How To Write Funny

By Jurgen Wolff

If you watched the one-minute video above, you saw what happens when people who aren’t tuned in to being funny try to use the academic approach. Not a pretty sight.
 
The most important requirement is finding the right mindset, and the only place to look for that is within. (Stay with me, I’m not recruiting for a cult.)
 
Are there times when you are amusing, when you say things without first censoring them? It might be when you're chatting with a friend, when you've had a glass or two of wine, when you're around kids, or some other circumstance.
 
Your first step is to figure out the time/place/circumstance when you are in the mood or state that is closest to the one you need in order to write the amusing way you'd like to write.
 
Close your eyes, remember or imagine that time or state as vividly as possible. How do you see the world at those times? What kinds of things do you say to yourself? How does it feel?
 
Still in that state, think about the scene you want to write. Imagine it as vividly as possible. What could happen that would be amusing but in tune with the characters, the setting, and the tone of your story?

The secret is in the characters

The better you know your characters, the easier this is, because the best comedy comes out who your characters are and their attitude. If they have a strong attitude you have far more potential for comedy.
 
If you mix a strong attribute with a strong attitude, that’s even better. For instance, Mr Bean’s attribute is that he’s incredibly clumsy. His attitude is never to take responsibility for any of the havoc he wreaks.
 
If you give your main characters very different attributes and attitudes there is a lot of potential for conflict, and that can be played for laughs as well as for drama. They can clash openly (The Three Stooges) or it might be a much more subtle dynamic, as with Jeeves and Wooster.
 
Just be sure that you also give them a good reason for being together—trap them in some way. Making them part of the same family is one of the best ways to do this. Having them work at the same place is the other. That’s why so many sitcoms play either in the home or the workplace.
 
Characters are funniest when they’re not trying to be funny. We can see the humour, they don’t. Fawlty Towers is still one of the best models for aspiring comedy writers. Basil Fawlty sees nothing funny about his predicaments; if anything, he feels the victim of a tragic fate, being surrounded by people who fail to recognise his genius.
 
Sometimes it helps to read the kind of thing you want to write, just before a writing session, and you can’t go wrong reading the scripts of Fawlty Towers or the series or film that is closest in its style of humour to what you want to write.

Can’t write funny? Speak funny!

Some people find it easier to be looser and more amusing when speaking than when writing, so you might try recording the scene before you write it.  Let the recorder roll, don't worry if you digress or get carried away, sometimes that leads to great material.
 
If you’re inhibited, try creating a character who is less inhibited, give him or her a name, and step into that persona when you write or dictate comedy. Write somewhere other than your usual spot so that the associations you have with your normal routine don’t get in the way. This may sound weird, but it will all happen inside your head, so nobody needs to know about your multiple personalities.
 
If none of this works, stay away from writing comedy. Bergman wasn’t a barrel of laughs and he did OK.

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About Jurgen Wolff

Jurgen WolffJurgen Wolff is a writer, teacher, and creativity consultant. In the United States, he wrote for sitcoms including “Benson” and “Family Ties.” He wrote the feature film, “The Real Howard Spitz,” starring Kelsey Grammer and directed by Vadim Jean. He was a script doctor on the hit film, “Mannequin” and others starring Michael Caine, Walter Matthau, and Eddie Murphy. For Germany, he co-created the comedy series, “Lukas,” which ran for 65 episodes, and an original comedy series called “Krista.” He also wrote nine episodes of the series,” Relic Hunter.” He wrote two TV movies for the Olsen Twins, and several the German TV movies including, “On Top of the Volcano,” starring Maria Schrader and Sebastian Koch (2007). His play, “Killing Mother,” was produced at the Gorky Theatre in Berlin, and he’s also had plays produced in New York, Los Angeles, and London.
 
As a writing and creativity teacher, his courses include “Beyond Brainstorming,” “Create Your Future,” and “The Creative Breakthrough Workshop.” He has presented his courses at the University of Southern California, the University of Barcelona, the Skyros Institute, many films schools, and groups and organisations including The Academy for Chief Executives, Egmont, Grundy-UFA, and Columbia-Tri-Star. For eight years he was a visiting lecturer for the Pilots Program in Sitges.
 
His books include “Your Writing Coach” and “Your Creative Writing Masterclass” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing), “Creativity Now” (Pearson),“Do Something Different” (Virgin Business Books), “Successful Scriptwriting” (Writers Digest Press), “Top Secrets: Screenwriting” (Lone Eagle Press), and “Successful Sitcom Writing” (St. Martin’s Press). He has written for many publications including the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Broadcast Magazine, and he is the editor of “Brainstorm,” the creativity ebulletin.
 
His writing blogs are at www.TimeToWrite.blogs.com and www.SuccessfulScreenwriting.com. He runs the Writing Breakthrough Strategy Program, an online group coaching program (www.WritingBreakthroughStrategy.com). He is based in London but spends part of each year in Los Angeles. He can be contacted at jurgenwolff@gmail.com.

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How To Write Funny