by Jorjeana Marie
I sat next to a somewhat distracted woman on an airplane recently. As she was settling, she asked me why I too was headed into the desert.
“In the desert?”
Yeah. Everyone needs to laugh right now.
“Is it hard, doing comedy?” she asked.
I get asked this a lot and told her my standard reply.
She giggled. She didn’t expect that.
It’s only hard when no one is laughing I admitted.
So, like most comedians, I started grabbing all the tools I could find that could help me fly high. Here are a few favorites:
- Surprise (and delight) your reader. Comedy is all about surprise. This is why we don’t often listen to a comedy album more than once. Once we know the material, the magical effect wears off. So juxtapose ideas, smash opposite kinds of characters together, put a flawed character in a situation that makes their ineptitude shine. Lead the reader somewhere, then make a sharp, yet logical, turn. This is mis-direction and it creates surprise.
- Find a great, fun concept before you go down the road of spending twelve-hundred years on it. If it doesn’t grab you as a fun, playful, nay, hilarious idea, keep ideating! Sometimes the best idea arrives when we’ve gone past our threshold. If I want to submit four springboards on an animation show I’m pitching ideas on, I might write thirty or forty or more. Comedy requires a lot of brainstorming (fun!) and batting ideas around (like an adorable baby animal).
- Find someone funny and SUPPORTIVE to do said batting with.
- Exaggerate. Take whatever idea you have, or that funny character of yours, and turn up the dial.
- Give your characters strong points of view or heightened attitudes.
- Read your work out loud. It’s important, especially with comedy. It really does make a difference. You’ll hear where it’s dragging, needs to be cut or where you need to…
- Raise the Stakes. This is a ridiculously useful and fun improvisation game I explain in detail in my book Improv for Writers(Penguin Random House). It’s a game that helps with creating conflict when used for a serious piece of writing, or for comedy, heightening. WARNING: Watch out—incredibly absurd ideas are about to escape from your mind! Go get ‘em!
Now that seat partner is writing comedy too. There’s no better time to make humor your co-pilot.
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Jorjeana Marie is an award-winning screenwriter and author of Improv for Writers (Penguin Random House). She writes for Disney, Netflix, DreamWorks and Cartoon Network and voices over 400 children’s audiobooks from Audible, Scholastic, Harper Collins, and Hachette. She is the recipient of Earphones, YALSA and Audie awards. Sign up for her newsletter at jorjeanamarie.com and for more helpful tips check out her Instagram and Twitter channels.
Publishers Weekly calls her “Pitch Perfect”.
Images of author on stage courtesy Jessica Itsallgood; author portrait by Tiffany Kyees.