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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Bourbon

Stop Telling Jokes In Your Comedies

Hello, Writers!!

Do you write comedy? And were you taught to put 3 jokes for every page?


I have a great blog today that will help you if you are writing any story that has characters----so ALL of you!!

If you want to write something funny the very first thing you need to do is to STOP WRITING JOKES!

"But, Stephanie, every film writing guru says 3 jokes per page??" SIGH---they are wrong.

And here is why.

Have you ever watched a show or film or even read a book that was supposed to be a comedy but it fell flat? Yes, you have, we all have and it's like time we can never get back--unless you are a writer and then you can use it to understand more about the process.

PRO TIP--everything is learning how to be a great storyteller--everything.

In Steve Kaplan's workshop for comedy, he talks at length about this and why character drives the story AND THE COMEDY. It all comes from character.

Let me repeat, it comes from CHARACTER, not jokes.

I have a friend who is now writing for television and for years I would tell him to stop with all the jokes. We exchange scripts and all the jokes kept pulling me out of his scripts. Now, he wasn't doing anything wrong and they were always funny but they weren't always in character.

There are joke-heavy shows on TV, like everything from Chuck Lorre--but he weaves it in so beautifully with character that you don't even notice.

An example? The Big Bang Theory. The characters drive that show and it's not based on situations, unlike Three's Company which was also character-driven but was definitely a SITUATION comedy.

I always recommend Steve's workshops to anyone who can get to one because they are invaluable on character & comedy.

You can check him out here and he has books too! So grab them and get on his email list for invaluable tips on writing comedy.

Now, here is an old blog post that I'm sharing because it's speaking to this exact thing and I recommend you check out this film

What About Bob? is a comedy which came out in 1991 directed by Frank Oz, and starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss. Murray plays Bob Wiley, a multiphobic psychiatric patient who follows his successful and (beyond) egotistical psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin (played by Dreyfuss) on vacation. When the unstable Bob befriends the other members of Marvin's family, it pushes the doctor over the edge.

I loved this film when it came out and I still love it. I am not sure what comedy critics or people who know the ins and outs of comedy writing better than I do would/will say, but I think this film is just about perfect, and here is why.

The situation is funny! Dr. Marvin wants nothing but a weekend alone with his family and a promo opp with Good Morning America to go well and Bob wants nothing but to be with Dr. Marvin because he thinks he "needs" him. Both characters have very clear and conflicting wants in this film and the actors are so committed to the part that we believe it and it's funny.

This film doesn't rely on joke, joke, joke, but instead takes two people and shoves them together in a situation that is tragic and yet very funny. It's funny that Dr. Marvin's kids relate better to crazy Bob, it's funny that Dr. Marvin's wife likes him so much, it's funny that everyone likes Bob and wants him around except Dr. Marvin who is completely put out by the situation at hand.

This is another example of a film that could have just as easily been a drama about a crazy patient who just won't take no for an answer, but instead, it's funny. We, the audience love and cheer on Bob and we also cheer on Dr. Marvin. Two opposing sides and we like both of them.

It's really a great film and if you haven't seen it in a while, or never seen it, put it on your Netflix cue and watch it, you'll like it.

I hope this is helpful for those of you writing comedy but even if you are writing drama, the character is always FIRST and the story will grow organically from that.

I'd love to hear from you! Jump into the FREE FB group for female writers or reply to this email!

Happy Writing!

XO Stephanie

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