Saturday, April 25, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
|Colonel||Now, I've noticed a tendency for this programme to get rather silly. Now I do my best to keep things moving along, but I'm not having things getting silly. Those two last sketches I did got very silly indeed, and that last one about the bed was even sillier. Now, nobody likes a good laugh more than I do...except perhaps my wife and some of her friends...oh yes and Captain Johnston. Come to think of it most people likes a good laugh more than I do. But that's beside the point. |
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Woody Allen, "These people were really hip. They were sitting around in black turtlenecks, drinking pre-Columbian coffee."
Adding "pre" creates the joke. We know "Columbian coffee" (known phrase) and "pre-Columbian" refers usually to a style of art. Allen combines the two concepts creating a brilliant line.
Add-a-words create easy incongruities:
Lincoln Log Memorial
Toy train schedule
Liquid paper route
The forumla: Take a well-known phrase and add a word or prefix to get the laugh.
Woody Allen was greatly influenced by the works of S.J. Perelman. Some of Perelman's best jokes will be analyzed in the next lesson. Stay tuned, sports fans.
Woody Allen describing someone, "His values are God and carpeting."
Merging the Macro (God) with micro (carpeting -- and notice the "k" sound) creates the laugh.
"Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends." -- Woody Allen again.
The Macro (concern about a Godless universe) with the micro (a plumber) creates the laugh.
M&m can also stand for the technique of everyday concerns leading to great philosophical pondering. The "Mongo only pawn in life's game" line from "Blazing Saddles."
"Get Smart" (the great television series created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry) used this style of joke frequently. The large concerns of saving the world vs. the petty concerns of Maxwell Smart. An episode to watch is "Strike While the Agent is Hot" as the agents of CONTROL deal with petty union complaints (micro) while they should be concerned with saving the world (Marco). Here's a link to the episode:
Monday, April 13, 2009
For example, Frasier protests, "Are you saying I'm redundant? That I repeat myself? That I say the same thing over and over?"
His denial or questioning the fact that he's redundant proves that he is.
One of the first jokes we sold was to a stand up comedian. It was, "My wife told me I hold grudges too long. I never forgave her for saying that."
So in that implied denial (not a grudge holder) the accusation is shown to be true.
Think of a personality flaw and you've got an easy joke structure.
A: Your problem is you're a quitter.
B: No I'm not!
A: You are!
B: Okay, you're probably right. I really don't want to fight about it.
A: You're immature.
B: Am not!
A: You are!
B: Am not! Times infinity!
Not great jokes but they do make the structure clear -- the denial proves the accusation. The self-contradiction (person proving what they are denying through the denial itself) creates the incongruity, which leads to laughter.
"I put instant coffee in my microwave and almost went back in time."
instant coffee (speed) + microwave (speed) = time displacement
"The prescription for my glasses just ran out" and he grasps about blindly.
Prescription (expires) + glasses (a prescription item that never really runs out) = losing sight.
"I have flip up contacts."
contacts (stuck on eye) + flip up (normally associated with glasses) = incongruous merging of the two concepts.
Look for ways to merge two related concepts into an incongruous way to get laughs using this technique.
Watching the above scene you'll see the set up is the standard scene we've seen dozens of times: Calm down someone who is hysterical by slapping them. ("The Producers" may have the greatest of all of these -- "I'm in pain. And I'm wet. And I'm still hysterical.")
So the set up (expectation) is the person will be calmed down by a slap. ZAZ (writers/directors of AIRPLANE! -- the team of , and ) took the situation further and through repetition got the laugh.
Other examples of this include the stateroom scene from the Marx Brothers in "A Night at the Opera." The well-known gag there is person after person piling into a small room -- comedy from surprise repetition.
Another classic is from "Your Show of Shows" entitled "Vacant Holsters" (a pre-"Blazing Saddles" western spoof scripted at least in part by Mel Brooks). In that sketch the opening shows the hero tossing down a cigarette and putting it out. Then another. And another. Ashtray full of them. Set up then repetition for laugh.
The AIRPLANE! example shown demonstrates how ZAZ took that basic structure and realized you could get incrementally more absurd with the repetition. Instead of simply repeating the same object or action you could get crazier as the gag grew. A new twist on the old gag structure from a comedy classic.
Stephen “Little Stevie” Hoover – Always kind to his superiors, Stephen is the first to admit you’re wrong. From his humble beginnings in Humble Beginnings, Nebraska, Stephen has
spent the last few years preparing for the next few years.
Hungry for enlightenment, thirsty for education, starving for knowledge, he is looking for a great restaurant. You have to hand it to Stephen, because he’s too lazy to get up and get it himself. Cynic and Romantic, Realist and Optimist, Naïve and Shrewd, Loepold and Loeb, Stephen is the first to admit you’re wrong, which he said already.
Although he received no formal education, he did attend Louisiana State. Of his appearance he says, “I’m Protestant but I look Jewish. I vote to exclude myself from the clubs I join.” Give him an inch and he’ll take an inch. Give him enough time, and he’ll go down in history.
L.A. Laird - The poverty-stricken child of only parents, L.A. Laird is a simple, unpretentious bon vivant, a devil-may care-man-about-town loved by millions, although people don’t like
A multi-talented prodigy who exploded out of the Midwest like a shooting star to distinguish himself with brilliant achievements as both an actor and director, Orson Welles never met L.A. Laird who was born many years later and can’t act. L.A. Laird began writing soon after taking it up, and immediately began to show a talent for taking up things. Family and friends alike were surprised with his poetical bent as it is exceedingly difficult to fix bent poeticals. L.A. Laird is now eagerly pursuing a career in screenwriting, although some day he’d like to get into modeling. It is obvious that L.A. Laird has a very promising future behind him.
This writing team is ready to take their next step from local obscurity to national oblivion.
For any short film directors out there, visit www.simplyscripts.com and do a site search for "Hoover." You'll see four or five scripts posted. If you want to make them and enter them in festivals let us know. Looking for IMDB credits at this point and to have samples of our work.
We are waiting for footage from a filmmaker in England who is shooting the Dylan spoof ("The Voice of a Generation") and the sketch comedy ("Up to Date.") Will keep you posted and be putting those up on the site when they get made.
Cleese mentioned his life changed when he saw BEYOND THE FRINGE being performed at the West End. FRINGE was recently released on DVD and I suggest you look for that. Cleese would later work with Peter Cook -- the prime writer of most of the FRINGE material.
Cook was an absolute comic genius. He created a unique style by blending the lunacy of the GOONS with the British public school sensibility throwing in a dash the absurdism of Lewis Carroll and bringing to a delightful cornucopia of comedic flavors by tossing in a cornucopia.
Cleese and Cook would work together in a special entitled PETER COOK AND COMPANY. Cleese said this bit (and I apologize in advance for the poor quality but it's the only one I could locate) was not well received at the time. I told him it was a classic, absolute genius, and then dropped several more names, which he was kind enough to help me pick up from the carpet.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
In general, words with the ‘k’ sound--like ‘kidneys’--are inherently funny. The humor potential of the letter ‘k’ has been known by the experts for years. In the Neil Simon play The Sunshine Boys, the character Willy explains it to his nephew: “Fifty-seven years in this business, you learn a few things. You know what words are funny and which words are not funny. Alka Seltzer is funny. You say "Alka Seltzer," you get a laugh . . . Words with "k" in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that's a funny name. Robert Taylor is not funny.”
Scientist and researcher Richard Wiseman put the ‘k is funny’ theory to the test during his LaughLab research in 2001. Although the main focus of the research was finding the funniest joke, Wiseman also performed a “mini-experiment” to see if the letter ‘k’ actually gets more laughs. (Your tax dollars at work, folks.)
The experiment was built around a simple joke:
There were two cows in a field. One said, “Moo.” The other one said, “I was going to say that.”
During the experiment, people were invited to visit the LaughLab website and rate jokes pulled at random from a database. In addition to the cow joke, Wiseman and his colleagues put several variations in the database including mice that went “eek,” tigers that said “grrr,” and birds going “cheep.” The winning variation which had the most ''k's was this joke:
From this we learn that the "k" sound does get laughs and that the visitors to this website were easily amused.
There were two ducks on a pond. One said, “Quack” and the other said, “I was going to say that.”
Here are some words and phrases you can shout out randomly at parties for laughs: fish sticks, tinker toy, slinky, sissy pants (childish things are funny), hygiene, nose hair, nubile, mood ring, junior college, goofy golf, kumquat (the funniest fruit aside from Oscar Wilde), Jet Ski, gerbil, ant farm, squirrel, communicable, inner thigh, three, five, tattletale, Burger King, aplenty, penmanship, elk, woodpecker, crackpot, fur ball, Magic Marker, Mr. Bubble, uterus, uvula, Latvia, pluck, amok, squeal, McNuggets, show tunes, custard, duck.
Bring your dog around and I'll give him a bonus, too:
Here's a fun site that has transcripts of some of Woody Allen's stand up: http://www.ibras.dk/comedy/allen.htm
For a visual joke pan from the two set up visuals and the third is your gag. For written pieces or dialogue, including standup, the first two setup and the third is your punch.
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, come up with four or five words to finish this sentence, "Remember, if you're captured just give them your name, rank, and _______."
Example, "He hasn't a single redeeming vice." The line, from Wilde again (he was a witty fellow) takes the standard phrasing "redeeming virtue" and the key word "virtue" is reversed to "vice." The line works even better because the punch of the joke is the last word.
In general, you want the line that gets the laugh to be at the end of a sentence. This gives the audience or reader a chance to laugh and not stumble over the joke.
Key reverses can be done for prefixes as well. The phrase "I was underwhelmed" began as a joke, though the word has now made it into our lexicon diminishing it's laugh potential.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Comedy is generally based on the creation or pre-existence of an expectation and then BAM! The joke hits us delivering to us something different than our expectations. Our minds make the jump and we fill in the gap with laughter, convulsions, and occasionally guffawing, though this is not recommended for mixed company.
There are patterns to jokes and their construction and, since I've never really heard or read anyone point these out, part of a regular feature of this blog will be do so. This is done with the caveat, as one writer put it, that analyzing comedy is like dissecting a frog. You may discover something but in the process likely kill the frog.
The "flip" is a simple joke to create. The two key words of a familiar phrase are reversed. Playing on the conventions of the cliche' or accepted phrase, the comedy writer can get a laugh.
Examples, upon meeting the playwright Samuel Nathaniel Behrman after his "farewell" party, George S. Kaufman quipped, "Ah, forgotten but not gone."
Oscar Wilde was fond of these joke structures. His most famous version, "Work is the curse of the drinking classes."
So, to examine Wilde's masterpiece closely (and this always got Oscar into trouble), the common phrase is, "Drink is the curse of the working classes." Wilde, being the clever chap that he was, flipped the two key words from the common phrase and created a great joke.
Try this joke structure in your own writing and you, too, will be on your way to comedy glory, fame, and fortune.
Originally Published in the Damfinos Newsletter
Talkies created the greatest revolution in film history, and sound’s effect on film comedy was no less revolutionary. Sight gags became less important. Hollywood grew, in film critic Richard Schickel’s phrase “drunk with words.” The stars were no longer pantomimists, but rather fast talkers like Groucho Marx and Bob Hope. W.C. Fields, who’d had a middling silent career, finally achieved prominence on screen now that his inimitable voice could be heard.
Buster Keaton is generally categorized as one of the talkie casualties. However, Keaton’s problem did not stem from having a “bad” voice (as did Vilma Banky and Emil Jannings, neither of whom could speak English), but from having a voice that did not match his unique screen image.
Look at the other great silent comedians:
Raymond Griffith was the only silent comedian whose career was destroyed by the talkies. He had been injured as a young man and could not speak above a whisper. He gave up acting and became a producer at Fox.
Harry Langdon’s rapid and unfortunate decline began before talkies and was due to his ego, not his voice.
Although many will argue speech made Chaplin’s Tramp less universal, his genteel, somewhat bourgeois English accent suited the character well. It suggested a fallen Lord, a noble gentleman who’d been caught in a scandal back in England and had come to America to escape the consequences. Chaplin’s manner was never that of a real tramp.
Harold Lloyd spoke unassumingly with a soft Midwester twang, which jibed well with his image as an all-American Boy with all-American values.
Laurel and Hardy were the only major silent comedians (W. C. Fields was never a major star in silents) to become more popular in talkies. Their voices suited them, especially Hardy’s. Ollie was a Southern pseudo-aristocrat, all manners and no brains, always doing the wrong thing for all the right reasons. Laurel’s voice was less important because he spoke less, but sound added a certain pathos to his crying scenes that made them all the more effective.
Buster Keaton’s voice was a bass marked by a nasal twang, revealing his Midwestern origin. It makes one think of a Nebraska corn farmer. The voice just didn’t go with the playboy millionaire, a steamboat captain, or a Confederate locomotive engineer. Had Keaton arrived in Hollywood in 1930 he’d have been shunted off immediately into character roles. Fortunately for us, he arrived at a time at which the technology was suited to his unique talents.
The perfect voice for Buster’s character would be a cultured, Ashley Wilkes sort of Southern drawl. Despite Buster’s prodigious skill with gadgets, he always seemed at odds with the modern world (unlike Lloyd, who suits it well). The ideal Buster voice would have enhanced this facet of Keaton’s persona – gentlemanly, more concerned with honor than pragmatism, obsessed with values rendered archaic by the 20th century. Thanks to the magic of silent films it is left to our own imaginations to supply the voice of Buster Keaton.