Comedy screenwriting is something I like to read and watch but I tend to regretfully write it. This month’s focus was upon comedy/tragedy screenwriting and this focus was designed to aid students in knowing what is funny and what is tragic. I think the intention was to make sure we are capable of editing other’s work in that genre and also be able to create our own screenplay pieces.
The entire Portfolio project was to revise our previous work, twice. Brevity was a requirement and we were given notes about our first revision and instructed to use that instruction in our second revision.
The text for this class was Laughing Out Loud by Andrew Horton. The book read more like a history of comedy and some of the comedy is just out-dated. It would probably be better for most laymen to buy David Trottier’s The Screenwriter’s Bible and then watch some modern comedy and read the corresponding screenplays. Screenwriting comedy is a challenge for me.
Really, the mix of imagery with dialogue or situation is the trick that most focus upon in the modern world. Writing may not be funny until a certain actor is chosen and the scene placed onto film.
The following is my last discussion entry and focuses upon how I view comedy. It really will vary for different people.
The huge muscle-bound black man with a shaved head is knitting his brow in consternation.
Why do you say you feel "trapped" in
a man's body?
He bites his lip, thinking; then, in a resonant bass voice:
...Well, sometimes I get the menstrual
cramps real hard.
I can’t even begin to express what a huge Raising Arizona fan I am. Ethan and Joel Cohen are two of my favorite screenwriter/directors in all of the industry. Raising Arizona’s humor is the perfect type of humor. I am hard to please due to the fact that I got to see this movie at a very young age and have been comparing comedy to it ever since.
I’m not going to give a scientific explanation as to why the above excerpt is hilarious. I will explain it according to some rules I have picked up along my journey as a writer. When contrast is used within a film, delivering dialogue or imagery that is completely unexpected tends to create whatever reaction the writer wants to happen. Just like placing a baby’s laughter in the night and in middle of the woods created fear in The Blair Witch, this dialogue exchange above created laughter. Nobody expects a huge muscle-bound black guy to have any feminine qualities. Yet, this one is convinced he is a woman trapped in a man’s body due to “real hard” menstrual cramps. If a skinny and feminine man had delivered the dialogue, it would have lost a lot of depth to the humor.
This type of humor is more common now. It is very similar to someone like Milton Berle dressing up like a woman and performing skits. The skits themselves lose the level of comedic value if it is an actual woman performing them. I grew up watching people like Carol Burnette and Tim Conway. This type of humor was what made these stars into some of the most hilarious comedians the world will ever know. Something as simple as dialogue by itself does not serve the comedy. It is the mix of imagery and the actual words that create the humor.
Understanding how imagery enforces dialogue has helped my writing immensely. I tend to prefer suspense and horror writing and without this understanding, the fear factor within my writing could not exist. For example, it is much the same type of thing to have a 90-year-old woman lift a 200lb man in the air and toss him. Such a thing doesn’t compute because it isn’t natural or something we experience. Having a muscle-bound man experiencing menstrual cramps, and then making that man a black prisoner is the exact opposite of what we would expect of someone like that.
Raising Arizons is in my DVD collection for a reason. It is one of the greatest comic achievements in history.
Coen, E. (Writer), & Coen, J. (Writer) (1987). Raising Arizona [Screenplay]
Now, we were instructed to use Laughing Out Loud as a possible source to solidify our arguments. I am a rebel, I don’t agree with a lot of what Mr. Horton wrote, and so I stepped out on a limb and decided why things are funny and I did it with my own opinion. I don’t think I need the weight of someone else in order that my argument be weighted.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for Mr. Horton. He just has a different sense of humor than I do. His view makes comedy a bit too scientific for my taste.
"Come at once to supper And bring your pitcher, and your supper chest, The priest of Bacchus sends to fetch you thither. And do be quick: you keep the supper waiting.”
That type of thing may have been funny at one time, but that time has long passed.
I happen to think that my Portfolio comedy script (it is a much longer piece, Revision One received an A and I believe this Revision will be an A+ or:
'Perfect (or near perfect)
Professional, solid, engaging, inspiring, and daring
Delivers palpable tension and strong characters, dialogue, and plot
Sets a high bar for the classSimply stated, work of this level is how careers are created’)
is the type of comedy more akin to what is being made today.
(I copy and paste directly from Final Draft and so the format is a bit tight.)
The Earth spins as the VOICES of multitudes of PEOPLE resemble the ocean. A TOKE on an unseen JOINT is slowly pulled into lungs and then released.
Karma. It’s sharp on both ends. Most don’t believe in it, or they believe in it and think it’s a pudding-like substance with or without sugar and it gathers up around us and makes our existence what it is.
Falling to Earth.
INT. BENNY’S BURGERS - EVENING
CHARLIE WILLIAMSON, 37, stands at the burger counter dressed in his dirty and colorful Benny’s Burgers uniform.
My karma is the unsweetened kind.
Charlie leans onto the counter and eyes around the lounge surreptitiously.
There is nobody.
Charlie slides back to the burger and fries shoot where a the last of the evenings prepared burgers and fries sit awaiting the trash. Charlie grabs two paper wrapped burgers. FOOTSTEPS and JINGLING KEYS come from the lounge area. Charlie fumbles and looks startled and then pulls the baggy uniform pants out and stuffs the burgers inside. They are still hot and he dances and makes pained faces.
Charlie turns to face the short, bald and ridiculous looking man. Charlie feigns uncomfortable smiles while holding his hands over his groin.
You can go early, Meredith and me can shut down, you’re closing in on 40 so I’m taking you off the schedule until further notice.
Charlie just stands still feigning painful smiles and holding his hands over his groin.
The manager puzzles at Charlie’s strange demeanor.
Are you stoned? Clock out. Now! You have got to be the weirdest...
The manager turns and stomps off grumbling insults under his breath.
Charlie stands looking after the manager.
They say we are the creators of our own fortunes.
Charlie adjusts the package in his pants as his face seems to relax as the burgers’ sting cools. He starts toward the back.
I’m resigned to think that karma is a just a bitch.
EXT. BENNY’S BURGERS - LATER
Charlie exits the restaurant wearing a toboggan while fumbling in his jacket pocket. He pulls a pack of smokes free and leans back against the wall as he pulls a lighter free and slides a cigarette from the pack into his mouth. He lights it. He leans his head back, closes his eyes and takes a long draw. Multiple DOGS GROWLING. Charlie opens his eyes.
Charlie slowly looks down and toward the growls.
Three dogs, two mutts led by a large Doberman, stand eying him from across the parking lot.
Charlie immediately grabs the bulge at his groin and turns toward the rusted CIVIC parked at the other end of the lot. He starts to run.
The dogs take this as a game and lay chase.
Charlie lifts one hand from his groin and begins to fumble in one of his jacket pockets. The burgers begin to slide down the legs of his pants and Charlie is running awkwardly attempting to gather his keys and keep possession of the burgers.
When your life is in question you always start thinking about how it all began. For me, it was when I was seven. Seven is supposed to be lucky.
Then it just goes to the past and explains a bit about Charlie’s burger flippin’ beginnings. It is far from perfect but you get the idea. Any of this stuff within the screenplay can be or may not be, funny. It all depends on who the actor is and how the cinematographer and director handle my intentions.
Can you picture it?