the stairs from her blind dates house to see his son with a box of pills from her purse. She asks the boy “did you take these?” He replies “Yes,” She says “Something weird is going to happen to your body” then walks out. Most men didn’t laugh. There was no reference for them in the joke. Remember not every joke is for everybody.
A strong story without a lot of laughs over a weak story with c
Many comedic films are boring not because the jokes aren’t funny but because the plot sucks. You can’t write a movie with joke after joke with no reasoning for the laughs.
What most screenwriters do is put there characters in a situation because its funny to them but these situations are necessary to the story they’re telling. Never do this, or your film might seem ridiculous to others. Some questions to ask yourself to avoid this are:
- Why are my characters doing this?
- How will this further their goals?
Howcan I get them to there goal faster?
Asking your self these questions after each scene will set you up on the right path for a great screenplay.
Forget Great Dialogue is about Delivery
As a writer, you might fall into the trap of making all your comedy dialogue based. This type of writing wouldn’t work if Jim Carrey or Damien Waynes were performing your screenplay.
Jokes could also be situations, actions, and subtext. Which won’t make your reader Laugh out loud but it will make for a great movie. For this to work, you have to be ok with everything not being funny on the page. Leave room for the director and the actors to play. Think of movies like Scary Movie or The Mask.
Political incorrectness is why comedy is funny. If you are trying to spare peoples feelings your comedy, it will end up being boring. The Simpsons and Family Guy have been on the air for so long because they don’t follow what’s correct. They think stereotypically.
In the movie Coming to America where an African Prince comes to New York City doesn’t understand the culture. He ends up getting robbed, working at McDowell, not Mcdonalds all the while being made fun of and not noticing a thing. This scenario is real humor. Think about how the world perceives your characters and play into it.
Watch Comedy Movies for Analysis
Unless you watch comedy movies, you won’t understand the thrill you’re trying to envoke in others. You have to find a couple of films that make you truly Laugh out loud you then analyze them.
Reverse engineer why they made you laugh. From the characters, the build-up and their situation. This exercise is going to teach you what comedy is for you personally. From this, you will find your comedic voice.
Steal like Picasso
Quintin Tarantino thinks of his dialogue as a combination of David Mamet’s writing and Richard Prior’s comedy. Combining these two great talents into one with his voice brought something to screenwriting we’ve never seen, unlike other film genres, it’s ok to copy. Steal from your favorite films, screenplays, comedians and storytellers, not the jokes but the style. Combining these will give you a unique voice never seen in screenplays.
The First 10 Pages
I think the 10-page tip should be a rule in screenwriting comedy. The first ten pages should be gold. If you can’t make someone Laugh out loud in the first ten pages, the producer or studio head will stop reading your script. This tip is important, especially if your goal is to sell your writing and make it into a movie. Find the screenplays comedic tone early on. Let some script readers take a crack at it before you pass it on.
Writing a Dark Comedy Screenplay
Dark comedy is otherwise known as Black comedy is taking humor to a level that makes people somewhat uncomfortable to laugh. Think about movies like Bad Santa which is my favorite dark comedy movie. For more of this type of comedy take a look at this watch mojo video:
If your goal is to write Dark comedy screenplays adding elements of violence and sex during an inappropriate time seems like the essence. Everything that people hate including misogyny, racism, and drug abuse can all go into this category. Be careful of this, if the joke doesn’t land you will get a lot of people hating your screenplay.
Two classes that I recommend to go further with your comedy writing are from a place called masterclass.com
Steve Martin Teaches Comedy
If you don’t know who Steve Martian is because hes from a different generation but you probably know his work. Forty-five movies as an actor, writer, producer and not even counting his stand up comedy. He is everything funny.
25 video lessons
Judd Apatow Masterclass
Judd is a writer-producer-director of all things funny. His list is too long to talk about so let me mention some of the most ridiculously funny things I thought hes ever made. The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked up, Super Bad and Bridesmaids. This gunslinger has more movies than anyone on this list because of his three titles, but whats intresting is there all in one genre. Judd Apatow is a master of comedy.
32 video lessons
His extensive knowledge of comedy, he takes a perspective of finding humor in everything.
This class is one of the few that go over the pitch process for screenwriters — taking you from writing to signing the deal. It’s one thing to write a great piece of art. It’s another thing to be able to sell it for $200,00 in one meeting. I recommend this class to anyone who is interested in making comedy movie and Tv shows from start to finish.
Comedy books that will pull the funny out of any situation
- Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy
- Comedy Writing Secrets: The Best-Selling Guide to Writing Funny and Getting Paid for It