By Kathleen Laccinole · August 4, 2021
It’s Friday night and you are at your computer, contemplating whether you should jump out the window or just toss your computer out of it. Because after six months of blood, sweat, and tears, and about a thousand cups of coffee, your comedy script is still just “meh.” And you can’t figure out why. Well, you aren’t alone. It’s a conundrum most screenwriters face: Why is my script just okay, and what can I do about it?
Before you try to jam your computer into your microwave (it doesn’t fit…I tried), give the following three ideas a shot and see if they don’t punch up your comedic masterpiece to the next level so you can use that computer to type FADE OUT.
Generally, if there’s “just something missing” from your magnum opus, chances are your character(s) is to blame. Go back through the script, start to finish, and re-read every scene that JACK is in, then track his actions, reactions and motivations logically, beat by beat, every step of the way.
Ask yourself, What sort of tone am I going for? Broad? Farce? Satire? Witty? Reality-based? Establish this tone at the top of the film and, again, track it every step of the way. Make sure this tone is consistent within your scenes.
Ask yourself, Is my comedy dated? The conceptual, playful, and shamelessly satirical style of the ’80s would be hard-pressed to find a home in the situation-oriented, witty, edgy world of modern comedy. Unless you are a master of the genre you are attempting (i.e., like him or hate him, Woody Allen can write zany comedy whenever he wants), in general, people aren’t looking for the next wacky Bette Midler rom-com, but they are looking for the next Judd Apatow.
Okay, you’re probably super-pissed at me right now. I know. These are big, big endeavors. But this last one is easy and fun – I promise.
What happens when you hear a funny joke? You laugh, right? But what if you hear another joke before you’re done laughing at the first joke? Well, now you’re laughing at both jokes simultaneously and just having a great time. Jerry Seinfeld calls this “compression” or “the roll,” saying:
“I’m not that funny. So I became obsessed with the technique of standup comedy. The closer you can get the jokes together, the bigger the laughs will be. Compression is a very important aspect.”
So, pace your jokes wisely. Leave room for your plants and then hit ’em with the payoffs — and if you can get some rolls in there, your comedy will almost certainly be less “meh.”
Order some pizza, a vat of wine, and a bottle of champagne. Invite your pals over. Pass out scripts, pens, pencils, etc., for notes. Then pass out the wine. Assign each person a part, and prose to someone else. (You do nothing except listen… and maybe drink a tiny bit of wine. But not too much. This is important.) Then read the script aloud. Listen to how your words sound. How’s the pacing? Are the jokes landing? Are your characters charismatic? Does your narrative track? Does the dialogue come across? And when it’s all over, do your friends look at you with pity whilst carefully choosing their words, or are they genuinely enthused? Go around the room and have each reader give you their thoughts. If you get a note once – no biggie. If you get the same note twice, take a look at it. And if you get the same note three times – address it.
Then open that bottle of champagne!
Because one of these – better yet – all three of these tips will free up that Friday night for more entertaining endeavors. And if it doesn’t, your computer fits into the oven with room to spare. I promise.
Want to write great comedy? Then read great comedy! Download your favorite comedic scripts for free at the TSL Script Library.